• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

10 things foreigners find weird when visiting the US for the first time

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As the melting pot of the world, the United States is a fascinating destination for international travelers. Its rich cultural framework, ethnicities, and traditions makes it unique, but these differences can sometimes lead to amusing misunderstandings and unexpected surprises. Ranging from large portion sizes to tipping culture, here are ten things that often leave foreigners scratching their heads when they visit the US for the first time. While these quirks can be initially confusing, they often become fond memories and interesting stories to share with friends and family back home. Embracing these differences can make for a richer and more enjoyable travel experience.

Tipping culture

In many countries, tipping is not expected or even considered rude. However, in the US, tipping is an essential part of dining out, and it can be quite confusing. The expectation to leave a 15-20% tip for good service, and even more for exceptional service, is unusual for many visitors.

The use of Imperial system

The US is one of the few countries that uses the Imperial system for measurements. Distances in miles, temperatures in Fahrenheit, and weights in pounds can be baffling for those accustomed to the metric system.

Sales tax

Unlike many other countries where prices include tax, in the US, sales tax is added at the register. This means the price you see on the tag is not what you pay at the checkout, leading to some confusion and annoyance for visitors trying to budget their expenses.

Date format

The American date format (MM/DD/YYYY) can be quite confusing for visitors accustomed to the DD/MM/YYYY format used in most other parts of the world. Writing “07/06/2024” for 6th July 2024, instead of “06/07/2024” can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes when interpreting dates.

Colour of dollar bills

The uniform green colour of American dollar bills is another point of confusion for foreigners. In many countries, different denominations are distinctly coloured to make them easily distinguishable. The similar appearance of US bills can lead to mix-ups and requires extra attention when handling cash.

Ice in drinks

Americans use a lot of ice in their drinks, which can be surprising to visitors from countries where beverages are typically served with little or no ice. The copious use of ice can be puzzling and even inconvenient for those who prefer their drinks less chilled.

The American flag

The American flag is displayed almost everywhere. From homes to businesses, schools to public buildings, its omnipresence can be surprising. This pervasive display of the flag can be quite different from the more reserved use of national symbols in other countries.

Portion sizes

One of the most immediate shocks is the size of meals served in American restaurants. The portions are significantly larger compared to those in many other countries. This can be overwhelming for visitors used to more modest serving sizes and often leads to the question, “Do Americans really eat this much?”

Free refills

Another dining surprise is the practice of free refills on soft drinks and coffee. While in many parts of the world you pay per drink, in the US, servers often bring endless refills, which can be a pleasant but perplexing surprise.

Advertising and consumerism


The amount of advertising in the US is staggering. From TV commercials to billboards, the level of consumerism and the aggressive marketing techniques can be quite a culture shock for visitors from countries with less pervasive advertising.