I’m American. No, like, I’m incredibly American. I’ve felt pride in my bones, and an intense attachment to the freedom of speech, ever since I was born in the small suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. When I lived in New York City, I worked as a singer for the USO, and have incredible memories of visiting military bases and giving back to the folks who sacrifice absolutely everything to defend the freedoms I grew up being so protective of.

But here’s the thing:

I don’t live in the United States of America right now, and I’m absolutely thrilled about it. Life in Europe suits me quite well, and I can’t imagine moving back to the US anytime soon. But that being said, once or twice a year I migrate back the US (willingly, I promise) to get a dose of family, my fix of NYC, and honestly, to get back to my roots among endless corn fields and sunset-covered mountains. And now that I’ve made the trip back the US a few times, after settling in Europe, I’ve started to notice a few quirks about America that the average American never even thinks about; Facts of everyday life, that just don’t translate when you enter foreign soil. Take a peek at the list and let me know what surprises you, what you’ve experienced yourself, or what you think is just plain weird.

10 Weird Things About America (as seen from the eyes of a European)

1. Lawsuits

Americans sue everybody. Just ask your friends from any other country if they know somebody involved in a lawsuit. Chances are the answer is a big fat “nope.” We sue people for making hot coffee, for mixing up our laundry, and for not making all of our dreams come true with their advertisements. You know when Americans scoff and say, “Well, that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen!” ? OTHER PEOPLE DON’T DO THAT. America, this is one thing where I’m on the side of everyone else in the world. (Sorry to the 15 attorneys whose signs I passed on my drive to Philadelphia. I’m sure you’re doing great work, but no, I’ve not fallen on the sidewalk, and looking to sue.)

2. Where can you actually buy a bottle of wine?

Ok, so in some states you can buy beer at the grocery store. But only beer. No wine, liquor, etc. In Maryland, you have to go to a gas station or other establishment to buy beer, a liquor store for your wine and cocktail needs, and a grocery store for nothing but snacks (no alcohol allowed because… reasons). The American rules for where to buy booze are different for every state, and to be honest, it’s incredibly confusing. At most grocery stores in Europe you can buy everything for your dinner party including the wine (and much cheaper too!). In fact, at the small corner store next to my apartment, I could walk in at 9:30 am and get fresh bread and a bottle of vodka, if I really wanted to. To clarify, I do not. But it’s nice to know the option is there…

3. HUGE Cars

Apparently every third American is a farmer, and needs a giant pickup truck. Don’t get me wrong, in Europe, all of the farmers also need trucks and proper equipment to run a successful operation. But even then, the size of these vehicles is smaller and more economical abroad. Fuel is more expensive, which I understand contributes to this. But in general, everyone in America is obsessed with having cars that are large enough to hold the entire youth soccer team their kid plays for. At least that’s what the car ads tell me… I struggle to understand why anybody with two kids needs an 8-seater, gas-guzzling suburban. But I will happily listen to any and all arguments. (Disclaimer, I drive a smart car, which barely qualifies as a vehicle.)

4. Medicine Ads

A few years ago, I sat watching TV with my ex-boyfriend, who’s Australian, and he said something to me about the commercial promoting a prescription psoriasis medication. “Huh?” I said. “Why do Americans have these weird commercials targeting normal people for prescription medicines? Isn’t that a doctor’s job?” he explained. And to be honest. Not once in my life had I ever thought of that. In all of my travels, I’ve never once seen a commercial for prescription medications in another country. And while I’m not here to solve the crumbling health care system in the United States, I do genuinely wonder what good is done by pharmaceutical companies spending tons of money on adverts, which lead normal people to diagnose themselves into needing a fancy medicine with happy-looking actors promoting the perfect life that comes with its use. This is a weird one, and I’m honestly not sure what the logic is besides dollar signs…

5. Guns

All I will say about this is that it feels incredibly messed up to travel back home to one of the world’s most developed nations and have your friends tell you, “I saw the news. Be safe.” Every. Single. Day. It’s not normal.

6. What is real coffee?

American coffee is a beast all its own. I’d never even heard the term “drip coffee” or “filter coffee” before I left the states. It was just:

Coffee.

But then you travel and realize Vietnamese coffee is a strong, thick, syrupy thing. Portuguese coffee is a tiny jolt of espresso, dolled up with sugar or a stain of milk. German coffee is more along the lines of a concentrated Americano. And American coffee is a giant mug of watery goodness. I seriously have a soft spot for a piping hot cup of “filter coffee” because it always seems to last forever. That being said, in the taste department, I think the concentrated varieties abroad might have a bit more to offer. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the coffee culture in Australia…

7. WiFi

When I worked at a trendy restaurant in New York, we silently scoffed at everyone coming in and asking for the wifi password. We didn’t have wifi. (But we helped anyone and everyone out on our own phones when we could). It was assumed that anybody asking for WiFi was trying to camp out with their laptop for hours.

In Europe, EVERYONE has wifi. The restaurants, the retail stores, and even the towns themselves have small hotspot areas, so you can quickly check in with whoever’s waiting for your message. The contrast is crazy. In my experience in the US, WiFi was more of a thing for coffee shops, and that’s about it.

There are certainly advantages to being offline in life, but as a traveler, I’m always eternally grateful to the abundance of WiFi options abroad. (Because honestly, I normally just need to send a WhatsApp to my mom. I won’t steal your table for hours, I promise.)

8. Let’s Talk Toilets

The first time I traveled to Europe as I kid, I was REALLY confused by the turnstiles at the bathroom entrance. And even MORE confused when they were asking me for money? I was a kid who needed to pee. Why should money play a part in this equation? Thankfully, my mom saved the day and handed me a few coins.

I’ll admit, at first this seemed plain wrong.

Until I took a closer look at the public bathrooms available in the US.

When I lived in New York, it was understood that you never ventured into the Central Park Bathrooms unless you were 2 hours from home and forgot your keys. They are not a nice place. Paid public bathrooms abroad, however, I’ve found to be super clean and hygienic. The 50 cents entrance is a bummer. And I think most men would scoff at paying for a toilet, when they can literally pee (almost) anywhere. But for now, I say, “Take my money!” and give me a nice, clean toilet I can count on. But catch me on a day when I’ve run out of coins, and I may have a different opinion…

P.S. If you’re ever near SoHo, Bloomingdales has splendid bathrooms on the basement level.

9. “But what’s the total price?” … Taxes.

Does this sound familiar? You’re at the store, buying one item. The price is 39.99. “Perfect!” you think. “I have $40 cash in my wallet.” Then you proceed to the register and your total is 43.96 or some weird number that completely blows your perfect cash plan.

It’s taxes. State taxes. Local taxes. Alcohol taxes. Breathing taxes (it’s a joke… for now). And what’s funny here, is I’m actually a proponent of higher taxes for better social systems. But why do Americans not put this in the price of anything? I find it so refreshing to travel just about anywhere else in the world, and know exactly how much something costs. The taxes are there. They’re just included in the price. Mind. Blown.

10. People

Ask an American how they’re doing and they’re always, “Fine thanks, and you?” Allow me to enter the world of stereotypes here, but besides Canadians, Americans are some of the friendliest folks in the world. At points, to a fault, as there’s definitely a lack of honesty in these generic greetings.

Ask a German if they like the dress you’re wearing and… You know what, maybe don’t ask a German if they like the dress you’re wearing 😉

Ask a Dutch person how their day is, and they’ll tell you about the rain on their bike ride to work, the fact that they accidentally left their lunch at home, and a few other noteworthy details of their day. But isn’t that refreshing? Because, after all, if you ask somebody how their day is, shouldn’t you be expecting a response? Or are we all just “Fine thanks, and you?”

One of the things that didn’t make this list is pride. Because as I went to write it, as a prideful American, I thought of the rich culture and traditions I’ve come to know in Portugal, and the boastful glow that comes across every German’s face when you mention the quality of brands like Siemens, Braun or Porsche. We’re all full of pride, though we may not wave a flag or stand on a stage in a patriotic USO outfit. And at the end of the day, my proud little American self doesn’t want to live in the United States anymore. But I always look forward to coming back “home” regardless of the hard-to-find wifi, the actors trying to sell me prescription drugs I know nothing about, and the constant unknown of what something actually costs.

Because it’s home.

I grew up with these ads. I grew up with always having a few extra bucks for tax and tip (20% or bust, folks!). And I grew up with some of the sweetest, most wholesome people in Middletown, Maryland. And while I’m committed to traveling the world, and establishing myself in countries far, far away, I wouldn’t trade all of these American quirks for the world.

 

You can follow more of Emily’s American adventures abroad on her blog, loololo.com.