When you’re traveling, one of the most exciting things is getting to know different cultures, as alien as they might seem at first. Of course, part of the deal is that you get the full package, including cultural bits you’d rather do without.
And so, this is exactly what inspired u/MickJof, a non-American traveler, to share what he thinks about American customs. From tipping to the Imperial measurement system that is baffling to many foreigners, his r/travel post kickstarted a rather interesting discussion, inviting first-time US visitors to share their two cents about the peculiarities of American culture.
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I have been touring the United States for several weeks now, visiting multiple states. I am from Europe. The Netherlands specifically.
This is not my first time in the US but it is my most extensive. It strikes me how vastly different the USA is compared to my country or Europe in general.
I’d just like to give my thoughts here from a European perspective. Which things I think are better here and which are worse. I am also keeping this limited to a tourist perspective, so I’m going to stay away from things that are only relevant when I would actually live here, like healthcare, taxes and politics.
I am aware that the vast majority of Reddit users are American. I do not intend to offend in any way. Just putting my personal opinions here.
Thinks I like
Nature. Raw, wild and untouched and – most of all – VAST. The sheer vastness AND variety of nature and pure wilderness here is definitely unmatched in Europe. Specifically the little nature we have in The Netherlands is laughable compared to the USA.
People are generally approachable and friendly. Yes I do like Americans, at least their overall demeanor. I would be greeted and asked where I’m from even by someone at the 7 eleven. In general Dutch people are quire rude.
Free refills! This is a small thing but really unheard of in the Netherlands. In my country you pay the same price for just one tiny cup of coffee. In fact, all drinks you order are tiny in The Netherlands and you pay for each one.
Traffic lights across the street. I can’t for the life of my understand why we still have to lean over the steering wheel and get a sore neck looking straight upwards at the traffic lights in Europe.
The doggy bag. You MIGHT be able to get to take your leftover with you in certain places in The Netherlands, but it really not the norm and would surely raise an eyebrow if you ask. Here it is normal and I find it very good to not let the food go to waste. Besides, I did pay for it so its nice to be able to take it with me.
Things I don’t like
Tipping! Why the heck do I need to be partly responsible for a proper salary for these people? Also it is just annoying to have to calculate the tip every time. It is also annoying that listed prices are almost exclusively without tax. In my country – and across most of Europe as far as I’m aware – you pay exactly what is listed as the price. No hidden surprises.
The food, especially breakfast. Almost everything contains sugar. Breakfast is never with fresh bread and fresh good meats and cheese. In fact American cheese is awful, but maybe I’m spoiled living in cheese country. For dinner the food isn’t quite as bad, but its still nowhere near the quality and variety that you find in Europe.
Plastic! Too much plastic is a problem in Europe also, but the amount of plastic (and styrofoam or other disposable crap) used here is bizarre. I also find it really bizarre that in every hotel breakfast its all disposable cutlery and plates also. You really NEVER see this in Europe, not even in the cheapest hotels.
Imperial measurements. Gallons, miles, feet and especially Fahrenheit is so bizarre. Also because the conversion factor to metric is odd. Almost all the world, as well as the scientific world, uses metric which makes so much more sense in every way. Why does the US hold on to such an archaic system?
Image credits: MickJof
Love: The friendliness. I love the random friendliness in the USA. In the US, it’s easy to pick up a conversation with mostly anyone. In my experience, Dutch people are kind but much more reserved in public.
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I went to LA recently and found the car centric culture suuuuper inconvenient for a tourist. Every time you want to see a thing, you need to research it beforehand and then drive there. Want to see another thing? More research, then drive. In just about any other city I’ve ever been I would just head to the city center and explore on foot and pop in to whatever place looked interesting.
Admittedly it was a short trip and maybe I did it wrong, but the closest thing to being able to just wander around was in downtown, and even there you occasionally have to walk over a nice 8 lane highway, which is a long way to walk (and be wary of certain neighborhoods and whatever).
That and since a car had to be involved at every step, you couldn’t really stop for a few beers or whatever. I guess locals either plan their days better or drive drunk.
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I’ll add as a New Zealander living here..
Like: sports culture, have-a-go culture, general enjoyment of life, being encouraging of people that are willing to try something or hustle, low barrier to entry for someone starting a business, online shopping, gas stoves, diversity across the different parts of the country, super friendly, most people are big on values, pride in keeping towns tidy.
Dislike: tipping (I know you have it already but seriously what gives), treatment of indigenous history, lack of consumer protection, level of poverty, strange policy making that reinforces lack of trust in government, occasional respect for road rules, hard to access to good quality produce at a reasonable price, no ring-pulls on tinned food.
Just pet peeves. Overall I freaking love being in US!! This country rules and will continue to rule!
Edit: I forgot to add innovation. It feels like this country could invent anything.
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If you’re willing to look for it—the U.S has no shortage of great food. Combined with cultural diversity, you’re given a lot of different options as well. Maybe you just chose some mediocre restaurants.
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Hate: Lack of biking/walking lanes. I love the bike culture that is common in many European countries, like the Netherlands, and most European cities are extremely walkable compared with the US. I wish the States had more bikeable and walkable places.
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Love: The cereal selection. You can get breakfast cereal with marshmallows in it. MARSHMALLOWS. I find that fascinating, exotic, and maybe just a bit horrifying.
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European (Belgian) here who just came back from a one month road trip in the US.
I’m so jealous of the magnificent nature you have in your country, I saw so many beautiful sights! Please treasure it.
I disagree with the low quality food, I had both really good meals and really poor ones. Best Thai food I ever had was in LA.
Also, so many places sell drip coffee just the way I like it, not some watered down espressos. Loved that!
Another like were the many (mostly) clean and free restrooms, Having to pay for using a dirty restroom in a rest area along the highway in Europe sucks. That being said, some restrooms in the US really didn’t care about my privacy with one inch gaps everywhere.
Driving was so convenient, being a pedestrian not so much. I biked through SF but couldn’t say I felt very safe.
Dislikes were the tipping culture and prices listed pre-tax. I mean, I ordered food or drinks to go a couple of times where I often had to tip in advance only for something to go wrong with my order. Not getting my tip back am I?
Overall I had a great time, met a lot of friendly people and saw amazing nature and wildlife. I can’t wait to go back!
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Love: The landscapes. I’ve been to America many times, and I have to say the diversity in landscapes is incredible. You have deserts a few hours from ski resorts, and huge, modern cities next to thousands of square miles of Great Plains.
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Hate: Degree of LGBTQ tolerance. Speaking as a gay person, Europe has more options. I feel safe in most places in both Europe and the US, especially with friends around, but I feel that European cities have more diverse, liberated venues for the LGBTQ community.
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> Traffic lights across the street. I can’t for the life of my understand why we still have to lean over the steering wheel and get a sore neck looking straight upwards at the traffic lights in Europe.
Traffic lights are also like this in Ireland and the UK.
> The doggy bag. You MIGHT be able to get to take your leftover with you in certain places in The Netherlands, but it really not the norm and would surely raise an eyebrow if you ask. Here it is normal and I find it very good to not let the food go to waste. Besides, I did pay for it so its nice to be able to take it with me.
This is also fairly common in Ireland. Not in very fancy restaurants, but otherwise the majority of places have no issue with this.
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Love: Bagels! Give me a New York everything bagel with egg and cheese and a cup of coffee, and I’m a happy camper.
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Love: The sandwiches. In America, there are so many glorious sandwiches, like the Reuben, piled high with delicious corned beef on nice artisan bread; Philly cheesesteaks; thin-sliced rib-eye, dripping with salty, gooey provolone; and even the po’boy, a stunning creation.
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Having lived in both for two years, here’s my take on both. In Europe I lived in Germany, but travelled around the neighboring countries a bit and now I live in VA. I’m also speaking as a student with limited income lol. I’m mostly writing about what I like, as it what I dislike contrasts pretty well with the other (i.e what I love about Europe I grow to appreciate even more in relation to my time in the US, and vice versa).
-Public transport, bikes and walking. I don’t have a car, but that was never a problem in Europe. I could get anywhere I wanted to pretty feasibly and in good time.
-Healthier food options. I felt so energized my whole time living there, and when I come back, because I feel like I’m eating simpler and healthier most days. I’m Southeast Asian, so it did take a while before I got used to simple foods (like cold cuts, cheese and bread for meals), but I do miss eating that minimally every now and then.
-Prices. Now, it might just be where I live in both, but I found Europe a lot more affordable than the US. Granted, I only had to worry about buying food and going out, but still, I find myself a lot more conscious about my spending when I was in the US.
-Safety. I felt a lot safer in Europe than the US. As a student in both, gun violence is one difference, yeah, but even then in cities in Europe I felt that there were always all sorts of people (especially women and the elderly) around even in the early morning by themselves, which made me feel that if locals thought it was safe, then I felt safer. Whereas in the US, in large cities, I often have locals warn me about certain areas, especially at night. Fortunately I’ve never had incidents in either country, but still.
-LGBT life. Speaking as a gay person, Europe has more options. I feel safe in most places in both, especially with friends around, but I feel that European cities had more diverse and um… Liberated venues, so to speak. Which I’m a fan of.
-Friendly and open people. I actually think the Europe I saw was very friendly! But people in the US are next level friendly, and as an outgoing person myself, I really do enjoy that about being in the US. I often chat with people at stores, bars, in rideshares and around my college campus too, which I didn’t get to experience as much in Europe (though that might also be the language barrier at play).
-More food diversity. I lived in two cities of comparable size in both, and even in other cities that are similarly large, I just think the US’ history of migration has led it to evolve such a rich and diverse food culture. There’re so many options for dining places. Again, not to say Europe didn’t have options, but the US just has a lot more places that are also a lot more mixed at an accessible level. Tipping still sucks though, but I still make sure to tip as well as I could. Just because I disagree with the conditions that led to tipping doesn’t give me the right to screw over my server.
-Speaking of diversity, the US definitely feels more diverse as a whole, even outside of large cities. I get along with most people, but there’s a quicker level of connection I’m able to get with US PoC for some reason that I didn’t feel as much in Europe.
Even though I have more things listed that I like in Europe, I really do enjoy both for their own merits! Didn’t expect my comment to be this long though
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Love: Convenience. Everything is so damn convenient. Shops stay open later, basically everywhere delivers, and the consumer generally has much more choice. This applies to everything from banking to retail. In general in the US, it feels like the customer truly is king.
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As an American, I love Europe’s train and transit systems. I appreciate the dedicated pedestrian zones and bike paths that are protected from traffic. I also like the smaller scale living.. smaller residences means people don’t have as much stuff and what they have, they use or it is meaningful. It’s amazing what you can do without when you travel for long periods.. I try to bring that mentality home with me, but so many parts of society seem very focused on stuff.
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Love: American diners and their huge portions of pancakes, bacon, and eggs galore.
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There is a lot of really good cheese produced in this country. Especially Cheddar-style cheese from Vermont and Wisconsin. There is also some very good goat cheese. The rest of the cheese, you are right, it’s mostly pretty terrible.
I think you had a very small sample size on your recent visit. For example, only the really cheap hotels use paper plates and plastic cutlery. If you chose to visit the cheapest hotels, that is biasing your sample.
The rest is just what you are habituated to. A typical American visiting Europe would think it’s really bizarre to eat cold sliced meat at breakfast. We expect hot meats and freshly cooked eggs. When I visit Europe it’s amazing to have 3 or 4 different types of fresh bread and 3-4 meats and cheeses, but it’s not what we’re used to.
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Love: Career flexibility. It seems to me that people change careers frequently in the US. They can be 50 years old and go back to school, study something new, and get a completely unrelated job. In a lot of other places, people just keep at what they’re doing forever, and they’re miserable their whole lives.
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Love: Portion sizes. I find even as a Canadian that American portions are enormous and can sometimes be three times the size of a meal I would eat at home.
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Hate: Lack of hostels. In most American cities, there are no hostels, so you’re stuck paying money for Airbnbs or hotels, both of which jack up the price of your trip. In addition, this lack of hostels removes a key social outlet, so travel is lonelier.
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The food and cheese comments I will respectfully disagree with. If you’re only looking at fast food places and cheaper chain restaurants, yes, you will get cheap American cheese on your burgers. Every major city and surrounding area, mine included, will have a sample of restaurants from any culture you can think of. My city has just about every culinary culture represented. For original American food, Cajun is my favorite but North Carolina style bbq and maryland seafood are close second and third. We have some excellent restaurants. Also the cheese, I love cheese. I can go to certain grocery stores and get any type of cheese I can think of. A lot of restaurants by me will let you choose from a wide variety of cheeses on your burgers or sandwiches.
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I do want to take a stab at “people are approachable and friendly” to hammer that home.
I’ve often seen the criticism of Americans being that we’re “fake nice” or insincere. We aren’t. We’re actually really nice. And we’re not just nice to people with accents. We’re nice to everyone. We’re nice to each other despite what the news or Reddit might want you to believe.
Oh and about the tipping thing. Yes it sucks. You don’t like it. We don’t like it. The servers don’t love it. We get it. We’re working on it.
Now can all the tourists just shut up about it? You have a phone, whip it out and do the math and move on. In fact, that whole metric vs. imperial thing? Get over yourselves. We have the metric measurement right next to the imperial measurement and have done for like 40 years. We’ll go full metric when you can come up with something as convenient as “foot”.
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I like the diversity in the US the most. I’m Asian American (visibly East Asian) and the casual and overt day to day racism in a lot of Europe exhausts me after awhile. Not that the US is perfect but the racism in Europe is like death by a million cuts and everywhere and not even discussed, generally very much in denial. I do prefer the general quality of life in Europe and if I was white, would probably prefer living in Europe over the US, in many regards.
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I’m an European (Polish) living in the US and I generally agree with this list except for two things.
I disagree that breakfast is always sugary and think the US actually has way more food variety than Europe. I think your perception might be biased by the fact that it sounds you’re mostly going through remote places and staying in cheaper hotels (the comment about plastic cutlery at hotel breakfast — more expensive hotels will not have breakfast included but will have a restaurant on premises which uses metal cutlery).
And I disagree that you won’t find plastic cutlery at a breakfast hotel in Europe. If you stay in Ibis or any other cheap hotel, you’re definitely looking at plastic cutlery. I can speak from experience, getting that in Rotterdam of all places 🙂
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I’m an American who has visited Europe a few times (sadly not the Netherlands yet though). The first time I went to Europe, a bar put ice in my cider without me asking for it lol. I remember also being taken aback that water would often cost more than beer.
I also feel like people tend to know a lot of American culture/politics. I went on a tour once and a group of girls from Ireland were fascinated that I was American and asked me all sorts of questions about Trump/Obamacare etc.
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I’m South Asian and I live in the Netherlands now. I had no idea asking to pack up leftovers was weird. In the restaurants I’ve been to (South Asian ones) they’ve always packed it up for free! Learnt something new today 🙂
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Two things come immediately to mind (from USA, visiting Europe). Allowing for personal space (waiting in line for example) and ice in drinks!
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If you would like to learn why and how tipping culture came to the US and how it has evolved over time, I highly recommend [this throughline podcast](https://www.npr.org/2022/03/29/1089587173/the-land-of-the-fee-2021)
I just got back from France yesterday and it was the first time I’ve been to Europe since pre Covid. Before Covid a lot of places didn’t even do food “to-go”. That seems to have changed.
I do love having fresh baked bread and cheese for breakfast. Yogurt is also much better in Europe, I don’t know how the us sucks so hard at yogurt. It really is terrible here. I also can’t drink American orange juice anymore since having OJ in Europe.
I just got back from France where we rented a car and drove in Paris. I could not believe how hard it was to see the stop lights, but thought they were in that position to help drivers see pedestrians- that is a really big problem in the Us, not sure how big of an issue it is in the EU.
Something else that I often notice- accessibility in Europe really, really sucks. I know that retrofitting old buildings is really tricky and there’s limited space, but every time I go I feel so bad for people who require mobility devices.
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