If you’ve ever seen Quentin Tarrantino’s hit movie, Pulp Fiction, you’ll know it opens with a scene in which Samuel Jackson shows his surprise regarding the legality of cannabis smoking in Holland and the fact that the French eat their fries with mayonnaise. “Ugh” is his reaction to the use of such a condiment. Well, we can tell you “ugh” works both ways, and there are plenty of things Americans eat, do, believe, and say, that European’s find plain weird. Today we’ll look at some of those things, in this episode of The Infographics Show, American Things Europeans Find Weird.
We’ll stay with food and restaurants for the time being. As we’ve discussed in other shows, not everyone in the world is so draconian about tipping. In fact, in some parts of Europe, throwing a buck on the counter after receiving a cold beer would be totally insulting. In many European countries, tipping in some situations can be seen as charity. When visiting the U.S., many Europeans might find it weird that a waiter or waitress keeps coming back to your table. In the States, it may been seen as just good service, but to some Europeans, it could be construed as someone getting in the way of a good meal. That meal, by the way, could be about three times larger than many people in Europe are used to. In general, American food portions look to some Europeans like they are supposed to feed two people. It may also seem like an act of largesse to some Europeans when someone keeps refilling their glass of soda or cup of coffee for no extra cost.
In terms of the food itself, as we noted earlier, Americans and Europeans have very different ideas about what goes with what. Pancakes for breakfast, with fried chicken, are you kidding me, says the travelling European. And what about putting honey on bacon for breakfast? The Frenchman wanted mustard with his sliced beef and tasted something not like mustard but a sweeter version with less bite. The Italian went to Chicago and in one restaurant ordered a pizza, only to be served what he thought looked more like a quiche or a cake.
So, what about when Europeans head to the store. Again, the rather affable smile and general friendliness of staff may seem strange to someone from grumpy England, where service with a smile is certainly no guarantee. In fact, it’s been remarked that American friendliness can result in some Europeans thinking something suspicious is afoot.
If that European is in the store to buy a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of wine, they may be extremely surprised when they get asked for ID, as that might not have happened to them for over a decade or two. On top of Europe mainly having laxer laws on age restrictions, ID-ing people is not such a big deal as it is in America. Only in July this year, Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher said he was ID-ed in the US after trying to buy cigarettes. He tweeted, “I’ve just been told I can’t buy cigs unless I got ID, I’m forty-[expletive]-four… has the world gone mad.” Indeed, in his home city of Manchester he’d probably been buying his smokes for 30 years without a problem. And then the European looks inside his or her wallet, only to see a bunch of notes that all look the same, all the time wondering how this could possibly make any sense. The good thing is in America you can pay with plastic just about anywhere, which is something many Europeans are still not used to. They may also be unpleasantly surprised to find out when they do buy something, taxes get added on top of the price they saw.
So, they try and get back to their hotel, but have to ask the way. They are told to walk six blocks this way and turn left. Only for some Europeans not familiar with the U.S., giving someone directions using ‘blocks’ may seem weird. Parts of Europe were not built with city blocks in mind, and just gradually spread in a way that makes it hard to find your way around.
When they finally do get back, they settle down to watch some TV, only for some reason the shows are interspersed with commercials that seem to be longer than the actual minutes given to the actual content. This drives some Europeans crazy. At some point, they might come across World Wrestling Entertainment, and be quite confused at how some Americans can get so worked up about what to them looks like an act with an ending already scripted. You may have to be American to enjoy that kind of drama with such passion. Turn over to the news and, depending on the channel, this may also look something like a drama or a soap opera to a European; they may easily believe they are watching a news satire.
One of the great things in America, though, for some Europeans at least, is the fact that some things are open 24/7. Can’t sleep, just go out. Shopping hours are relatively quite restrictive in many European nations, but in most places in the U.S. in or near a big city, there is always something to do or buy in the middle of the night. In Europe, the BBC reported that London, England, and 6 cities in Spain were the better 24 hour cities.
Now we’ll visit the sensitive issues of religion and patriotism. World Atlas puts America at the top of the list as the most Christian nation in the world. In the U.S, on any given day, you might hear the word God, or at least see signs pointing to where you might find him. While parts of Europe are also predominantly Christian, the omnipresence of God in the streets may seem a little overbearing to many of these nations that have forgone church duty. It’s the same with flags everywhere. You won’t go far in America without seeing the Stars and Stripes, whereas in Europe, flags are usually designated to the top of poles outside of official buildings. Seeing one planted in a garden may induce a travelling European to believe that he is at the house of a hardcore nationalist, not just someone who is proud of where he comes from. Interesting side note: A 2014 survey revealed the most patriotic country in the world was Thailand, closely followed by the USA.
While it may not seem too weird for Europeans, the fact that some people in the states carry firearms might be scary. Per capita, more people in the states own guns than any other country. While most cops in Europe do carry guns, it’s unusual to see a cop in England, Scotland or Wales carrying a gun. The fact that regular Joes might be carrying a firearm seems fairly weird to many Europeans. It might not seem so strange to Serbians, who also have a high rate of guns owned per person.
Size also matters to Europeans when traveling in the States. In America, everything just seems bigger, and not just the aforementioned dishes. The roads and streets seem larger for the most part, and if you don’t have a car, it can seem hard to get anywhere, especially in a place like LA. The cars themselves seem a lot bigger, large enough to crush Mr. Bean in his mini; and the people inside them also seem big on average – if not taller, than wider on average. The skyscrapers are taller, and in general,American houses statistically have a lot more space than the average European house. One survey stated that the Danish had the most living space in Europe, still much less than Americans, but much more than the Brits that to Americans might seem their whole house is smaller than their basement. It may not be that weird, but one might ask why everything is so big in the U.S.
As for appearance, some Europeans may find the amount of Americans that are continually decked in what looks like gym wear a bit strange as most are not going to the gym. Other styles, that are mostly an 80s thing but seem to have stayed around a little, are the Big Hair styles on some older American women. Big lips and big breasts, may also be a fashion weird to some Europeans, while in the USA the president still seems to sport a fake tan. On the positive side, Americans all seem to have such perfect white teeth, quite different from those Brits. This was hilariously depicted in an episode of The Simpsons in which The Big Book of British Smiles horrifically demonstrated the apparent lack of dental hygiene in the country.
So, what do you Europeans out there find strange about Americans? And Americans, what do you think is weird about Europeans? Let us know in the comments!