roys diner route 66 california

How is America different from the rest of the world? (Part 2)

by Michael on August 6, 2014

We’ve been traveling the world for almost three years now and recently wrote a story for Huffington Post that asked “how is America different from the rest of the world?” That story struck a chord among readers who suggested more areas that set America apart. Here are some other differences with America that travel has revealed:

Football vs. soccer — First of all, Americans can’t even figure out what to call the most popular sport in the world. Somehow American football, where only the punter and kicker actually put their foot on the ball, came to be called football while the sport where athletes mostly use their feet is called soccer. Despite American kids starting play in organized soccer leagues in the pre-natal phase of their lives, America still isn’t too good at soccer. That doesn’t stop the country from watching the sport for a week every four years during the World Cup. That is of course until America gets ousted from the tournament yet again with a country whose population is the size of Pittsburgh.

Guns — Other than Middle Eastern cities undergoing a revolution where it seems like half the population is armed with AK-47s, America leads the world in gun ownership. It seems odd in a country that is relatively safe but there are an estimated 300 million guns floating around the U.S. Since only about 30 percent of Americans own guns, those who do so are heavily armed. In a strange twist, the country with the third highest rate of gun ownership is Switzerland, which could explain how all those holes got in their cheese.

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Road trips — We’ve road-tripped on six continents and America is the best country on earth to hop into a car and explore. From old Route 66 to the Loneliest Road in America in Nevada, there are some fantastic spots to experience vintage America. You can even sleep in a wigwam along the way.

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Window screens — Americans love throwing open the windows and letting in some fresh air. They can do this secure in the knowledge that they will not become an instant meal for mosquitoes and other flying critters. Not so in the rest of the world where window and door screens have yet to make an appearance. We often wonder why this is so. Someone out there who is more entrepreneurial than we could make a fortune selling screens to Europeans and others, or perhaps they prefer sitting indoors swatting at flies. We certainly know that Americans don’t.

Whole chicken in a can — We’ve seen canned lamb tongues in New Zealand and things we couldn’t pronounce in Southeast Asia, but what other country would have the absolute ingenuity to come up with not just chicken in a can but a whole chicken? Somehow this one will make us sing the National Anthem just a little bit louder come this 4th of July.

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Peanut butter & ketchup — Americans eat the bulk of the world’s peanut butter and ketchup. (No, not at the same time.) Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an American treat that is misunderstood in the rest of the world. We even saw an ad on a bus in Sydney, Australia mocking Americans for eating PB&J sandwiches, which is rich coming from a country that considers Vegemite to be a major food group. As for ketchup, it really does make just about everything better, well except for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Big meals — American-sized portions are just that, the size of this vast country. From the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas (where people over 350 pounds eat free) to all-you-can-possibly-eat buffets, we know how to load up our gullets. When it comes to the most obese countries, America is #1. (Followed surprisingly by China.)

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Cheap gas — We love our big cars and we love our cheap gas. Even though gas is relatively cheap in America, it’s the one item that causes major news alerts when the price goes up. Maybe that’s because every intersection with a gas station has the price posted prominently as opposed to say, a gallon of milk, which most people couldn’t tell you what it costs. By the way, the price of milk goes up too but that doesn’t seem to cause a major gasp in the collective psyche when it does.

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Travel to Cuba — We’ve traveled to North Korea but somehow as Americans not named Beyonce and Jay Z, we are not allowed to hop a plane and visit Cuba, a country only 90 miles from our shores. Americans may only visit Cuba as part of an organized “educational” tour but are not permitted to leave the group and explore on their own. We’ve had this embargo on the country since 1960 to rid the country of the Castro regime. I don’t think it’s worked.

Clothes dryers — It’s a known fact that on a per capita basis Americans use a major chunk of the world’s energy. Ninety-eight percent of this difference is probably due to clothes dryers, which are rarely found in the rest of the world. Oh they exist, but dryers overseas seem to just tumble the clothes around for hours and hope the moisture just tires out and gives up.

What other differences have you noted between America and the rest of the world?

You might also like How America is Different From the Rest of the World (Part 1).

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Stan August 7, 2014 at 11:19 pm

The no screens thing elsewhere is really annoying. You’d think at least they’d have them places with bugs flying around with malaria.

Robert Bruce August 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Road Trips along route 66 is really nice. The people that have grown up along all of those small towns have been accepting of tourists for generations. The best part of the trip is to get off the main routes and check out the remnants of the old towns still left. It is like traveling through the Twilight Zone at times.

Irene S. Levine August 16, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Loved this post!
Another difference I’ve seen is that some countries don’t use shower curtains in their bathrooms.

Michael August 17, 2014 at 2:03 am

Oh yes we noticed that in Asia where the whole bathroom turned out to be the shower. Not so good for the roll of toilet paper!

Bethaney - Flashpacker Family August 31, 2014 at 12:07 pm

It really is so different! The toilets are always the first thing I notice…. so much water, so low to the ground and the toilet seat doesn’t go all the way around!

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Hadn’t thought about the toilet SEATS, Bethaney–good point!

Jenna August 31, 2014 at 12:57 pm

It’s funny to think about the things we Americans grow up with and don’t realize are different. I remember when I first lived overseas that I spent a lot of time managing all the mosquitoes and flies that came in the windows every day!
I’m glad you mentioned the actual percentage of people who own guns because most of the people here want to have absolutely nothing to do with guns. And most of the people who have guns keep them out of sight and some use them for hunting…the whole “conceal and carry” thing is a tiny subculture and definitely not representative of the average American!

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Thanks for checking in, Jenna.

noel August 31, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Yes you have described quite a lot about American lifestyle and mentality, although gasoline prices are extremely expensive here in Hawaii since everything is imported to the islands

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Interesting point, Noel. We’ve never been to Hawaii (yes, I know, I know!), but I’ve always imagined it would be “like the rest of American, only different.” Maybe you should put together a post like that–it would probably be fascinating!

Anita September 1, 2014 at 2:31 am

We have screens on our windows here in Australia – couldn’t live without them! I find the food servings in the US so much bigger than….well bigger than any other country I have been in! We have clothes driers but prefer to hang our clothes to dry in the lovely sunshine….and they are too costly to run all the time. And I noticed the amount of water in the toilets too, and I don’t know if this was just pure randomness but in the public bathrooms there was always big gaps around the doors. I felt like people waiting could watch me!! LOL

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Fair point, Anita. The screen comment is probably more directed toward Europe. As is the clothes dryer bit–it’s those “all in one units” that are very space efficient in major European cities that never seem to dry anything. You have such lovely sun and dry air in Oz, I’m not surprised you hang your clothes outside! 🙂

Donna Janke September 1, 2014 at 2:41 pm

I am from Canada and much of what you’ve described applies to our country as well. We call “football” soccer, eat ketchup and peanut butter, and use screens on windows (at least in parts of the country). There are also some great road trips. But other things are different. Cuba is a favourite winter vacation destination and many of us have a hard time understanding the whole gun thing. I’ve spent two winters in Arizona now and am discovering a number of subtle differences between our two countries which seem so similar on the surface.

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:50 pm

We’d love to visit Cuba, Donna. Frustrating for us that we can’t 🙁

jane canapini September 1, 2014 at 4:00 pm

hilarious and so true! I should do one for Canucks.

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:51 pm

You should definitely do that, Jane. It would be fun to compare! 🙂

Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru September 1, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I think you’ve covered many of the examples I would have. But what about ice in drinks? We just had German visitors for a week, and the boys loved that their cokes came with ice without having to ask, and the beer was icy cold. Also, water: “mit gas” or “no gas” always cracks me up. 🙂

Larissa September 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Good one, Betsy! Totally forgot about the ice! Agree about the “mit gas” too–I always feel like I’m committing a digestive indiscretion when I request it 😛

Juergen September 1, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Oh my, now I have to confess that Australia has even more similarities with the USA than I like to acknowledge:
1. Australian football has nothing much to do with foot play either, the “real football” is also called “soccer” and not that popular either.
2. almost every house built since 1960 would have fly screens in Oz.
3. most Ozzies would notice an increase in fuel prices before a rising milk price.

At least Australia has really strong gun laws!
😀

Larissa September 2, 2014 at 11:23 am

Forgot about all those flies in Oz, Juergen–yes you definitely have (and need) those screens! 😉

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas September 2, 2014 at 4:11 am

I was just in the US for the first time in two years. Everything about the country I grew up in was mind-blowing after all of that time! The size, more than anything.

And, for what it’s worth…I have screens on my windows in Spain. Not common, but so nice to have!

Larissa September 2, 2014 at 11:24 am

Cat, you should start a business in Spain selling screens–just invite people over to your house on a summer day and everyone will get on board!

Mike of Mapless Mike September 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

I’ll be leaving the US in 13 days to go teach in Spain for at least a year. I will definitely miss peanut butter because I eat my fair share of it. While there are a lot of things America does different from the rest of the world, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the rest of the world does things to see if I like them better or not. I know I’d prefer window screens, but at the same time, I enjoy an efficient and expansive transit system which the US doesn’t do too well outside of a few major cities.

Larissa September 2, 2014 at 11:30 am

One of the beautiful things about travel is that you get to experience all these differences. It helps you appreciate a) things you have back home and b) not everything back home is “the best”. Some day I’m going to put together a post on “best practices” where I create a mythical world that has the Shanghai subway, NY Pizza, UK recycling, clear skies of Austrailia, etc.

Love your name, by the way . . .and good luck on your journey!

Terry at Overnight New York September 2, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Great list, and you’re right — there’s nothing like New York pizza (or bagels) anywhere else on the planet. (The American canned chicken appears to be a one-off as well, but I’ll pass on that.)

Larissa September 4, 2014 at 12:09 am

Ooh, Terry, you’ve put me in the mood for a good NY Bagel . . .or better yet, a Kossar’s bialy 🙂

santafetraveler September 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Some great stuff here! We’re great road trip fans. It’s a great way to see the country you’re traveling in. Whole chicken in a can is a new one for me and a totally disgusting concept. Wonder why no one else has window screens. They sure make sense! Better than netting!

Larissa September 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

The whole chicken in a can falls into that “only in America” category. You have to applaud the ingenuity, even if it sounds (and probably tastes) disgusting 😛

Adam September 3, 2014 at 9:43 am

It’s funny, as an American living abroad there are quite a few things I miss about America. But then I read lists like this and I’m actually quite thankful that I live abroad!

Larissa September 4, 2014 at 12:15 am

I always feel that you could write a list like this about anywhere, Adam. To me, every place I’ve been does some things better than “home”, and others not so well. It’s why I travel–I love the differences 🙂

Carole Terwilliger Meyers September 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Loved your comment about guns, the Swiss, and cheese holes! Never noticed that screens are an American thing. Will be looking for this next time I’m abroad.

Larissa September 4, 2014 at 12:17 am

Yep, Carole–those “concealed carry” purses freaked me out the first time I saw them. Then I thought, “maybe this would be a good idea for storing travel documents.” Haven’t tried it yet, though . . .

The Gypsynesters September 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Great list! It just goes to show that there is something to love about every place. We want to see it all. 🙂

Larissa September 4, 2014 at 12:18 am

Yep, Veronica–not necessarily better . . .or worse . . .just different 🙂

Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com September 5, 2014 at 11:07 am

The Philippines is a small country so in comparison, your roads are so much longer! I’m amazed, actually, Doesn’t it get boring when you’re on a road trip and you don’t see anything except the road in front of you? LOL

Micki September 5, 2014 at 7:12 pm

You’re so right – the USA is a country just made for road tripping! We’re very much looking forward to some fun US road trips in our future.

Jennifer September 6, 2014 at 12:17 am

That whole chicken in a can is upsetting.

Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it September 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm

I found it scary to not have screens on the windows and closed them in Europe at night, since we didn’t want a large bird perched on our chest in the morning. Although America is a melting pot of all cultures, we still adapted our own quirks – like fry sauce (Utah).

Travelogged September 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

My son is responsible for a lot of the US’s ketchup consumption! Ketchup & dryers — didn’t realize I was such a patriot. The country’s gun situation is very depressing though.

Mary @ Green Global Travel September 7, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Great list. No window screens outside of the USA is totally true. I don’t see how people can sleep with mosquitoes coming through their windows and buzzing around their heads at night.

penny sadler September 7, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Great List! On my first trip to Europe, well to England, one night I was absolutely starving and went to this corner market and found a big bag of popcorn. I was working and went back to the theater and everyone promptly said, “How American,” because of the popcorn. Mind you, I bought it there!

Cassie September 14, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Great lists! We have just moved to Puerto Rico from Colorado and were shocked that most locals don’t have screens! Especially with chikungunya, dengue and all sorts of other mosquito-borne diseases around. Maybe the garlic and spices in the local food keeps them away? I did love road trips in the continental U.S. as well.

Also, just wanted to point out that the statistics on obesity in China is a little misleading (aren’t most statistics?). While China has the 2nd largest population of obese people, the *percentage* of its people being obese is much, much smaller. The US only has about 300 million people and China has over 1 billion. The US has about 30-35% of its population classified as obese (and about 65-70% as overweight or obese). China is still in the single digits percentage-wise of its population being obese (though it’s on the rise thanks to an increase in American-style eating).

So, basically the US has a third of the people that China does and we are still NUMBER 1 (U-S-A! woot-woot?) in obesity numbers world-wide.

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