No matter how you feel about America, you have to admit it's one of a kind. Malls with roller coasters, supermarkets the size of small towns, and the never-ending political campaigns telling you that you're in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
There's no shortage of American quirks, but there
Americans are peaches, not coconuts.
In America, flashing a smile and starting a conversation is a show of friendliness and good will. Try that in Europe, and people will think you're crazy or trying to sell them something.
Culture experts Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner explain this difference using peaches and coconuts. People from peach cultures, like Americans, are soft on the outside. They'll smile, chat you up, and share a few personal details. At a certain point (for instance, at the end of a shared flight) they'll reach their hard pit, quit sharing, and say their goodbyes.
Many Europeans and Asians come from coconut cultures. They don't outwardly show as much emotion or volunteer personal information. For example, when an American asks a "coconut" how they're doing while in line at the store or on the subway, the "coconuts" clutch their valuables in suspicion.
We let pharmaceutical commercials diagnose us.
When a family gathers to watch its favorite program, the last thing anyone wants to see is an ad describing medical symptoms that are usually kept private. For people from other countries, the experience isn't just embarrassing—it's utterly strange.
That's because only three countries in the world permit direct-to-consumer advertising with pharmaceuticals—New Zealand, Brazil, and the United States. Despite the American Medical Association calling for a ban on the practice, the U.S. Congress has shown no inclination to put the brakes on pharmaceutical advertising.
Of course, there are rules that the companies must follow. Most notably, they must list all potential side effects, many of which are more severe than the original problem. The advertisers comply with this rule by showing blissful scenes of family life as a narrator reads the terrifying side effects.
Restaurants are a different experience entirely.
Restaurants offer a glimpse of several more unique American customs. For one, American waiters tend to be extremely friendly (we have a peach culture, after all).
In fact, waiters in America are a lot more involved throughout the whole meal (for better or for worse). They refill drinks without asking, repeatedly ask if everything is alright, and take away plates as patrons finish eating. Visitors from other countries can find this attention overwhelming.
Two more oddities arise once customers finish their meal. First, the waiter often brings the check unsolicited. This is a major gaffe in many countries, but customary in the U.S. Secondly, a 20 percent tip is expected even if the service was not extraordinary. That's far more than the 5–10 percent tips that waiters in other countries expect.
America's customs might seem strange, but they usually exist for a good reason.
We are the collection of the rest of the world's immigrants after all, so having a soft and friendly exterior helps bring us together. Most foreigners come to love the U.S. after they get to know it. For those that don't, we're still peachy.