What do foreigners find most annoying about Americans and American culture?
The USA is not America
One thing that tends to annoy non-USA citizens is the tendency of the US locals to refer to their country as America and to themselves as Americans, neglecting to remember that the USA comprises only about 33% of the Americas population.
Isn't this article's title annoying?
Talking with Americans about the weather shouldn't be a Math quiz
Criticism of the USA
I get worried about Americans' response if I criticize something about the US. Europeans and Asians are use to criticism from outsiders more due to multicultural geography and not take that criticism as hate. Every now and then, when I criticize something about the US on-line, even when I'm very careful with my words to not offend anyone, I still receive some responses like, "First look at your own country!", "You're not from here, you have no right to say anything." "Foreigners hate America."
I actually find Americans to be very sweet and warm and generous and open and kind, but I think the amount of focus on the US and acting as if it's the only place that matters is part of a bigger problem: a huge level of self absorption.
This includes talking about themselves and their lives endlessly, US media which either reports news only from the US, or even some of the more high brow publications which largely write about things other publications have written about (like an endless echo chamber), to the mentioned lack of interest in anywhere outside the USA.
I had an American boyfriend too who was largely entirely uninterested in where I was from, which with hindsight fits into this self absorption.
I'm actually a very big fan of Americans who live in Europe as they have all the advantages mentioned above, while also displaying an interest in the rest of the world.
The measurement system
Miles, Gallons, Inches, Fahrenheit, etc. It is annoying not because it is different from the rest of the world but because it is illogical/inconsistent.
The pricing system
A soft drink is $1.99 not $2.00. Gas stations even put in 9/10 at the end of the cost of a gallon of gas, though I believe it's rounded up anyway. This all in a concerted effort to manipulate consumers to think something is cheaper than it really is and increase impulse buys. Also, unless you know the sales tax of the State, you're at the mercy of the register to work out the final cost of anything you're about to buy.
The check-out ritual has become ridiculous as well:
- Do you have a discount card? For only 5.99 you can enjoy savings up to 10.4% off all of your purchases if you follow our point system that you need to be a qualified US tax consultant to understand.
- Zip Code please?
- Would you like us to email your receipt?
- Do you have a Banana Republic Card? You can enjoy 50% off this purchase if you squander your credit rating by adding another debt instrument to your pocket!
- For only 10% more of your hard earned money you can get this useless item with your purchase!
- You know, if you buy 10 we'll give you 2 for free!
- How about a gift card with that?
Can I just buy this one belt please?
Sure – but we need to see your receipt before you leave to make sure you actually bought it...
Tipping by default
Tipping is not a custom all over the world (in some places it is even frowned upon), but where it does exist, the whole point is to improve public service – that is, somebody is given a "tip" if the service was really good, as an incentive to keep working that way.
In the US, there are firstly complicated rules on when to tip (e.g. you would tip a waiter at a restaurant or a bartender at a bar but not the Starbucks guy even though they all do similar amount of work). Secondly, you are expected to tip even if the service was not all that good. This is the one that baffles me all the time. Apparently good service deserves "more tip" and okay service deserves "medium tip" and bad service deserves "less tip". I just can't understand how society accepts giving incentives for poor service.
The usual reaction that most Americans have for this rant is that "many jobs rely on tips for basic income", and I agree this is the reason that most customers end up paying the tips anyway – but that is the fault of restaurant managers who don't pay proper wages to workers since they are aware of the pointless social norms in the country.
And the worst thing is that when Americans travel to other countries, they (well, many of them anyway) continue this habit of default tipping with complete disregard for the local culture. This habit causes people working in tourist-frequented zones to expect tips from everyone including the locals in a country where tipping is really not a normal thing (at least when the service is not good).
I feel the default tipping culture is ruining the service industry as a whole in America as well as other places.
World-view shaped by the Media
I wish the number of Americans who learn about the rest of the world just from the American media was lower.
The Middle East, India, Asia ... aren't like how you see it on the shows like Homeland and on the news. They just show the dark side or too-religious side because A) To make it look more exotic B) Only bad news make the news. C) They need a foreign "bad guy" on the TV show.
Just think...if I've never seen an American movie, know no American celebrities, scientists, or anything about the American culture, and the European media only showed the bad things about the US like the American media does about some countries, I'd only see poor-regions in the US, only hear about mass shooters, Westboro Baptist Church, the Kardashians, The Bachelor, high crime rate, violent songs ...etc These things exist in the US but they certainly don't define Americans in general or the American culture. And what you see in the American media about other countries do not always picture that nation's citizens or culture.
What annoys about Americans, or rather, American TV/Hollywood, is how they paint foreign countries, especially third world countries. For example, movies tend to highlight wars, starvation and horrible things about Africa. While these things do happen, not the whole African continent is under siege by warlords, tyrants, cattle raiders or terrorists. There's plenty of places that are beautiful and peaceful within Africa. But people have a hard time believing that because all they see is the bad side of Africa.
I've met Americans who come to Africa expecting to see us walking amongst animals. It must be disappointing to realize that Africa isn't one gigantic zoo.
Also, SOME Americans call Africa a country. Well, those ones are just ignorant and made other Americans look bad.
I've heard many people say that Americans aren't educated or curious about the world or ignorant of other cultures. No doubt that is true for some Americans. I have met many very smart, curious, aware Americans, though.
My observation (I've done some little travel in Europe) is that those ignorant people exist everywhere. The big difference is, even "lower class" Americans are so relatively prosperous that they can actually afford to travel and make "asses" of themselves (in the eyes of the elites of other countries). So the world is exposed to a much broader set of Americans. In most countries, only the elite can afford travelling abroad.
That is one thing that is good about America. But I do find it annoying. I wish the same opportunities existed for countrymen of other countries.
English is not the mother-tongue of the world
I find it really annoying that some (not all!) Americans seem to believe that English is the mother-tongue for the world. It's very annoying when an American pick on some tiny detail in my English, rather than engage with what I'm actually saying. Especially so since the ones who do that, tend to be folks who can't speak ANY language, other than English, fluently.
It's not reasonable to expect me to know my third language as well as an American knows his first. Unless you can hold this conversation effortlessly and error-free in three foreign languages, I suggest you let it slide that I mess up sometimes.
People from the UK don't tend to do the same thing, perhaps because English isn't dominant in the EU to the same degree that it is in North-America.
Some american can't get over the fact that there may be people who can't understand English. They are often found in online forums and expat bars complaining endlessly about their host country. A couple years ago, in earshot of our dinner hosts, one seriously asked me, "Why do Thai people eat SO MUCH FUCKING RICE?"...while holding a bag of Lay's in one hand, and an enormous bottle of Coke in the other, of course.
These kinds of Americans are pretty much despised by everyone in any country they visit, and give all Americans a bad name.
Wow, how come you can speak English?
I'm from Malaysia, and even though the national language here is Malay, my family converses in English only, so I consider English to be my native language.
I have liked most American people I have met and have liked most of America that I have seen.
As an Australian who has travelled quite a bit and been part of many different expat communities I find that Anericans more than people from other countries do this one particular thing that annoys me.
When I am speaking, really about anything, just in general conversation, I hate being interrupted so that someone can impersonate my accent to me.
This is how it goes:
Me: "...so then I'd probably add just a little butter..."
American: "Buttah! Buttah...you say Buttah. Australian accents are so funny"
Me: "Uh yeah, so as I was saying..."
So I have a different accent. I get that. But people not from Australia have a very different accent from me. I don't stop them midway through a conversation to repeat back to them what they said because, well, it's just rude.
Maybe it's because there are less Australians in the places I've been which makes my accent more of an anomaly, maybe some Americans are less exposed to other accents (which doesn't really make sense since I meet these Americans overseas), maybe I just happen to have met a bunch of Americans who think this is appropriate. I don't know. But it annoys me.
If Americans stop doing it I'll try to stop, I don't know, something annoying about Australians: pretending that Americans are one big homogenous blob of conservative, gun wielding, capitalist morons because I saw one Michael Moore film. I'm sure that gets old.
Why do you have a British accent?
I then go on to explain how my country of origin (Malaesia) was colonized by the British many years ago, hence the British influence. Also, I don't think my accent is that British, just different from an American accent and perhaps is sometimes misunderstood?
I was once at a bar and asked an American lady where the nearest toilet was. She cocked her head and spoke really slowly (a better word would be drawled), "I'm sorryyyy... I don'ttttt speeeeeeak Chineseeeeee...."
I chalk it down to equal parts inebriation and ignorance as opposed to deliberate racism though. In fact, my American friends were more outraged than me.
Haha, you say rubber instead of eraser.
Other words that warrant a chuckle/giggle: trunk vs. boot, trash vs. rubbish, gas vs. petrol, articulated lorries vs. tractor trailers, knock you up vs. wake you up.
Referring to this or that US sports finals as World Championship
Some Americans tend to be very vocal about their opinions, informed or not
They tend to consider their opinions as 'right', which means that anything different is 'wrong'. I cannot tell you how many times I've been lectured by Americans who've been in China for a week how the Chinese are doing everything wrong.
Some Americans often assume that the US way is the best way or that many things are unique about America.
- Your roads are amazing.
- Your airline system is stunning.
- The technology available in healthcare is world leading.
- You do indeed have a working democracy.
- Your culture of innovation is something to be proud of.
- You really are the world police due to your massive armed forces.
- Your Universities are world class.
- You do have a constitution.
- So do a lot of countries.
- Your version of best is often merely different than others, not better.
- Often you're not the best, you just assume you are.
- Somethings to be best at, are nothing to be proud of.
So I just wish Americans were more open to equally good or better ways to do things differently.
- Gun Ownership.
- Public transport.
Canadians are sometimes bewildered by how little some Americans know about Canada, and I think that may apply to other countries as well. It can be surprising to encounter Americans who know incredibly little about a country that shares a very long and significant border with them. I once was travelling in Paris and staying at a hostel, and one of the girls in my dorm was from Chicago. (Incidentally -- Chicago is a stone's throw from the Canadian border.) Seeing my Canadian flag on my backpack, she said "Oh my god! Are you Swiss?" And I said, "Uh, no, why?" And she responded, "Oh, I just saw the Swiss flag on your backpack and assumed." I travelled to Nashville in July once from Toronto and everyone said, "wow, y'all must find it so hot here right now! How long was your flight?" It was actually a fair bit hotter in Toronto at the time and the flight was about an hour and a half. One guy literally was surprised to hear that Toronto was a city because he thought Canada was "all bears and wilderness." Most Canadians have a number of stories like this about America.
That being said Americans are some of the loveliest, most open and helpful people I've ever encountered, and so many of them are hugely intelligent and knowledgeable about the world and other cultures. It's really unfair to make sweeping generalizations about any country. But in Canada we are just sometimes offended by what is frankly ignorance about anything outside of the USA, and my experience is that people in other cultures often share that sentiment.
One of the things that shocked me the most the first time I interacted with American people was their tendency to just randomly leave without barely saying goodbye.
When chatting, they suddenly say "ok I'm leaving" and just go away. The first couple times I was actually sure I had said something wrong. In my country (and several others), it is common to take some time to say goodbye, say it was nice seeing each other, wish a good day to each other, and then leave. So the way Americans brutally leave seems very rude to non-Americans
It also extends to phone calls, which tends to go like:
"Hey want to hang out tonight?" (no hello, no how are you, no introducing himself, straight to the point)
"Oh, yep sure, that sounds n-"
(He hangs up, no goodbye, no have a good day, nothing. Brutal.)
For tourists, it is especially bad when talking to cashiers/clerks/waiters. American tourists directly ordering "One coffee." won't have as nice an experience as other customers saying "Hi, I would like one coffee, please".
How you doing? How are you? How're things?
This is a form of greeting not to be mistaken for a question.
I had learned this already years ago when I first started working, but now and then this rule slips my mind. Even if an answer is necessary, keep it brief.
I just experienced this earlier today. I volunteer for a local non-profit and the lady who is helping to lead the mission shot me a quick e-mail with a list of to-do items. She ended it with "How are things with you? How was your weekend?"
I sent her a whole paragraph on how I was and earnestly reciprocated by asking her how her meeting was and what she was up to.
When Americans ask non-Americans stuff like, "How was your weekend?" Most foreigners take it seriously and start to ponder on how their weekend was. By the time they figure it out the American would have walked away or have already changed the topic of conversation. After several years I finally figured out that "How was your weekend?" is like a greeting and the person is not really that interested in your weekend.
Not a bad thing in itself, but surprising at first, and rude for non-Americans. Most countries have systems and rules about how you should address each other, depending on your relation to each other, age, and so on.
Not so much in America.
When travelling, Americans call waiters "buddy", say "Hey" to old people, and so on. While in America I think it is nice, as it makes everyone seems friendly, it actually seems very rude to foreigners
It seems to be the norm in the US, so you don't notice it a lot in America, but in other countries where people speak "normally", it sounds very rude/uneducated.
Especially in restaurants, where all the locals speak softly and politely to each other, and a group of people is like "OH MY GAWD, THIS FOOD IS SO GOOD, BWAHAHAHA, THAT'S THE SH*T DUDE!"
Everyone else in the restaurant is immediately thinking "Rude Americans".
Relentless positivity and optimism!
These may be baffling to Europeans. Really, you are going to find a positive in that?
(I can't say they are the worst tourists though. If America were an animal, it would be a big happy dog with giant dirty paws. So slightly worrying when angry and occasionally a nuisance, but ultimately hard to hate).