12 Things About America That Always Surprise Tourists

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iStock

by Reader's Digest Editors

Ask any foreign traveler who has visited the U.S. and they'll tell you that there are things about our culture that are as funny as they are wacky. Read on for 12 things that are as American as apple pie, yet give visitors pause.

1. DONUTS

"Why do Americans have pastries with holes in them? Why would you remove the center? And then you sell the holes separately? That's crazy," says Dmitry Kuzhanov, a Russian citizen who has been living in the U.S. for two years.

2. SQUIRRELS

Photo of a little girl feeding a squirrel
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“Foreigners find it funny that some Americans go as far as to interact or feed squirrels in the park,” says Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert. “This is viewed as quite bizarre and eccentric!”

3. FOOD PORTIONS

“Food portions in the U.S. are much larger than in China, where food is served 'family style' for everyone to share,” say Glen Loveland, an American who has lived in China for over a decade. “Seeing the look on the faces of Chinese tourists at The Cheesecake Factory, for example, as their dishes are served is quite amusing!”

4. WHITE SOCKS

Photo of man in white socks and sandals.
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"The white socks thing baffles many Europeans,” says Alex Bunten, who has lived in Scotland, Sweden, Spain, and Russia for over a decade. “You can pick an American tourist out from miles away—poor-fitting clothes, usually brand-new sneakers (if not sandals) with bright white socks!"

5. SUPER-SIZED BEVERAGES

"In most European countries, the sizes of beverage packaging are standardized, usually in the size of one liter or one and a half liters,” says Clemens Sehi, a Germany-based travel writer. “Also, most Europeans buy just as much milk as they really need. Not so in the U.S. where milk or red wine is often bought in huge containers so that it can last for weeks to come."

6. CHILD ATHLETES

Photo of Little League baseball team
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"Little League sports teams, and specifically parents coaching them, is something I just don't understand,” says Kuzhanov. “Maybe that's because children's sports teams don't exist in Russia."

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7. FAST FOOD

"It's hard to get used to all the fast food in America,” says Sehi. “It seems that many Americans love eating their food on the go and as quickly as possible, whether it's the drive-through, at In-N-Out Burger or a short stop at a favorite food truck on the corner."

8. INSTA-SMILES

Family photo selfie
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"I find the 'American smile' really funny and endearing,” says Sonam Yadav, who lives in New Delhi, India. “I'm talking about the wide ardent 'say cheese' grin every kid and adult seems to have practiced and is visible in every image which appears at a second's notice.”

9. ENORMOUS HIGHWAYS

"Particularly as a German used to the Autobahn with its six lanes, it's shocking to see that in the U.S. you have highways with 12 or more lanes, on which most cars drive at the same speed,” Sehi says. “It can be hard to learn the rules of the road!"

10. ICED DRINKS

Photo of iced coffees
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"Iced drinks are something Chinese people don't understand,” Loveland says. “Chinese people tend to drink lukewarm or hot water for beliefs related to traditional Chinese medicine."

11. EXTENDED SHELF LIVES

"I find it unbelievable that Americans buy groceries for one or even two weeks at a time,” says Landon Lin, who was born and raised in China. “I can't believe Americans trust food to stay fresh that long. In Asia, people go shopping every day, or at least once every two to three days!"

12. AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS

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"In Germany and other European countries, you mostly learn to drive with cars that have a gear shift and not with a transmission,” Sehi says. “This makes it weird for many foreigners to rent a car in the U.S., because most rental cars have automatic transmissions.” 

The ChopBox Smart Cutting Board Has a Food Scale, Timer, and Knife Sharper Built Right Into It

ChopBox
ChopBox

When it comes to furnishing your kitchen with all of the appliances necessary to cook night in and night out, you’ll probably find yourself running out of counter space in a hurry. The ChopBox, which is available on Indiegogo and dubs itself “The World’s First Smart Cutting Board,” looks to fix that by cramming a bunch of kitchen necessities right into one cutting board.

In addition to giving you a knife-resistant bamboo surface to slice and dice on, the ChopBox features a built-in digital scale that weighs up to 6.6 pounds of food, a nine-hour kitchen timer, and two knife sharpeners. It also sports a groove on its surface to catch any liquid runoff that may be produced by the food and has a second pull-out cutting board that doubles as a serving tray.

There’s a 254nm UVC light featured on the board, which the company says “is guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and bacteria" after a minute of exposure. If you’re more of a traditionalist when it comes to cleanliness, the ChopBox is completely waterproof (but not dishwasher-safe) so you can wash and scrub to your heart’s content without worry. 

According to the company, a single one-hour charge will give you 30 days of battery life, and can be recharged through a Micro USB port.

The ChopBox reached its $10,000 crowdfunding goal just 10 minutes after launching its campaign, but you can still contribute at different tiers. Once it’s officially released, the ChopBox will retail for $200, but you can get one for $100 if you pledge now. You can purchase the ChopBox on Indiegogo here.

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Instead of Taco Tuesday, Sweden Celebrates Taco Friday (or Taco Fredag)

ptpower, iStock via Getty Images
ptpower, iStock via Getty Images

If you think Swedish cuisine is limited to meatballs and herring, you've never celebrated Fredagsmys—the Swedish version of Taco Tuesday. The day, which translates to "cozy Fridays," is a chance for Swedes to get together with loved ones and eat comfort food at the end of a long week. And instead of indulging in more traditional Swedish fare, the Fredagsmys cuisine of choice is Tex-Mex.

Fredagsmys takes the already-Americanized taco and puts a Swedish spin on it. On Taco Fredag (Taco Friday), ingredients like tortillas, ground meat, peppers, and tomatoes are laid out smörgåsbord-style. The spread may also include some toppings that are rarely served with tacos outside of Scandinavia, such as yogurt, cucumber, peanuts, and pineapple. After assembling their meal, diners enjoy it in a cozy spot in front of the TV, ideally surrounded by pillows and candles.

The Swedish tradition of starting the weekend with a taco feast has only been around for a couple of decades. In the 1990s, the Swedish potato chip company OLW introduced the slogan “Now it’s cozy Friday time” into the national lexicon. Old El Paso capitalized on this concept with its own ad campaign showing Swedes how to assemble tacos at home. The Swedish spice company Santa Maria noticed the emerging trend and further popularized the idea of eating tacos on Fridays in its TV advertisements.

Tacos may be the food that's most closely associated with Fredagsmys today, but any quick junk food is appropriate for the occasion. Burgers and pizza are also popular items, as are candy, chips, and popcorn. The meal makes up just one part of the night: Settling in on the couch in pajamas to watch TV with loved ones is just as important as the food.

Making time for comforting indoor activities is a necessity in Sweden, where the weather is harsh and daylight is scarce for much of the year. The Danish do something similar with hygge, although tacos aren't an explicit part of that tradition.