16 Things Unique to American Culture
Americans like to think that they have no unifying culture. And while it's true that the gigantic country is a melting pot of languages, ethnicities and traditions, there are definitely things that are distinctively American.
From throwing birth parties for dogs to venerating lake town vacations, traditions in the U.S. can range from ridiculous to amazing.
Ready to laugh, cry and reminisce about your childhood? Here are 16 things unique to American culture.
1. Summer Camps
Summer camps are one of the best things about American culture. Spending the summer in the Great Outdoors, making friends and learning skills is formative for any child.
Canada also has this wonderful tradition, but not many other countries do. To other people, it seems strange to send a child off for a whole summer rather than spending that time with them. In countries where parents enjoy decent time off, families vacation together.
Still, you never forget memories formed around the campfire.
2. Going on Ghost Tours
Ghost tours are incredibly popular in American cities like New Orleans, Louisiana, and Savannah, Georgia. But how often do you see them abroad? Pretty rarely.
Perhaps this goes back to the idea behind Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" story. In it, an English house remains empty as a ghost of a man who murdered his wife haunts it. Then, an American family comes and is completely unfazed by both the ghost and the perpetual stain of blood at the scene of the crime.
Though the story is from 1887, it seems like Americans have not changed in their nonchalant attitude toward the spirits who dwell in the beyond.
3. Dog Birthday Parties
Everyone loves dogs, but Americans seem keener than anyone on treating them like humans. The latest trend that showcases this is dog birthday parties.
We won't deny that they're cute. But it also seems excessive to spend time and money on decorations, cakes and party favors (yes, we've actually seen this) for a being that can't even understand the concept of birthdays.
People can do what they want with their money, but if you're so ready to waste it, perhaps donating it could be a better idea.
4. Having Few Vacation Days
Social media is filled with jokes comparing American and European vacation time. The gist of it is that Europeans take three months off to unwind and recenter while Americans take a single day off to undergo open-heart surgery — and even then they're available for calls.
While this is a tiny bit exaggerated, there is truth to it. Every country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a requirement for minimum paid time off ... except the United States. Instead, vacation depends solely on the goodwill of employers.
Compare that to France's required 30 days off (plus holidays) and a move to Europe starts looking very good.
5. Road Trips
Yes, other cultures participate in road trips, but because the U.S. has such an expansive highway system, with no border patrol between states, Americans have become quite accustomed to taking road trips.
Hop in the car for an eight-hour drive to the mountains? No problem! European citizens, however, would consider that to be an eternity. Just remember that you can drive eight hours from southern California to the northern parts of the state and still never leave its borders (and that's not factoring in the state's notorious traffic delays).
And if you want even more "100 percent American" points, do the road trip on an RV.
6. Kids Making Their Room Off-Limits to Their Parents
You see it on television shows and in movies. You might have even seen it in real life. But no matter how often you witness a teenager telling their parents that they can't go into their room, it never ceases to be shocking.
To many Americans, this seems like a normal way of asserting individual rights and freedoms. However, in other cultures, the idea that you can tell your parents where to go in their own house is simply laughable. Until you have a house with your name on the deed, you don't get to tell your parents what to do — and even then, proceed at the risk of a scold.
7. Lake Town Vacations
Another great American-Canadian tradition is spending the summer (or, really, any season) in a beautiful lake town.
Of course, other countries enjoy lakes, but in North America, it's almost a rite of passage. Forget the white picket fence, the lake house is the true American dream!
As they (ok, we) say, you haven't been to America until you've done a lake vacation.
8. Pizza for School Lunch
What if we told you that people in other countries get actual food for lunch? In places like France and South Korea, where food is incredibly important, school lunches typically consist of well-balanced meals cooked daily.
We're not just saying this. We've actually lived it, and it was wonderful. It definitely beats eating a greasy slice of pizza or a frozen tuna salad for lunch, as we did throughout middle and high school.
9. Calling Parents Once a Month
If you've ever seen an American sitcom, then you know Americans can have a weirdly strained relationship with their parents. Visits from them are always portrayed as something that causes stress.
In real life, many Americans talk to their parents once a month — or even less! In many other cultures, this would simply be unacceptable. In fact, it's pretty normal to call your parents every single day. (Or even multiple times a day.)
Obviously, this isn't universal. Many Americans have a wonderful and constant relationship with their parents. But the attitude is prevalent enough to warrant an "American" stamp.
10. Tipping Over 10 Percent
In the U.S., the minimum a decent person tips is 15 percent, while most people tip 20 percent. No other country has a similar system. In fact, in much of the world, tipping isn't really a thing at all. Even in places that have a tipping culture, 10 percent is the norm.
Why is it so different here? Most other countries require servers to earn an hourly salary at or above minimum wage. In the U.S., however, employees can pay you under the minimum wage if you're expected to earn enough with tips.
11. Family Holiday Cards
The holidays are filled with beautiful traditions. One of them involves receiving cards from family, friends and acquaintances you barely remember. These cards typically have a picture of the family in cute matching outfits and a brief summary of updates.
This heartwarming tradition is unique to American culture. It's a great way of getting updates from people that are a bit more personal than social media posts.
12. Not Including Taxes in the Sale Price
Every foreigner who comes to the U.S. is shocked (read: annoyed) by our pricing system. Taxes are included in the price displayed in almost every other place in the world.
But not here. Instead, you get to find out how much you're actually paying once you're at the checkout. Fun!
13. Tailgate Parties
We're not sure how tailgating originated, but it must be an interesting story. One day, someone decided to pack a portable grill and start making burgers and hot dogs from the back of their car while they waited for a football game to begin. Everyone else saw it and said, "That's an amazing idea!"
And so, one of the biggest American traditions was born. And it probably will never end, to the great joy of most people.
14. Greek Life
Americans live on college campuses more than almost anyone else. Because people are away from home and in need of camaraderie, fraternities and sororities have been formed. On some campuses, Greek life dominates almost everything.
The rituals and culture of each house vary widely, but the very idea of their existence is baffling to people outside of the U.S., particularly when you try to explain hazing. To be fair, we're pretty sure no one outside of Greek-life enthusiasts understands why institutionalized bullying is supposed to help create bonds.
15. The Vacation Outfit
If you ever see a tourist with cargo pants, flip flops and a printed shirt, you can automatically assume they're American.
Of course, not every American dresses like this on vacation. The country is a powerhouse of fashion for a reason! But only Americans sport this stereotypical look.
16. Pool Parties
Everyone loves a good pool party. But, in most places, only the very rich can afford to have a house with a pool. Not in America. Here, it's normal for middle-class people to enjoy this luxury, especially in hot states like Florida. In fact, you can even rent out private pools by the hour.
So while pool parties exist everywhere, they're not as common as in the U.S. Going to a friend's house for a pool party (or going to the public pool with friends) is a quintessential summer activity for almost every American.