Thanks to Amazon’s same-day delivery and the globalization of goods and services, we expect to get everything we want instantly. It’s great if you forget the toilet roll and need it delivered now, but it’s slowly ruining our experiences while traveling.
When Americans travel abroad, we expect to get all our creature comforts wherever we go. We live in these insular social bubbles that make stepping out of our comfort zones hard.
But traveling abroad should be an opportunity to embrace new cultures, try new cuisine, and experience different ways of living. So, just how different is America from the rest of the world? And what can’t you get in other countries?
In this guide, we’ll show you the cultural, culinary, and environmental differences between the US and the rest of the world, so you can prepare for the changes when you travel.
USA vs. The World: Culinary Differences
Although America is a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines, it does have a signature style of food that seems to be difficult to get in other countries.
This is mainly because of the amount of fat, sugar, and salt used in American food compared to the rest of the world. Since Americans have a sweet tooth and a preference for processed, there are a few things many US citizens think they can’t get elsewhere.
American food items like peanut butter, biscuits and gravy, cream cheese, and ranch dressing are signatures of the US, but they’re not as loved elsewhere. In fact, most British people would think you were nuts if you said you were putting gravy on biscuits.
There’s also a cultural difference in snack options. Here in the US, you’ll find Cheez-It crackers and salty corn chips in any supermarket, but it’s tough to find them elsewhere.
“In Korea, rice snacks are most prominent. Pine rice cakes (songpyeon) and South Korean steamed rice cakes are light, tasty, and found almost everywhere. In contrast, you’d find it difficult to get corn-based snacks in Korea, but they do have some fantastic deep-fried options that can rival the US!” – Anne Sutherland-Smith from Korea Travel Planning
Perhaps one of the hardest things to find in other countries is authentic Southern cuisine. Rich American-style barbecue sauce, Southern fried green tomatoes, and peach cobbler are hard to beat if you’re outside of the Southern states.
What About Beverages?
Yes, it’s not just American food that can be difficult to find in other countries; Us Americans have some unique tastes in drinks, too.
American root beer is tough to track down in other countries, but it is available in Europe. Interestingly, most Japanese people report it tastes like medicine and won’t drink it.
The grape flavor is something else rather unique to the US. The “grape” flavor was first introduced in the US as a substitute for blackcurrant after farming of blackcurrants was banned in the early 1900s.
Fun fact: grape flavor isn’t even made from grapes; it’s made from methyl anthranilate, which has a fruity flavor.
“You might not be able to find grape juice in Perth, but Western Australia is world-renowned for its wine. If you’re a wine connoisseur, Margaret River is home to some of the best wines and produce in the world.” – Nadia Cuthbertson from Perth Weekend
Cultural and Lifestyle Differences
It’s not just cuisine that’s different abroad; the US does have some fundamental cultural differences that you don’t see in other countries.
Schools & Education
The kids in the US tend to start school later than most other Western countries. For comparison, school starts at six years in America, but at four years in the UK.
On the flip side, the US takes in the most international students every year. Over a million international students visit the US every year because of its massive range of higher learning programs.
The US tends to get a lot of TV shows and movies before anywhere else in the world. Although only about 10% of movies are actually created in the US, they make up a disproportionate amount of what people actually watch.
Because of licensing and delays in release dates, the US gets to see a lot of shows and movies before they’re released elsewhere. The US market is also often used as a guinea pig for smaller productions.
A great example is the movie Home Alone which was made back in the 90s. It was only released in America since it was fairly low-budget, and it wasn’t until it became a smash hit that foreign markets picked it up.
There are just under 153,000 stores listed with the National Association of Convenience Stores, and about 90% of those are open 24 hours a day.
The ability to walk into a convenience store at any hour is part of US culture, but it’s so not common in other nations.
In Europe, you’ll rarely find stores allowed to open 24 hours in an attempt to prevent competition from getting out of control. But in the US, there’s a 24-hour bodega on every corner.
When Americans visit other countries, this can be somewhat of a culture shock, especially when you’re craving a hotdog at 3 am.
“If you’re looking for a vacation with convenience, Los Cabos is a great choice. You’ll find 24-hour convenience stores just like in the US, nestled among rooftop bars, resorts and restaurants on a glistening coastline.” – Janice Mucalov from Cabo Visitor
Cup of Tea?
If you asked for tea here in the US, chances are you meant an iced tea, especially if you’re in the Southern states.
But travel over to the UK, Europe, or Asia, and tea is almost always a hot beverage. Most UK households have a kettle and teapot that are used constantly, but here in the US, it’s much less common.
Although you can find iced tea almost anywhere in the world, most countries will assume you’re asking for a hot drink if you order tea in a cafe or restaurant.
Sounds of Nature
Travel to any country, and you’ll find a unique soundscape. Here in the US, we’ve got some truly distinctive natural sounds that are difficult to find elsewhere.
From the vibrating growls of a gator in Florida to the shrieks of a Bald Eagle in Alaska, we’ve been blessed with incredible sounds of nature.
“Since America is so vast, there are many places throughout the States that are wonderfully quiet. Hike up the hills in Colorado or visit the rural fields of Connecticut, and you’ll be hit with the wonderfully peaceful sound of nature and little else.” – Michelle Justice from Nature Sound Retreat
Millions of people flock to the US every year to visit the national parks and explore the wildlife. It’s a unique landscape that many want to visit.
Transportation and Infrastructure Differences
If you’ve ever visited Europe or the UK, you’ll know just how different the roads are compared to the US. Instead of wide, sweeping interstate highways, you’ll find narrower, more compact roads and much smaller cars.
It’s a little daunting driving on narrow roads and country lanes – many of which are one-lane in rural areas.
The Big Yellow Bus
The US is also the only country that has big yellow school buses. In other parts of the world, regular buses are used to transport kids back and forth to school.
The yellow bus is so unusual in other parts of the world, it’s something many people will highlight if you ask them to talk about US culture.
For the Love of Trucks
There’s no other country in the world that loves its trucks and vehicles quite like the US. The scale of the American car culture is vast. In other parts of the world, there is a much larger focus on cycling and making areas pedestrian friendly.
In Switzerland, walking is the national sport, and there are marked pedestrian and cycle paths everywhere. In many cities, walkways are championed over roads, making it much easier to walk than drive.
Living in the Suburbs
No matter where you go, you’ll always find cities filled with high rises, compact apartments, and massively overpriced homes in the heart of downtown areas.
But when it comes to suburban living, America takes it to another level. Compared to other places in the world, America has super-sized suburban homes on huge plots.
The average size of a single-family home in America is about 2,480 square feet. In the UK, the average is about 980 square feet.
If you travel outside of the UK and visit an Airbnb or relative abroad, you’ll be struck by the scale differences between the homes. You’ll rarely find a massive double-breasted refrigerator or 52-inch TV. The large-than-life lifestyle is something that’s much more normalized in the States.
Common Misconceptions and Why They Exist
It’s true there are some major differences between America and the rest of the world – that’s how culture works. But that doesn’t mean you can’t visit other countries and expand your perception of how others live.
In fact, there are more and more American influences all over the world. Thanks to mass media and marketing influences, you can get a lot of American food and practices abroad.
The media likes to exaggerate the cultural differences between different countries, but you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to get your American favorites in other parts of the world.
You might find it hard to grab a back of CHEEZ-ITS or Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, but there are plenty of options to remind you of home.
Embrace the Cultural Differences
It’s tough finding American goods in other countries, but that is part of why traveling is so exciting.
It’s an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try something totally new. The only way to open your mind and gain some rich cultural experiences is to adapt to new practices and immerse yourself in different cultures.
Different doesn’t mean inferior, and there is real value in embracing different ways of life. So, next time you’re on vacation abroad and start craving barbeque, think about where you are and take the rare opportunity to try something totally different.