Fifteen Customs that are Distinctly American!

Anumita lists fifteen customs that are very different and stand out as American tradition/norms, which most foreigner find strange, initially. This is not meant to offend anyone but is just a collection of opinions from people, who visit or come to stay from other countries. We are sure that all the countries have such norms, which are strange to the rest of the world. Slowly one understands and becomes a part of the flow, in the huge melting pot of culture. Here’s more to the multiculturalism that is now the American way of life, in the regular column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Living in a different country, other than that of your birth, calls for many adjustments. The norms of the adopted country are very different from your own. Some such customs, traditions or norms might seem a bit strange and downright weird for the foreigners. But, once the person starts to live for prolonged periods of time, these strange norms become just that, a norm. The acclimatisation takes time, and the next generation actually helps weave the customs into the way of life.

While talking to and reading through many, who have settled in America, like me, I find common thoughts about some customs followed in this country. I am sure this is due to them not experiencing such traditions or way of life in their countries. When I moved in I did find some too, but as my childhood had been in this country, I could assimilate easily. My children have no issues, as they are American born and bred.


Here are fifteen of the customs that are very different and stand out as American tradition/norms, which most foreigner find strange, initially. This is not meant to offend anyone, but is just a collection of opinions from people, who visit or come to stay from other countries. I am sure that all the countries have such norms, which are strange to the rest of the world.

1. Sports is vital part of most the American families. There is always a sport of a season, and the whole family is involved in the sports of the children in the family. From elementary school through our college there are teams of different sports. Parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and neighbors are involved during the games. They even travel to places just to watch their wards play.

2. With sports comes Tailgate Parties. Football is one of the most talked about game as well as basketball. The teams playing will have their fan rally up with the sports gears on, in the parking lots of the stadiums. The university games are very popular and parties before the game is a huge thing and these happen in the parking lots and vicinities of the stadium. Team spirit is in high crescendo and definitely it’s an unusual way of celebrating it.

3. The winter is pretty harsh in the northern half of the country. In anticipation of the spring, on February 2nd, Americans celebrate Groundhog’s Day.  Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a groundhog predicts the speed of the advent of spring. According to tradition, if it cloudy as the groundhog comes out of the burrow, then spring will be early, and if it is sunny, spring will stay for six more weeks. Trusting a rodent to predict the weather is kind of strange.

4. Talking about celebrations it can be safely said that all Americans love parades. There is a parade for every celebration. People dress up and dance, ride, and walk designated path of streets, while the whole town cheers them. This is applicable to all sizes of settlements from small towns to big cities. If there is a celebration, there will be a parade. Join in the cheer.

5. As soon as fall hits the seasonal calendar, there is a show of big orange gourds around the country. The American obsession with the pumpkin is huge during the fall. Pumpkin festivals, shows, and completions for the biggest pumpkin sprout up all over the country. Even the local eateries add this gourd into their menu in form of main course, desserts, and beverages. The endearment ‘pumpkin’ takes a new form after all.

6. Staying in that same season come Halloween. When most of the time children are been warned not to talk to strangers and take candy from them, during Halloween there a horses of children going door to door doing just that. The magic is in the words ‘trick-or-treat’ and the costumes the kids’ sport. Americans get carried away with the costume factor and they often wear some to school, colleges and workplaces. It’s a norm for them but the foreigners think this to be out of character, wonder why!

7. Thanksgiving follows with the thought of feasting on a huge turkey. Food and family is the predominant thought amongst all Americans. One lucky fowl gets to keep its head and continue gobbling. The President has the power to pardon one such bird and it goes into retirement to live rest of its life without the fear of being basted and popped into the oven. American lucky fowl indeed!

8. No one can do sale and discount like Americans. They dedicated a whole day for sale throughout the country and named it Black Friday. A frenzy that starts even before the Thanksgiving Day and ends way beyond it. Few countries can match up to the frenzy and enthusiasm as this particular day in America. The whole year retailers throw bits of sale and discounts, but this day takes the cake. The whole world quotes ‘Black Friday’ as the Mega Sale Day of America.

9. After buying, Americans have a huge tendency of returning the merchandises. Every store has its own Return Policy. This was one of the norms, I found interesting, strange and very helpful. During the sale people splurge on things and buy cartloads of merchandise, only to be returned in few days time, as the exact amount of money spet settles into their ‘discount infused’ brain.

10. I had a big time shock when I first came to America and bought things in a store and found my bill way more than the price listed. The initial reaction was to keep quite as I did not understand why the difference. On the second time, I picked up courage to ask, and then understood that tax was not included in the pricing. The sales taxes are different in different places, so taxes get calculated at the checkout. This can often cause misunderstanding to crop up for people, who are from other countries and may be taxing on their mind.

11. Whenever my kids order pizza they check for coupons. The coupon culture was such a new thing for us when we were new to this country. There is a coupon for everything under the sun; all you have to do is find it. Only in America, it was possible to buy things with a coupon, which made it cheaper, easier or more for the buck. The coupon system was available since 1886, starting with Coca-Cola Company’s coupons. Other than newspapers, magazine, pamphlets e-coupons are rampant now. So get clipping now.

12. As we are on the topic of food, let get to the portions. America believes living life large. So portions are big deal. The small is never a small, and the extra large are definitely more than large. There is always a free refill of soda drinks in most eateries. Invariably, you will find most Americans, including my kids, ordering a large drink even though free refill is there. All I can do is shake my head, and pay the bill.

13. When my kids were in elementary school, I would be sitting with them with the political map of America and showing them the 50 states. With them, I learned that each state has its own flag, bird, animal and many have a state song. Quite a mind boggling thing it was for me, and a huge effort on our part to remember and understand these. One form of diversity in unity, I think.

14. I love to read license plates of the vehicles. American can customise their license plate with a fee. Often the license plate has the names of the owner or their loved ones. Some have adjectives about the owner and some are outrageous. It is definitely very entertaining while driving on American roads.

15. I live in a snow zone. The first few things I was told about liability issues, scared me. There are tons of liability issues, which pop up without knowing. If a post delivery person slips and falls on ice on your property, you are liable; if a person falls due to an uneven pavement in your property, you are liable were the first few. These are some of the reasons many airline staff would not help you with your luggage due to the liability issue. Check your pocket book of liabilities now and then.

All said and done, we are living in America for more than 18 years and have settled in this country. Our children were born here. Our adopted country is our home, its customs are part of me now. With all its peculiarities and necessities this country is unique. After all, it is the American way!

©Anumita Chatterjee Roy

Photos from the internet.

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