11 Habits You Can’t Help Picking Up If You Live in the United States

Don't forget to smile | © Allef Vinicius / Unsplash
Don't forget to smile | © Allef Vinicius / Unsplash
Photo of Elizabeth Nicholas
21 August 2017

Americans may be a curious breed to you before you move here, but once you’ve spent any considerable amount of time stateside, you’ll pick up these quirky, distinctly American habits in no time flat.

Supersize Me

You may find yourself adjusting your expectations about what constitutes a “normal” portion size. A slice of something in Paris may be the size of your fist, but the one in America will likely be the size of your head.

Mentally calculating tax

Price tags don’t include tax in the U.S., which may cause you to do a double take the first few times that the price at the register rings in at significantly more than it did a few seconds earlier on the sales floor. Besides the fact that sales tax varies by state and city, not including the tax in the price tag allows American merchants to make their prices seem lower than they really are.

Sticker shock | © DaMongMan / Flickr


Speaking of things that seem cheaper than they actually are, the final price of service at a restaurant or in a taxi isn’t what you see on the first bill you receive. You’ll quickly realize that not leaving a tip, as is the custom in much of Europe, can result in being chased down the street and publically shamed.

Smiling at strangers

Whereas it once might never have occurred to you to smile at someone you don’t know, in some parts of America, it is considered rude not to. You’ll find yourself grinning at people in line, on the subway, and on the street in perhaps less time than you’d like.

Don't forget to smile | © Allef Vinicius / Unsplash

And sharing your deepest secrets

Americans are over-sharers. While two French friends might spend years getting to know each other before divulging their nearest and dearest hopes and fears, that’s usually not the case in the U.S. If you ask an American stranger just about anything point blank, they’ll probably tell you.

Not entering a PIN or signing for your credit card

You may be horrified the first time you use your credit card or debit card to make a purchase in the United States since odds are good that no one will ask you to enter a PIN or even sign for your purchase. Get used to it—security is a bit lax over here.

credit card I

Celebrating an obscene number of holidays

Between Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Halloween, and National Donut Appreciation Day, there’s always a sentiment to be commercialized in America, and always a party to go along with it.

Carrying a sweater in the summer

When the temperature hits 80°F (26.6°C), Americans crank up the air conditioning far beyond what you may have previously thought civil—think Christmas in July.

Rooting for a sports team

You may be profoundly athletically apathetic, but just try staying that way after you’ve attended a baseball game on a summer night.

night at the ballpark I | © Sam Howzit/Flickr

Dressing down

Outside of New York, Americans aren’t particularly known for their sartorial surplus. America may bring out any latent affinity for yoga pants, sneakers, and sweatshirts that may have been dormant before you hopped the pond.

Asking people what they do for a living

America is a deeply capitalistic society, which may contribute to its default line of questioning—occupation—which often leads to an inane conversation neither participant would like to be in. (When in doubt, revert to your new favorite sports team.)

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