All The Things The US Does Differently From The Rest Of The World

Facebook

Twitter

Copy link

List Rules
Vote up the things you're least surprised the US does differently.

It’s easy to assume that whatever customs, systems, processes, and general facts of life you’re accustomed to are the “norm.” However, as soon as you venture out of your home country or region, it becomes extremely apparent that not everything you do or have at home is the norm elsewhere. For Americans, this means coming across a bidet on a French vacation, or having a tip refused at a restaurant, or being forced to make sense of the metric system can come as a shock to the system.

The truth is, the US does many things differently from the rest of the world. From minor differences like an obsession with the American flag, to major ones with political or economic implications, like the use of a sales tax instead of value-added tax, or the refusal to recognize the International Criminal Court’s authority, the US is unique in a number of ways. Below you’ll find many things Americans do differently from the rest of the world - and why.


  • 1
    850 VOTES

    Why Americans Put The Flag On Everything

    If you look hard enough, you can find an American flag almost anywhere in the US. They’re on government buildings like the post office, of course, but they also fly above fast-food restaurants, are plastered on cars, and wave in front of peoples’ homes. 

    This kind of behavior isn’t common anywhere else in the world. So where does this flag obsession come from? It all boils down to the flag’s deep ties to Americans' national identity - ties so deep that people perceived to be (or even purposely) disrespecting the national anthem or the flag are met with harsh criticism.

    The US was founded without a unifying figurehead - like a monarch - so there wasn’t a person for people to rally around. Instead, they rallied around the ideals perpetuated in the founding of the country - such as unity, democracy, and freedom - regardless of the country's own dark history. Those ideals then became wrapped up in the flag, elevating its importance as a national symbol.

  • Why Americans Don't Use The Metric System
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    2
    816 VOTES

    Why Americans Don't Use The Metric System

    The United States Customary System of weights and measures (or the USCS - think inches and miles) is unique in that the rest of the world uses the metric system (think meters and kilograms). If everyone else has adopted a singular measurement system, why has the US stuck with its own? 

    Throughout the later 18th century, Thomas Jefferson, with the support of George Washington, worked on standardizing the American measurement system, but Congress repeatedly dragged its heels on the matter, until it was too late and too expensive to make the change.

    In 1832, the US adopted the so-called Imperial measurements used in Great Britain - the yard, gallon, and bushel - in a move toward standardization. But at that point, the American protocol had become so ingrained in the country's economic systems that joining the rest of the world in metrication - the process by which nations adopted the metric system - became impossible. Despite repeated attempts to standardize in the US, including a measure passed by Congress in 1975, the metric system never took hold.

  • 3
    646 VOTES

    Why Americans Can't Be Tried For International Crimes

    If someone commits an international war crime, the International Criminal Court is the judicial body responsible for trying them. That is, unless the suspected criminal is an American or American-allied citizen. The ICC was established in 1998, with 123 nations ratifying the Rome Statute (which established the ICC). The US is the notable exception to that ratification, meaning the government does not recognize the ICC’s authority. 

    After 9/11, President George W. Bush took this opposition a step further, passing the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, which granted Americans further protection against the ICC and gave the president the authority to invade the Hague (the ICC's location) if a US citizen is detained.

  • 4
    723 VOTES

    Why The US Uses The Electoral College

    Every four years, American citizens huddle around their TVs tracking the results of the presidential election live. While a lot of attention is paid to the popular vote, what really matters is how many votes each candidate gets in the electoral college. Rather than have the highest seat of government elected by the majority of citizens, each state is afforded a number of votes based on population that electors from each state then cast for the president. This process is unique in that it sometimes means the presidential candidate with the most votes is not the one who ends up winning the election

    When creating the framework for the American election process, the Founding Fathers had several hurdles to face. The biggest was how to ensure the results of each election both represented the will of the people and was fair and balanced based on the overall population. 

    When the country was founded, the main issue was how to best account for the enslaved population in the South. If the enslaved were counted as citizens, either in a popular vote or when deciding electors, votes would weigh heavily in the south’s favor. This is where the three-fifths compromise came into play. Enslaved people counted as three-fifths of a person when counting the population, thus helping, in the eyes of the Founding Fathers, maintain balance when determining how many votes each state was allowed. 

    The Electoral College also serves as a sort of stopgap for elections. In most cases, electorates vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their region. However, that is not a requirement of the position. The idea was always that electorates would vote in the best interests of the region they represent, which means they could vote against the popular vote if they believed it was what was best for their constituents

    It's not a perfect system, and attempts to modify the Electoral College have been suggested as early as the 19th century by Alexander Hamilton. However, successfully changing the system would require a long legal process unlikely to ever be successful.

  • Why It's Common To Tip In The US
    Photo: Cloyne and District Historical Society / Flickr / No known copyright restrictions
    5
    572 VOTES

    Why It's Common To Tip In The US

    In the mid-19th century, wealthy Americans vacationing in Europe discovered the idea of tipping and brought it back home with them, where it soon became a common practice to tip service workers. 

    In Europe, on the other hand, the practice - with roots in Medieval master-serf relations - faded into obscurity, with most servers in the area today not expecting tips. This is because the practice started to be viewed as condescending and unfair to lower-class citizens who could not afford a tip in addition to their meal cost. Those feelings existed in the US too, but tipping culture persisted in large part due to the abolition of slavery.

    In an attempt to essentially get free labor after enslaved people were freed, railroad and restaurant employers would hire formerly enslaved people and pay them a $0 wage, with the expectation that customers would pay them in tips instead. 

    This practice of subsidizing workers’ pay with tips spread throughout the country. When the first federal minimum wage law was passed in 1938, it further cemented tipping as an integral part of the American wage system. By mandating employers only pay tipped workers a wage that would add up to the minimum wage after adding in tips, the integration of tipping in the US was complete. 

    Efforts to amend this practice and adopt the tipping and gratuity practices common in other countries - where such gestures are appreciated, but not always required - have been met with backlash and a reversion to the old system.

  • 6
    376 VOTES

    Why American Breakfasts Look Like That

    Traditional breakfasts around the world vary widely, depending on the region and culture that created them. The same can be said of certain traditional American breakfast foods. However, some of the most popular staples in the US have international origins, due to decades of people from different cultures converging on the US. The result is an American breakfast category that’s almost as diverse as the country itself.

    French toast, a common staple on American brunch tables, has roots in Europe, of course. Jewish immigrants from Poland brought bagels in the late 19th century. And Dutch colonists introduced the New World to donuts. 

    The introduction of foods from different cultures combined with American staples like cereal, toast, and orange juice to create a wholly unique American breakfast menu.