If you’ve ever left the country, you’ve probably noticed that there are some major cultural differences between the US and other places around the world. And maybe you’ve even thought that some things abroad make a lot more sense than the laws, customs, and norms that exist state-side.
“Generous paid time off and vacations. As an American living in Germany, I can tell you that Germans take their vacations seriously. I was shocked when I learned that the minimum vacation time that all German employees get is 20 days, and even more elated upon realizing that most people actually get 25 to 30 days off per year.”
“Affordable air travel. When I studied abroad in Europe, I was always shocked (and delighted) to see that I could fly cheaply to pretty much any European country. In fact, I once bought a flight from Barcelona to Dublin for €3. Flying in the US almost always seems exorbitantly expensive, but there are lots of European airlines that make traveling on a budget completely doable.”
“Volksmarches from Germany. They are organized activities with hundreds of people. A group walks 10 kilometers through beautiful surroundings, stopping for snacks along the way. Usually the path is chosen to show off the best scenery of a city or town in the countryside.”
“Asian convenience stores. At a convenience store or gas station in the US, you might find pizza, hot dogs, and nachos. In some Asian countries I’ve visited — like Japan, China, and Korea — you can pick up a complete, healthy, and gourmet meal of rice, fish, and veggies or even a bowl of hot soup. Some Lawson stores in Japan even have cafés where you can order a latte or cappuccino from the barista. Food aside, these convenience stores are one-stop destinations for pretty much anything you can imagine. At the major chains in Japan, you can buy concert or game tickets, use the copier/printer, and drop off your mail and packages while buying a bag of chips. Now that’s the real meaning of convenience.”
“It Italy, there’s this concept of the passegiata. It’s when people head out for a leisurely stroll in the early evening, do a little people watching, and see their neighbors. It seems like a nice way to build community, feel connected, and enjoy your town/city.”
“I wish that in the US, having an alcoholic beverage during lunch were not a sign of degeneracy. When I was in Europe, I was the prudish American who thought it was unprofessional and a faux pas to have a beer or glass of wine during lunch. People in Europe do it all the time, even in work situations.”
“In Japan, the department store food courts were unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I would do anything to have this in the US. Sure, our malls have food courts with a Panda Express or a McDonald’s, but the Japanese version is incomparable. On the basement level of most large department stores you’d have row after row of luxury stalls selling everything from deep-fried tempura and gorgeous bento boxes to the most stunning desserts I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
“The US should adopt making 18 the legal age for doing basically all ‘adult’ things. In the US you can join the military, make porn, get a tattoo, and sign legal documents without a parent at 18 — but you can’t consume alcohol, tobacco, or cannabis until 21. It makes no sense.”
“I visited Portugal while pregnant with my daughter and I learned that there are so many pregnancy perks that don’t exist in the US. There’s special parking, you’re allowed to skip the line (learned this at the car rental), and there’s even a special line at customs in the airport!”
“Price tags that reflect the *truecost — after taxes. You know what would be cool in America? Actually seeing how much an item is going to cost before you get to the register (without having to do some serious mental math). When you’re tight on cash, that extra 5%–9% in sales tax can put something you thought was affordable over your budget. In many places around the world, like Europe and Australia, the number you see on a price tag is the final cost — tax included.
“In Japan (and Tokyo specifically) there were people whose job it was to pick up trash from the street, sweep up sidewalks, and just make everything look nicer. It was the cleanest city I’ve ever visited. It seemed that most of the people doing it were older so it could also been a nice senior employment program.”
“Cheap, universal health insurance. When I was in Costa Rica, an eye doctor apologized that a six-month supply of contacts would cost me $30 since I wasn’t on the national health insurance. It was the same brand I buy in the states for about $50 per month, and that’s with a good insurance paying most of the cost.”
“Work-life balance as mandatory and an essential employee’s right. It shouldn’t be a perk of working at a specific company. Work-life balance should be universal, more like the European attitude.”
“Better public transportation. As a non-American, I couldn’t wrap my head around how difficult it is to get around in the US if you don’t have a car. There are some places that are just impossible because they have no footpaths, bike lanes, or decent public transport.”
“In France, in almost every restaurant I dined at I would see people sitting indoors with their well-behaved dogs by their feet. I would love nothing more than to adopt this attitude toward pets in the US.”
“Shopping malls that contain grocery stores. I’m from Latin America, where this is the norm. I remember thinking that American malls felt incomplete without them.”
“Tipping culture. In the US, tipping is expected no matter what. Over in the UK (and much of Europe) you tip for exceptional or good service. It’s something extra. In US culture, it’s basically mandatory.”
“Large, leisurely lunches. I am from Brazil where lunch is the main meal of the day. When I got to the US, the whole idea of a small lunch was probably my greatest cultural shock.”
“I think America can really learn from Europe that a slower pace of life and taking a break in the middle of the workday doesn’t make someone lazy.”
“Open container laws. In Germany when I bought a beer in a convenience store they offered to open it for me so I could enjoy it on my walk.”
“I went to Japan, and my god, there are so many minor conveniences that I wish existed in the US: Think: semiprivate toilet stalls with running-water sounds so nobody hears you using the bathroom, amazing public transit transit, vending machines everywhere with hot coffee (and sometimes beer and cigarettes!), pay-by-distance bus fare, convenience stores that sell gourmet food, not just greasy, two-day-old wieners. I could go on and on.”
“Maternity and paternity leave. In Europe, paid family leave is discussed in terms of months, not weeks, and it’s far more generous than what is offered in the US.”
“Better infrastructure for biking. Biking in Amsterdam and Copenhagen is an entirely different experience than biking anywhere in the States. That’s because the streets were literally designed to make bikes the dominant form of transportation. Bike lanes and car lanes are typically separate for safety reasons, and there are special bike bridges and multi-level bike racks. Even in the freezing cold winter, people choose to bike rather than drive. When I visit these cities and rent a city bike, I find it amazing to watch commuters blissfully travel to and from work on two wheels.”
What is a cultural norm in another country that you think the US should adopt, too? Tell us in the comments.
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