5 Things about America that Surprise Foreigners

The United States is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. While many foreigners know a great deal about the US due to the media, many are surprised during their first visits. Below are five things that tend to surprise foreigners about the United States.



America is huge! Many visitors assume that it’s easy to travel from one major city in the US to another, not realizing that the coasts are separated by thousands of miles. Even those from the larger European countries might not realize that America’s major cities are separated by hundreds of miles, and that travel can take hours or even days.


Lack of Public Transportation


Astonishingly, most areas of the world aren’t quite as car friendly as the United States. In fact, our public transportation sucks. Most visitors from Europe and Asia are used to having cheap and efficient public transportation options, especially in large cities. The idea of having to take a private vehicle to get from one side of town to the other might seem a bit ridiculous to some.




Tipping isn’t a uniquely American concept, but the idea of tipping for a meal regardless of service might be. In most European countries, for example, waiters don’t depend on tips to make up the bulk of their wages. Many visitors tend to skip the tip when visiting in America, leading to unhappy servers and less-than-stellar treatment when a foreign accent is heard. The entire experience can be extremely uncomfortable for everybody involved.


Sales Tax


In most countries, the price listed on a product is what one expects to pay at the counter. This is because most countries don’t have states that each charge their own amount. In the United States, universal price tags are a little impractical, but foreign visitors may not realize this. The entire process of adding sales tax can seem disingenuous.




Americans are obsessed with hygiene, probably to an unhealthy degree. Dental insurance, antibacterial hand soap, and compulsory deodorant use are simply a given to us Yanks. But even to visitors from developed countries, our obsession with these behaviors paint us as veritable germaphobes. Neither the British nor the Japanese include flossing in their daily routine, according to Colorado Dental. Most countries in the world employ only water when washing their hands – no soap.

Of course, what surprises visitors the most about America tends to vary by the person. It’s always a good idea to give new visitors a chance to get used to the reality of the country, especially if they are fond of the fiction. Many visitors from abroad end up finding the real America, flaws and all, far more interesting than they may have imagined.


Rachael Murphey writes for Idea Café, Dentist Colorado Springs, Style 100 Etikit, and Skope Magazine. She currently lives in Denver, CO with her dog Charlie.