Americans are proud of their history as a cultural melting pot, and many of the country’s traditions and customs have been brought over by its immigrant population. But normalcy is often a relative term, and where many Americans might not bat an eye at some of their traditions and customs, other parts of the world will shudder and cringe.
Of course, there are also some traditions observed in the United States that are patently American, and more than likely fodder for gawking in other countries. If you’re thinking about studying in the U.S. through a foreign exchange program, you’ll be able to experience these unique traditions first-hand.
But it doesn’t hurt to know what you’re getting yourself into. Here are just a few of the strange American customs that don’t make much sense to the rest of the world.
Super Bowl Sunday
In general, American football culture is a strange bird in the eyes of much of the world, since most countries don’t even rank the sport among their most popular recreational activities. But among the unofficial holidays widely observed in the United States, Super Bowl Sunday is perhaps the one with the most fanatical following. The final game of the football season offers more than the decisive battle between the two top-ranked professional football teams in the country; it also serves as the hottest television advertising spot of the year. Millions of dollars are shelled out for the coveted commercial time during breaks in the game, giving even viewers who dislike football an incentive to watch. Elaborate food buffets are standard fare, and the celebration surrounding the football game has grown to consume an entire day.
Trick-or-Treating on Halloween
Halloween is celebrated in other countries, but far less common is sending children door-to-door to solicit candy from neighbors. In fact, the phrase “trick or treat” originated in America—it just didn’t catch on anywhere else. That’s right: Americans give their kids a one-day reprieve to beg for candy donations from strangers like homeless people. No one’s happier about it than the nation’s dentists.
If you think Super Bowl Sunday is an unhealthy obsession, just wait until you experience Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, which is observed on the fourth Thursday of November each year, is the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season. Every year sees businesses and shoppers grow more desperate in their efforts to win this holiday. Stores will open as early as midnight—or even sometimes 8 or 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving night—with extreme deals and other shopping incentives aimed at drawing in crowds.
And they do. In fact, this tradition is so cut-throat that almost every year yields news reports of tramplings and other conflict as shoppers sprint down store aisles to get their families the gifts they deserve. It’s American consumerism at its finest, and if you’ll be in the country at this time of year, it’s worth experiencing first-hand—but for the love of Pete, stay out of the way of your fellow competitive shoppers!
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does provide a brief introduction to the cultural oddities you will encounter in America. But don’t forget the blend of cultures that will be visible in everyday life—the customs, traditions and cultural artifacts brought to America from around the world. That’s one of the great advantages to studying in the U.S., as this diversity and influence will be visible wherever you go.