Canada vs USA: 74 American Cultural Surprises as a Canadian in the United States

I grew up in a town along the Canada / United States border. I’m dating an American. I’ve been to America hundreds of times. I spend several months a year in America.

Canada and the United States share plenty of cultural similarities – but they also have some significant differences. Here are some of the cultural surprises I’ve noticed as a Canadian in the United States.

1) Americans Are Obsessed With Where They Went to College

Walk through any American town for 5 minutes and you’re guaranteed to see at least one full-grown adult wearing apparel from a college or university. 

Americans treat their years in college with a weird kind of reverence. They’re obsessed with their “alma mater” – which is a fancy American (or Latin) term for “the place I went to university for four years.” They wear shirts advertising their “alma mater” well into their 30s and 40s. They cheer on their school’s sports teams. They join fraternities and sororities where they become siblings “for life”.

Americans also build entire personas around a school. You’ll be stereotyped based on your college.

  • “Ohhh boy she went to Chapel Hill so you know who she voted for”
  • “He went to Arizona State so that guy can dummy a rack of Natty Light”
  • “He went to [random rival college 10 miles away where students get a literally identical education] so he’s an idiot.”

I get it: you’re proud of the place where you spent 2 to 4 years of your life.

It’s not like universities in the United Stated have extraordinary entrance requirements: you’re accepted or denied based on your high school grades. You also get automatic entry to a university if your parents are rich enough to make a ‘donation’ to the school, if your sibling or parent went to that school (“omg she’s a legacy!”), or if you went to an elite private school.  

Anyways, Americans build an entire mythos around their college years, and it stays with them for life. It’s weird.

Don’t even get me started on the people who cheer for the sports teams of colleges they didn’t go to.

2) Americans Are Amazed By Contactlass Bank Cards

For the richest country in the world, banking infrastructure in America is weirdly outdated.

Contactless credit cards still haven’t hit America yet. They’ve been in Canada, the UK, and other countries for over a decade.

Try using your contactless credit card at a Starbucks in the United States. The cashier will look at you like you’re from the future.

Or, try buying a pizza with a credit card at Domino’s. The cashier will rip the credit card out of your hand, stare at it, then type in all of the numbers on the front and back of your card by hand like we’re in the 1700s.

3) Tipping is Out of Control

The tipping system in America has become absolutely insane.

If someone brings food and beer to my table, treats me great, and genuinely complements the dining experience, then I don’t mind tipping 18% to 20%.

Tipping in the United States, however, is taken to the fucking extreme.

Servers in America get paid $3 per hour. Your tips are the server’s wage. If you don’t tip, the server isn’t eating.

But that’s not even the worst part: in America, pretty much everyone asks for tips these days.

I was at a frozen yogurt place last week. One of those places where you pour your own ice cream. Add your own toppings. Do literally everything to make the ice cream. I go up to pay, and there’s a mandatory tip screen on the tablet.

Do you awkwardly tap the ‘no tip’ button and stare the teenage, minimum wage worker right in the face? Or do you begrudgingly pay an extra $1 to $2 for no reason? It’s horrible.

Or there’s the tipping system that pisses me off the most. I’ve been to bars and breweries where I walk up, wait in line, grab my own beer, bring it to my own table, grab my own food, grab my own cutlery, clean up everything and throw it in the garbage after I’m done, then go up to pay and there’s a MINIMUM tip requirement of 20% when paying my bill. What the fuck am I tipping for? I did half your fucking job.

Here’s how the tipping scale works in the United States these days:

You Tip 0 to 15%: Police will be called

You Tip 15 to 18% Tip: Servers won’t say thank you. Your food may be spit in.

You Tip 18% to 20%: Severs will not usually say thank you, as you’re just fulfilling your bare minimum obligation. This is the bare minimum expected tip even if you get the worst service of your life.

You Tip 20% to 25%: Considered an “okay” tip. Servers will not typically say thank you.

You Tip 25% to 30%: Service was “good”. Severs may say thank you.

You Tip 30% and Up: Servers will say thank you and actually mean it.

“Tip creep” is a huge issue in the United States. Today, most places have a minimum tip option of 20%, rising to 30%. Tipping 18% isn’t an option.

Charge me more for my food. Pay your workers a fucking living wage. Don’t make poorer human beings grovel to richer human beings just so they can earn a living wage.  

4) Americans Call Appetizers “Apps”

The first time I tried to order an “appy” in America, the server almost brought me a fucking kids menu. She looked at me like I was a child dining out for the first time. Americans don’t say “appy”.

What do you call the software programs you install on your phone?

Now, what do you call the small meals you get before a main course?

If you answered “app” to both, then you’re an American.

5) Americans Pronounce “Pasta” and “Mazda” Funny

If you’re Canadian, try saying this sentence in front of an American and watch what happens:

“I drove my Mazda down to the plaza in to eat some pasta from Nevada.”

Most Americans pronounce this sentence like, “I drove my MAWZduh down to the PLAWzuh to eat some PAWstuh from NeVAWDuh.” It’s irritating and incorrect and totally destroys the point of the soft “a” sound.

If you’re going to pronounce “pasta” like “PAWstuh” then you need to spell it with an ‘o’ like posta. Pasta should be pronounced like it has an ‘a’ in it – simple as that.

6) Americans Get No Maternity or Paternity Leave At All

As a Canadian male, I will get more paid paternity leave to raise my child than women in the United States get unpaid maternity leave.

In fact, few American women get any type of maternity leave. Before visiting the US, I assumed that women with good jobs would get at least a few months of mat leave. Nope. I’ve met one woman in America who received paid maternity leave – and she got 2 whole weeks.

Source

For most American women, if you’re not back at work the day after giving birth to your child, your paycheck will be taken away.

Want to stick around a few extra months to raise your kid? Your only option is to register as a disabled person. If you go on disability leave, then you’re legally entitled to three months of unpaid leave before your employer fires you. This is what most American women seem to do.

Want to quit your job to spend more time with your kid? Want to be there when your kid walks his first steps or says his first words? Too bad! If you quit your job, then you’ll lose your health insurance, which means you and your child will lose access to healthcare, your family doctor, etc.  

One of the most horrifying culture shocks I’ve experienced in America is watching a mom of twin two-month old babies tell me about which daycare she has chosen for her kids – when her kids were two fucking months old. She was going back to work the next week, and these two kids (which were the size of like, a Subway footlong), were about to go to daycare. This mom had multiple degrees, a good job, and a good employer (and a husband who worked full-time).  

Compared to Canada and first world countries, parental leave in the United States is not just shocking – it’s disgusting.

7) Americans Pronounce Sorry Like “Sari”

I pronounce “sorry” exactly like it’s spelled. Many Americans, however, tend to say it more like “sari”.

8) Americans Love Hearing Canadians Say “Out and About”

I can’t say “out and about” in the United States without an American repeating it back to me. They find our pronunciation funny.

I’ve met very few Canadians who pronounce “out” like “oot”. Most of us, however, pronounce is somewhere between “owe-it” and “oot”.

Some Americans, meanwhile, stretch it out to multiple syllables:

“Out and about” becomes “owww-ut and “aboww-ut”

Anyways. Be prepared to get a comment every time you say “out” or “about” in the United States – especially if you have a thicker Canadian accent.

9) Some Americans Drink Like Six Fucking Diet Cokes a Day

Try having a six pack of beer after work and you’ll be judged in America. If you drink six diet Cokes every day, however, nobody will bat an eye.

Diet Coke can’t be good for you. It just can’t. Most people who drink Diet Coke are obese. But Americans seem particularly obsessed with Diet Coke.

10) Americans Pay HOA Fees In Addition to City Taxes

Want to live in a neighborhood in America that is somewhat nice? Get ready to sign up for a Homeowners Association (HOA)!

HOAs are, for whatever reason, incredibly common across the United States. You will have to pay HOA fees and city taxes.

For a country that prides itself on “freedom”, HOAs take away a lot of freedoms. They’ll set rules on how many cars can park on neighborhood streets. They’ll prevent you from painting your house a certain color. They’ll charge you hundreds of dollars a year for random gardening bullshit. Yes, this is all real. It blew my mind when I first found out about it.

In Canada, we pay city taxes to cover all of these expenses. Sure, certain communities have a private lake or something similar, and small fees are required for that. HOAs in America, however, take it to the absolute next fucking level – and there’s no real way around it if you want to live in a decent neighborhood.

11) Americans Don’t Take Off Their Shoes Indoors

Can you imagine walking into someone house and not taking off your shoes? Just waltzing in like you own the place?

That’s how (many) Americans walk into houses. They never take off their shoes. I don’t know why.

I don’t know what you’ve stepped in. I don’t know where you’ve been. Take off your fucking shoes in my house.

12) Americans Call Chocolate Bars “Candy Bars”

When you see a bar consisting entirely of chocolate, would you call it a candy bar or a chocolate bar?

Every other English speaking country (even Australia) calls it a chocolate bar. Americans call fucking everything a candy bar.

13) Americans May Accuse You of Being from Minnesota Because of your Accent

For whatever reason, people in Minnesota kind of sound Canadian.

The accent is surprisingly unique: it doesn’t sound like the twangy Midwest Wisconsin accent. Meanwhile, people in neighboring South Dakota and North Dakota don’t seem to have it. It’s a Minnesota thing.

I can usually tell the difference between a Minnesota accent and a Canadian accent. It’s more Sarah Palin (yes, I know she’s from Alaska) and less Don Cherry. However, if you’re in a remote part of the United States with few Canadian visitors, you might be accused of being from Minnesota – not Canada. 

14) Americans Really Struggle to Convert Fahrenheit to Celsius

Anyone who has visited the United States quickly picks up the Fahrenheit system. It’s not hard to understand. Once you’ve spent a few days in the US, you’ve got it figured out. 0 is really cold. 100 is really hot. 32 is freezing, and 70 is room temperature.

But try asking an American – even one who has traveled outside the country – to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. They have no idea how it works.

15) Americans Really Struggle to Convert Metric to Imperial

The conversion obliviousness extends to kilometers, kilograms, and other metric measurement units.

I’m constantly amazed at how many Americans – even Americans who travel – can’t even ballpark what I mean when I say “It’s 30 degrees outside” or “It’s about a kilometer down the road.” You might as well have spoken complete gibberish and said something like, “It’s about a jimmyjangle down the road”.

16) American Taxes Aren’t As Low As I Thought

Americans love talking about taxes. They love telling you about how your socialist country pays so much in taxes – as if they live in some tax-free haven.

In reality, the average Canadian pays only slightly more in tax than an average American.

If you take into account benefits like child care credits, healthcare, public safety, etc., the gap gets even larger.

The average American family pays $12,000 per year for basic health insurance. In Canada, healthcare is included in our taxes.

Yes, there are certain states where Americans pay no state tax. However, even in these states, Americans will pay up to the highest federal tax rate, which is 37%.

Meanwhile, people in high-tax states like New York and California pay way more in tax than I do in Alberta – and they don’t get many benefits – healthcare, public safety, employment benefits – with their taxes.

17) Most Americans Have Never Left The Country

About 60% of Americans do not have a passport.

America is a big country with lots to see, do, and experience. You can absolutely spend your whole life in the US and still have things to see and do.

Source: BBC

One thing I find strange, however, is that many Americans will never leave their own country: they’ll spend their entire lives within the borders of the United States.

To be fair, America’s passport percentage has grown over the years. In 1989, only 3% of Americans had a passport. Today, approximately 42% of Americans have a passport. Still, it’s weird to meet Americans who have never left the country even once – and have no desire to see the outside world – in 2020.

18) Americans Don’t Call “Kraft Dinner” Kraft Dinner

American grocery stores sell Kraft Dinner. It’s different from the stuff we have in Canada, although it’s packaged into the same box. They also don’t call it the same thing we do. Instead of calling it Kraft Dinner, Americans call it, “Kraft Mac n Cheese”.

If you call it Kraft Dinner (or – gasp – KD), people will look at you strangely.

19) The Circumcision Thing

If you’re willing to permanently mutilate a baby boy because your religion told you sex is bad, then shouldn’t you be in prison?

America is the only country in the world where people who are neither Muslim nor Jewish still practice circumcision en masse. It’s not only legal in America – it’s still widely performed to this day. Approximately 90% of American babies born in 2018 were circumcised.

Why is America the only country where non-religious circumcision is routinely practiced? The answer, in fact, is kind of interesting.

Prior to the 1900s, only Muslims and Jews practiced circumcision. Sometime in the last century, however, a man named Dr. Kellogg (yes, the same wacky cereal guy) theorized that circumcision could reduce pleasure from sex, making men across the country more productive (seriously). Bizarrely, Americans listened to this kook, and circumcision continues to be practiced to this day in the United States. By cutting off the most sensitive part, you’re reducing pleasure, theoretically making men more productive. Yes, this is all real.

There are no known health benefits from circumcision. The practice first emerged in the desert thousands of years ago – centuries before showering and indoor plumbing was a thing. Just like Kosher and Halal rules, circumcision was originally practiced for hygienic reasons. Today, it’s just a religious thing with no benefits and many downsides.

The procedure itself is barbaric. Babies are physically restrained to a chair within hours or days of being born. Many babies scream throughout the procedure. Other babies are left with permanent scars from a botched circumcision. There are plenty of studies showing that babies who undergo the procedure experience “significant psychological harm” throughout their childhood and adolescence.

Today, non-religious circumcision is no longer practiced in the first world.

Many countries in the world have banned circumcision for non-religious purposes. It’s a barbaric cultural tradition that can leave a child with permanent physical and mental damage.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against the practice, most Americans see no problem with it. Many parents don’t even seem to research the issue: in America, the default choice is to circumcise.

It’s a big culture shock to talk to Americans about any of this shit (not that it comes up often in an average bar conversation). Americans think circumcision is normal. They think we’re the weird ones – despite the fact that the vast majority of men worldwide are not circumcised.

Here’s the thing I don’t get: even if you do believe there are health benefits, why would you make that choice for your child? The decision is irreversible. I wouldn’t give my child a permanent Canucks tattoo because I’m going to assume she likes the Canucks when she’s older.

20) Americans Call Pop ‘Soda’

This one’s an obvious culture shock that’s been apparent since I went to America as a kid. Most Americans (but not all) call it ‘soda’ – not ‘pop’.

21) A Surprising Number of People Know Someone Who Has Been to Prison

In Canada, I have never (knowingly) met someone who has been to prison. None of my friends have been to prison. None of my friends’ family members have been to prison. I’ve never even heard of someone going to prison.

In the United States, it seems like even ordinary people know someone who has been to prison. It’s weird.

1% of America’s population is in prison at any one time. In some communities, 50% of the adult population has spent time in prison at some point.

Meanwhile, 77 million Americans have a criminal record. That’s like 1 in 5 people.

22) Every Sink in America Has a Garburator

There’s a spinning, whirring monster beneath the sink of every house in America. Americans love their garburators more than any other country in the world.

Garburators can be useful: you can throw all sorts of stuff inside them. Instead of scraping your plate into the garbage and then washing it in the sink, you can just dump it all in the sink.

They can also be more annoying than they’re worth: like when they inevitably break down.

23) Americans Don’t Call It a ‘Garburator’

Americans and most other people call a garburator a ‘garbage disposal’.

‘Garburator’ is a term we use only in Canada. Not even all Canadians call it a garburator. In fact, nobody is even sure where the term garburator came from – it’s believed to be an old brand, but nobody knows for sure.

24) Americans Are Obsessed With Cornhole

Cornhole is an okay drinking game. It’s no beer pong, but it’s a fun game to play outside on a nice day.

But Americans take it to the whole next fucking level. There’s a professional cornhole league. You can turn on ESPN in the US and see professional, sponsored cornhole athletes playing. It’s insane.

25) America’s Road Systems Are So Much Better

I love Canada, but we have a big problem: we’re the second biggest country in the world and we have a population smaller than California. We are one of the least densely-populated places on the planet. We don’t have a huge tax base to fund massive infrastructure projects. We don’t have the population to justify interstate highways. We have rocky, icy, mountainous, difficult terrain in many parts of the country.

That’s why I’m jealous of the American roadway system. The interstate system crosses America. You can drive anywhere in the country without worrying too much about traffic conditions. Most parts of America only have 2 or 3 seasons, making road maintenance easy.

Even smaller highways are well-maintained – like a two-lane road between two random mountain towns. Sure, the public transit is non-existent and the roadways are often overcrowded, but at least the roads look nice. 

26) They Call Toques “Tobaggans” or “Beanies”

A tobaggan is indisputably a sled. You ride a tobaggan downhill.

When an American talked about someone having a tobaggan on their head I thought they were mentally ill.

As far as I can tell, Americans call toques either a “tobaggan” or a “beanie”. They also call tobaggans (sleds) tobaggans. I have no idea why.

27) Americans Don’t Use Turn Signals As Often As They Should

Driver behavior in America needs work in a lot of ways. One of the most glaring problems, however, is with turn signals.

Americans just don’t use turn signals as often as they are legally required to do so.

On the freeway, most drivers don’t use turn signals when moving between lanes. It rattled me the first time I saw it. 

28) American Cars Have No Daytime Running Lights

Speaking of bad driving behavior, Americans will occasionally drive with their headlights turned off at night. Why? I have no idea.

American cars have no daytime running lights. In northern climates like Canada and most of Europe, daytime running lights are legally required on all vehicles. Your lights are on all the time.

In America, there’s no daytime running light requirements. Most drivers leave their headlights turned off during the day. When night falls, inevitably at least one driver you pass will just “forget” and leave the headlights turned off. 

I’ve driven past cars in the United States that are completely dark. They have no headlights on. It’s the middle of the night. It’s scary – and it’s happened to me dozens of times in America.

29) Americans Love Panera Bread (And It’s Gross)

Many fast food places in America live up to their reputation. In-n-Out is great. Chipotle? Surprisingly good and fresh.

Americans speak about Panera Bread with the same reverence they speak about the college they went to 30 years ago. It’s like a church.

I went to Panera Bread expecting, at the very least, some of the best bread I’ve ever had.

Instead, I got literally one of the worst meals I’ve ever had in my life – and it was like $40 for two of us. 

Hearing Americans rave about Panera Bread is one of the most jarring experiences I’ve ever encountered. Panera Bread is so bad. 

30) It’s Difficult to Find Good Bread in the United States

Speaking of shitty American bread, it’s hard to find good bread anywhere in America. Even “good” grocery stores like Whole Foods have absolutely trash bread.

I’m not a food snob. I’ll eat chips off the fucking floor. But the bread I’ve bought in American – even loafs I’ve bought for $5 or $6 – is absolutely disgusting. You have to work really hard to find good bread in America.

31) Most Americans Only Deal with 2 to 3 Seasons

Very few Americans get a “real winter”.

Canada is the coldest country in the world and boy do I get cocky when Americans start complaining about winter weather when the temperatures drop to the low 40s or 50s.

If snow isn’t on the ground for at least one month of the year, you don’t have a winter season, and you don’t get to complain about winter.

32) (Some) Americans Assume Canada is Snowy and Frozen Year-Round

Many Americans assume Canada is frozen all year round.

I try telling Americans my hometown in BC gets above 40 degrees Celsius in the middle of summer, or that beach weather in BC lasts 3 to 4 months a year. I mention that Victoria and Vancouver rarely get snow, or that many American cities in the northeast have similar winters – if not worse winters – than many parts of Canada.

They don’t believe it.

I try telling them Calgary and Edmonton are two of the sunniest cities in North America. Again, they don’t believe it.

Yes, Canada is (quite literally) the coldest country in the world. It gets cold in most of country for much of the winter. But most of the northern states – from Montana east to upstate New York – have similar climates. 

I was talking to a Canadian border guard one time from Quebec. She would routinely get Americans traveling across the border in the middle of summer with full winter gear and ski equipment. She would ask where they were going. The Americans would reply, “We’re going skiing. Isn’t it winter in Canada?”. Seriously.

33) The Eastern Seaboard of America is so Crowded

One thing that was a big adjustment for me coming from Canada was the population density.

Los Angeles is an overcrowded shithole. Half of the population of Canada is crammed inside its borders. There are no public parks. No space. Just endless urban sprawl and pollution.

The east coast of the United States is similar: it’s basically one never-ending metropolis from Boston all the way down to Miami.

Not all of America is overcrowded. Consider two of my favourite states: Montana and Wyoming. They’re amazing and beautiful states filled with some of the best Americans you’ll meet – but nobody lives there. Montana is the fifth largest state in America – but it has a lower population than the city of Calgary, Alberta. Wyoming is the least populous state in America – but it has fewer people than even Alaska.

While some states are overcrowded and overpopulated, other states have virtually nobody. Even California has enormous swaths of land that are entirely unpopulated.

34) America Has Way More Mass Shootings Than Most People Realize

I’m not even American, yet I’ve had way too many close connections to American gun violence. It’s just a normal part of living in the United States: you’re going to have friends, relatives, kids, neighbors, or coworkers get exposed to gun violence.

Thousand Oaks, California was ranked as one of the safest cities in the country. Then, the bar across the street from my girlfriend’s work got shot up. 13 people were killed, and it wasn’t a major news story. That was just a normal day in the United States.

I was in Myrtle Beach, SC once. The local news casually mentioned that eight people had been shot in a mass shooting outside of a bar the night before. This was such a minor occurrence that it did not even make nationwide news: it was a local story. It’s insane.

50,000 people are killed by guns every year in the United States. Anyone over age 18 in the United States can buy a gun without a background check, gun license, or any other documentation. My girlfriend – who has never shot a gun in her life – can walk into a Walmart in North Carolina and buy a fully loaded AR-15 in an hour.

Furthermore, anyone with a history of mental illness or domestic violence has no problem buying a gun. In fact, it’s forbidden by the U.S. Constitution to not sell a gun to that person.

Gun violence will never end in the United States. The country could ban all gun sales tomorrow and there would still be 400 million+ guns in a country of 350 million people. The school shootings, church shootings, movie theater shootings, and concert shootings aren’t going to stop anytime soon – dealing with the constant threat of gun violence is just a normal part of living in the United States.

35) Many Services Are Provided by Private Corporations Instead of Government Organizations

This one is surprising, considering most Americans pay roughly the same taxes as Canadians: a lot of government services are provided by independent, private companies instead of government organizations.

Let’s say a state wants to build a new road. The state doesn’t send the government’s best road crew to the job. Instead, the state puts the government contract up for bidding among private companies.

Let’s say a city wants to clear snow from roads. They won’t use government employees – they’ll award a government contract to some private company.

I don’t have anything positive or negative to say about this. It’s just an interesting political difference.

36) The Best Parts of America Are the Places You’ve Never Heard Of

The best parts of America, in my experience, are the parts that you have never heard of.

We’ve all heard of Hollywood. San Francisco. New York City. Miami. New Orleans. All of these cities pretty much meet your expectations after seeing them in hundreds of TV shows and movies.

Montana: Arguably the best state in America

Some of the best people you’ll meet are in small towns. Some of the most unforgettable night outs you’ll have are in random spots of the country that have never been featured in documentaries, movies, or songs – like Edenton, North Carolina.

America has a lot of issues – but if you’re looking to have an unforgettable night out filled with stories and surrounded by good people, there are few places in the world that can compete with a divey locals’ bar in small town America.

37) Some Americans Think They Have a Monopoly on Multiculturalism

Americans have a weird view on multiculturalism. They’re taught that America is a melting pot of cultures. Many Americans, however, assume they’re the only melting pot in the world. They think they have a monopoly on multiculturalism.

Hearing Americans speak about multiculturalism is bizarre. I’ve heard them say sentences like this:

“Nowhere else but America could you see a Sikh guy waving to an African-American child on the bus. What a country!”

What? Have you left the borders of your country and seen what the rest of the world looks like? We’re all pretty multicultural.

38) America Only Has Two Political Parties And They’re Both Awful

The two party system means everything is polarized in America.

The left wing party, the Democrats, aren’t really left wing. They have never supported universal healthcare. Hilary Clinton didn’t support gay marriage until 2013. Barack Obama’s presidency was considered scandal-free only because using drones to bomb weddings in the Middle East isn’t considered a scandal.

And don’t even get me started on the other side of the political spectrum. Trump voters are, with few exceptions, the dumbest, most racist, or most brainwashed Americans you’ll ever meet.

Politics in America is toxic. Avoid talking to Americans about politics at all costs. You’ll end up hating everyone.

39) Servers Take your Credit Card and Disappear

Speaking of outdated banking systems, try paying for a meal at a restaurant. The server will take your card and just disappear. They take your credit card to some secret corner to process it.

In Canada, servers bring a POS machine to the table. You never have to give your card to a stranger who may or may not be copying your info in the back.

Credit cards get stolen all the time. I don’t want you touching my credit card, thank you.

40) Work-Life Balance Sucks in America

Americans work more than literally any other country in the world.

Photo via AllThatsInteresting.com

Work-life balance isn’t a thing in the United States: for many Americans, your work is your life.

“What do you do?” is one of the first questions an American will ask you after meeting you for the first time. In other countries, I’ve talked to people for days or weeks before knowing what they do for work.

Americans get very little time off. At best, an American will have 10 days off a year. That’s it. There’s no parental leave. There’s no sick leave. Vacation time is limited. Americans don’t even get many long weekends.  

It’s no wonder why America is the most stressed country in the world.

41) You Get Weird Looks When Pronouncing the Letter “Z” as “Zed”

Amazingly, few people in America know that the proper English pronunciation of ‘Z’ is ‘Zed’. If you say “Zed” in America when saying the ABCs or spelling a word, people will look at you like you’re from outer space.

Everybody in the UK, Australia, and Canada knows that Americans pronounce “Z” like “Zee”. We’ve seen them pronounce it like this in movies and TV shows for years.

42) Everything Product and Service in America Comes from Like 4 or 5 Corporations

Theoretically, a pure, unregulated capitalist society like the United States should have the most competition for all products and services.

In reality, there are like 5 corporations in the United States that provide absolutely every product and service.

Try choosing a cable plan or internet plan in the United States. Try choosing a car insurance company. Try watching a news network.

Wherever you turn, you’re bombarded with the same 4 to 5 corporations. These same companies own virtually everything. They have their hands in every industry.

43) American Doctors Get Paid to Push Drugs Onto Patients

Doctors in America receive compensation for selling certain drugs. This is just a normal thing. It doesn’t matter if a drug is more effective or not: it matters how good the drug’s marketing and sales team is.

You could write an entire essay about how terrifying America’s pharmaceutical industry is. The fact that drug companies can legally pay doctors to push certain drugs onto patients is just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider the Sackler family behind Oxycontin. One family has made billions by pushing Oxycontin – a drug they knew to be harmful – on people across the country.

I once met a girl at a bar in Raleigh who told me her job was to network with doctors and nurses to convince them to use her company’s drugs. It doesn’t matter if your company’s drugs work better than another company’s drugs: it just matters how much you can afford to pay doctors to “recommend” those drugs to patients.

Pharmaceutical companies in Canada, by the way, do this as well. But combined with America’s for-profit healthcare system, it makes medicine that much more frightening in the United States.

44) America is Surprisingly Corrupt

One of the advantages of living in a first world country is that we can pay elected officials, police officers, and other authority figures enough money that they don’t need to take bribes.

The United States, oddly, doesn’t seem to agree. Corruption is a huge problem in the United States – moreso than any other first world country. In 2018 rankings, the United States was the worst developed country in terms of corruption.

The United States ranked 22nd on the corruption list in 2018, behind virtually every other first world country. Part of the problem is the fact that you can legally “bribe” politicians: the whole political system is based on it. Another problem is that police officers make like $16 per hour. Abuse of power is inevitable. 

45) Americans Crowdfund Healthcare Expenses

How does someone afford to spend $50,000 on the birth of a child? How can a family cover $1 million of medical bills after a kid gets diagnosed with some obscure disease?

The solution is simple: instead of tackling the root of the problem (a shitty healthcare system), Americans simply crowdfund major medical costs.  

Ordinary people can’t afford healthcare in the United States. Good, first-world-style healthcare is reserved exclusively for the ultra-wealthy.

That’s why average people are forced to beg for money online to pay for things like, say, their 8-year-old child’s cancer bills.

The vast majority of crowdfunding campaigns in the United States are for Americans begging strangers to donate money to afford basic medical care.

In the first world, healthcare is included in our taxes. People don’t have to beg their friends and family to pay for kidney dialysis or children’s cancer treatments.

46) Many American Houses Have No Basements

Houses in warmer climates of America have no basements. I absolutely hate it.

Where do you hang out when you’re a teenager? Where do you move back into after college? Where does your dad go with his buddies to watch the game?

There’s a simple reason why American houses in warm climates have no basements: the frost line. When building a home, you need to dig the foundation below the frost line. In northern climates, the frost line is so deep that it’s easy and cost-effective to add a basement. In warmer climates, the frost line is just inches below the surface, which means digging a basement is super expensive.

47) America Allows Food Ingredients that Are Banned Everywhere Else

Conspiracy theorists often say things like, “The food supply is poisoned”. In America, this is at least partially true.

Source: The New York Times

America permits dozens of food ingredients that are banned in Canada, Europe, and other parts of the world. Food producers in the United States are allowed to use chemicals that are known carcinogens, for example.

48) Americans Have Roommates in College – Like Actual Roommates in Their Rooms

In my first year of college at the University of British Columbia, I paid like $300 per month for the cheapest on-campus accommodations. I had a walk-in closet of a room. I had to share a bathroom with an entire floor of boys.

But one thing I’ve never had to do is share a room – a room you live in – with a god damn stranger.

Americans pay significantly more for college than students in first world countries – yet they still have to room with strangers. Having a roommate sleeping three feet away from you is a crucial part of the “college experience” in America.

You know the whole “tie on the doorknob” thing you see in American movies? That’s a real thing! People really do get locked out of their rooms when their roommate brings someone home. In 2020!

I had “roommates” in college: I had to share an apartment with other people. But I never had to sleep in the same room as someone like I was in a hostel.

49) Summers in the South Are Worse than Winters in the North

There are few weather conditions more painful than a 45+ degree Celsius, 100% humidity summer.

Let me tell you: as someone who has been in the South in summer and Canada in the winter, I will take Canadian winters every time.

Yes, it gets cold in Canada. But at least I can put on a coat, enjoy the sunshine, and go skiing or skating.

In the south, it’s hot all summer long. You can’t run. You can’t go outside. You can’t do anything unless you have air conditioning. You can’t even fucking sleep.

The first time I spent a summer in the South I woke up at 6am to go for a run, thinking I would get up to beat the heat. Nope – it doesn’t cool off at night in the South. It stays hot – not just warm – all night long. It was 30 degrees at 6am – and it stays this way from like May through October.

Oh, and summers in the South are getting worse. By the year 2100, they say the South is going to be unliveable.

Give me winter in Canada over summer in the southern United States any day.  

50) Anyone Over Age 18 Can Buy an Assault Rifle with No Gun License or Background Check

If you’re an American with a driver’s license proving you’re older than 18, then you can buy a long gun – including an assault rifle.

People outside of America frequently hear about the country’s gun laws. But when you get to America, you realize there aren’t really any gun laws in America. In most states, anybody over age 18 can walk into a gun store and buy a fully loaded assault rifle within an hour.  

Do you have a history of abusing your wife? No problem! A history of domestic violence doesn’t prevent you from owning a gun.

Do you have multiple felonies on your record and want to buy a gun? No problem! Arrange a private sale with no background check.

Is your state making you wait two weeks before buying a gun? No problem! Just drive 20 minutes down the road to a new state with looser gun laws.

Chicago is a great example of how stupid America’s gun laws can be. Chicago has so-called ‘strict’ gun laws: you need a license to buy a handgun and have to wait a couple weeks (yes, that’s considered a strict gun law). So what do people in Chicago do? They drive to Indiana – which has no gun laws whatsoever. 90% of guns used to commit crime in Chicago were purchased in Indiana. The Chicagoland metropolitan area actually extends into Indiana – so you don’t even have to leave the city of Chicago to get easier access to guns.

51) Americans Love Saying “Eh” to Canadians in an Exaggerated Way

Just wait until an American finds out you’re Canadian. Get ready to hear “eh” at least once.

“Oh, you’re from Canada, EH????” Americans will say, laughing like they’ve told the most brilliant joke.

It’s a cheap joke. It’s a low-hanging fruit. Americans don’t say it to be mean. I will politely laugh – but I will quietly tick you off my list like Ryan from The Office. Try harder.

52) You Can Legally Shoot People In Certain Situations in America

You can legally shoot people in pretty much any country. If you attack a police officer in Canada, for example, then that police officer can “legally shoot you”.

But in the United States, normal citizens have the authority to legally shoot people in a surprising number of situations.

Source: MotherJones

If someone walks onto your property in certain states, for example, you are legally allowed to shoot that person (to be fair, some states require you to legally shout 1 warning before shooting the trespasser).

Some states have something called the “stand your ground law”. The law dictates that you are legally allowed to kill anyone who “walks towards you menacingly.” If someone walks towards you with their fist cocked, you can shoot and kill that person with no legal consequences.

In theory, you could argue that the law makes sense: the United States is a violent and dangerous place. People have a right to defend themselves. If some lunatic walks up threatening to kill your family, or if someone invades your home in the middle of the night, then you should be able to defend yourself.

In practice, unfortunately, it’s basically just an excuse to kill people that scare you. This guy in Florida used the “Stand Your Ground” law to escape without consequence after shooting an unarmed black guy in the back, for example.

53) Student Loans Start Collecting Interest from Day 1

We hear a lot about America’s student loan debt. We hear about how expensive American universities are, and how unaffordable post-secondary education is to anyone who was born outside of the upper class.

In reality, that’s all true: school costs like $20,000 to $30,000 per year even at public schools. Some students get student loans to help cover the expenses.

But here’s the thing ­– America doesn’t really have student loans. Most students just get regular loans that collect interest from the very first day you get the loan.

A “student loan” in America requires you to pay interest from the day you take out the loan.

In Canada, I never paid a dime of interest on my five-figure student loan. The interest would have started accumulating six months from the date I graduated college. I was able to pay it off before then.

In America, your interest starts to accrue the moment you take out the loan or the moment you begin your studies. By the time you graduate, your loan has ballooned to enormous levels.  

That’s not a student loan – that’s just a regular loan.

54) Most White People Are Trump Supporters

From outside the country, it’s hard to understand how a guy like Trump got elected. At worst, he’s been a Russian asset since he married Ivana Trump in the 1980s. At best, he has early-stage dementia.

After traveling to the United States, however, it quickly becomes obvious how Trump got elected. Most white Americans love Donald Trump.

One of the most important things you need to know about America is this:

54% of white American females voted for Trump in 2016

Keep in mind that 54% of white American women voted for Trump countrywide. In some parts of the country, over 70% of white American women voted for Donald Trump.  

Most white people in the United States like Donald Trump. Yes, there’s a minority of white people who do not like him. But if you’re hanging out with white people in the United States, you should assume they’re Trump supporters.

55) America is Both More and Less Racist than You Expect

America is both more and less racist than people realize.

It’s less racist in that black and white people can stand in line with each other at a grocery store without getting into a fight or doing anything to one another

It’s more racist in the fact that black and white people are just separate in many states.

There are black sororities and white sororities, for example. There are “black towns” and “black suburbs”. There are towns like Napa where 0.7% of the population is African-American – 20 times lower than the national average. Certain colleges are considered “black schools”.

Not all Americans are racist, but the ones that are racist are like “holy shit what the fuck” kind of racist. You’ll meet plenty of white Americans who seem to genuinely believe that they’re genetically superior to black people. Others genuinely want immigrants to die. It’s an extreme level of racism I hadn’t encountered before. These aren’t radical people locked up in prison: these are normal people you meet at a bar.

56) American Cities Are Fucking Huge

America is home to some of the largest mega-cities in the world – and they just keep sprawling and getting bigger.

I’m from a town of a few thousand people. As I grew up, I moved to a big city with around a million people. That city felt huge to me – and it is big, by Canadian standards. Calgary is the fourth largest city in Canada.

One million people, however, isn’t even a suburb in certain cities in the United States. The city of Los Angeles, for example, has more people than all of western Canada. California has more people than the entire country of Canada.

57) America’s Healthcare System is Even Stupider than You Think

You could write a book on why America’s healthcare system is garbage. I’ll break down a few of the stupidest parts of the healthcare system:

  • Even if you have health insurance, healthcare isn’t “free”; there are things like “co-pays”, “deductibles”, and other fees that could cost you (literally) thousands of dollars even while you’re technically covered by health insurance
  • 90% of your medical bills might be covered by insurance, but you’ll still end up paying $10,000 for a simple procedure because costs are so inflated (“hey, it was $100,000 before insurance”, Americans will gleefully tell you)
  • Competition should theoretically lead to lower costs, but healthcare organizations do not compete across state lines; it’s not truly competitive, and American healthcare is the most expensive in the world
  • America spends 20% of its GDP on healthcare – more than any other country in the world – yet achieves worse outcome than any other country
  • It’s rare for an insurance company to cover a cost without issue or argument; typically, even a basic procedure requires multiple calls to your insurance company, negotiations, and other hassle
  • America is the only first world country where life expectancy is going down instead of up
  • The infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, and other metrics are as bad in the United States as many third world countries and much worse than any first world country; you’re more likely to die giving birth in the United States than any other first world country

58) You Can’t Transfer More than $15,000 to Someone in the United States Without Triggering a ‘Taxable Event’

Every country has all sorts of bizarre laws. One of the strange laws in the United States – a country that prides itself on freedom and personal liberty – is the fact that you can’t transfer money to other people freely.

You cannot transfer more than $15,000 to someone in the United States without it being a taxable event.

59) Hit and Runs Are Shockingly Common

Hit and runs are strangely common in the United States.

In the United States, where healthcare costs are more inflated than any other country, you could end up paying millions if you stick around the scene of a bad car accident.  

As a result, it’s in your best interest to simply flee the scene of an accident – and that’s what many people do.

60) America Has Weirdly High Infant Mortality and Maternal Mortality Rates

You’re more likely to die giving birth in the United States than any other first world country.

Source: NPR

Generally, infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have decreased over time, worldwide. In the US, however, maternal and infant mortality rates have remained largely uncharged over the last 50 years.

As a result, America’s infant and maternal mortality rates are closer to third world countries than first world countries.

61) Even Educated Americans Don’t Know Much About Other Countries

It’s no secret that Americans have limited knowledge of the outside world. The ignorant American stereotype isn’t exactly shocking. However, I find it a bit overblown: if you ask an uneducated Canadian and an uneducated American basic geography questions, you’ll probably get similar results.

But one of the weirdest things about America is when you talk to educated Americans who are clueless about the outside world. You’ll meet people with college degrees who can’t point out America on a world map, for example. How the fuck did you graduate?

62) Abortion is Illegal, and Abortion Protesters Are Everywhere

In Canada, it’s illegal to protest close to an abortion clinic. Getting an abortion is hard enough – you don’t need a bunch of Christian nutjobs screaming at you as you walk into the clinic.

In the United States, there are no such laws. Abortion is illegal or inaccessible in many states. In states where abortion is legal, you’ll find abortion protestors outside Planned Parenthood clinics and similar sites. Want an abortion? You’ll have to run past a gauntlet of Christians telling you that you’re an awful person. As if the decision wasn’t hard enough.

63) Most Bankruptcies Occur Due to Medical Debt

The concept of “medical debt” seems weird. I mean, I’ve paid for parking at a few hospitals. But I’ve never owed money to a hospital or healthcare provider. How does that even work?

In America, however, medical bills are not only enormous – they’re the biggest cause of personal bankruptcies. Can you imagine going through a huge medical procedure like cancer treatment only to declare bankruptcy after because your bills were too high?

That’s what happened to this guy, who not only had to deal with the death of his wife from cancer, but he also had to struggle to pay her medical bills after her death. That’s right: if your family member dies, you still have to pay their medical bills. Good luck!

You can’t just blame uninsured people either: 60% of medical bankruptcies were declared by insured individuals. Go figure.

64) People in the South Are the Best People in America

You’ll find dicks in every state in America. One region where I’ve consistently had a good experience, however, is the South.

Americans from the South are some of the best Americans you’ll ever meet – bar none. They’re friendly. They’ll hold the door open for you. They’ll smile and nod when you walk by them. They’ll go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

If you’re looking for some of the friendliest and most polite people in America, then visit the southern United States.  

65) Most Americans Genuinely Believe They Live in the Best Country in the World

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of where you’re from. However, Americans are particularly proud. Most Americans genuinely believe they live in the best country in the world.

It’s understandable. American propaganda is filled with stories of American exceptionalism. If some crazy person stabs five people in France, it’s on CNN for weeks. When an American shoots 12 kids in a bar in South Carolina, it’s a story for a few hours.

Meanwhile, American history lessons focus on how American revolutionaries heroically overthrew their oppressors, fighting against all odds to establish a country based on principles like liberty. American history lessons glaze over losses – like the time British/Canadian soldiers burned Washington DC and the White House to the ground in the War of 1812.

There’s a lot to like about America. But calling it the best country in the world? Come on. Norway and Australia exist.

66) There Are Few National Parks in the Eastern United States

Visiting the United States growing up, we spent most of our time out west. The western United States is beautiful. It’s packed with national parks. Grand Canyon. Yosemite. Crater Lake. The list goes on.

Out east, things aren’t the same. There are six small national parks along the eastern seaboard. That’s it.

67) American Weddings End at 9pm and People Go to a Bar After

Most American weddings have a finite end time. They end at like 9 or 10pm. Then, people just leave. Some people go to a bar. Others go home.

Aren’t weddings supposed to be a party? Why would I want to get dressed up in a suit and go to a bar where I have to pay for my drinks?

68) Americans Call Parts of Eastern America “The Midwest”

In Canada, people from Toronto are shocked to learn they live in eastern Canada. It’s true: divide Canada on a map and Toronto is clearly on the eastern side of the country (Winnipeg is almost exactly in the middle). No, Toronto, you’re not the center of our country.

The United States has a similar thing: they call Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, and other indisputably eastern states “The Midwest”. Divide the United States into quadrants and you’ll realize that these states are basically on the east coast: it’s not the “middle of the west”. Why the fuck do you call it the Midwest?

69) The Portion Sizes Are No Joke

Everyone makes fun of portion sizes in America. It’s no secret that portion sizes are huge.

Buy fast food in America and order a “large” pop. They’ll give you (at least) a 1 liter cup. An extra large can be as large as 1.5L or 2L. I’m not joking.

Photo via Randy Santel on YouTube

And then we have food portion sizes. When I’m traveling the United States, I can basically eat one “dining out” meal per day. After having one Denny’s breakfast, for example, I don’t feel like eating the rest of the day. Then you realize way: you check the menu and you just ate 2,000 calories. I’m over 200 pounds – I’m not skinny, and I don’t eat like a bird. But even I find American portion sizes ridiculous.

70) Whatever the Hell Sweet Tea Is

The “sweet tea” and “iced tea” situation in America is fucked up. As a kid, I loved ordering iced tea at restaurants in Canada. You get a Brisk Iced Tea or something similar.

In the United States, if you order iced tea at a restaurant, you get cold, unsweetened tea. It’s okay – but it just tastes like cold, cheap tea.

But if you order “sweet tea”, in the United States, you get something much, much worse:

Sweet tea is a southern beverage. It’s made from ordinary tea mixed with a shitload of sugar. That’s it.

People from the south are obsessed with this shit. They get shocked when they visit northern states and can’t order it. What do you mean y’all don’t have sweet tea?

And don’t even get me started on trying to order hot tea from a cafe. If you’re lucky, you get a mug of boiling water and a teabag.

Anyways, I try to steer clear of tea in the United States. It’s way too risky.

71) Americans Call Like 100 Different Places the “Tri State” or “Tri Cities” Area

Growing up in small town Canada, the tri cities area referred to the Tri City Americans WHL team. That hockey team plays in the Tri Cities area of Washington state, which includes Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland.

Photo courtesy of Visit Tri Cities

Now that I’ve traveled a little more, I’ve learned something weird: there are like 100 tri cities, quad cities, and tri state areas across the United States.

What is somebody referring to when they talk about the tri cities area? I’ll tell you one thing – they’re generally not talking about Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, WA. You’ve gotta use regional clues to figure it out. Good luck.

72) Drug Commercials on TV

There are only two countries in the world where pharmaceutical companies are allowed to advertise drugs on TV: the United States and New Zealand.

Every commercial break in the United States seems to have at least one drug commercial. If you’re watching a show with an older audience, then 5/6 advertising slots might be filled with drug commercials.

Drug commercials are exactly like you see in parodies: drugs claim to solve all your problems and cure all your illnesses…and then they quickly list side effects like “death, internal bleeding, cancer”, and worse.

Once I even saw a commercial for an anti-constipation drug specifically marketed to people who had taken so many other drugs they were constipated. What the fuck.

Drug commercials are awful. At worst, they’re predatory, taking advantage of vulnerable and ignorant people. At best, they’re extremely annoying.

73) Lawsuit Commercials on TV

Americans love suing people so much. It’s their number two most popular pastime after baseball.

If you’re not seeing drug commercials on TV, then you’re probably seeing lawsuit commercials.

In fact, the commercials are sometimes talking about the same drug! If you bought a drug from a commercial and died, then your family can sue the pharmaceutical company to make millions. Woohoo!

74) Americans Call Moms “Mawwm” Instead of “Mum”

This one surprised me. Americans have pointed out that I say “mom” more like “mum” – the British way.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Americans use a distinctive “mawwm”, really stretching out that “aww” sound. It’s a small difference but it’s super noticeable.

Final Word

Ultimately, America is one of the best countries in the world…to visit.

Americans are generally friendly people. America has some of the most diverse and beautiful natural scenery in the world. There are so many things to see, do, and experience in the United States.

However, America has plenty of room for improvement for the people who actually live there in terms of safety, quality of life, and dozens of other metrics. And that’s why there are so many culture shocks for this Canadian in America.

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