People Share Their 'Wow, Only In The USA' Moment

Everybody knows American trends and events. As one of the most powerful countries in the world, it's no surprise that whatever is going on in the USA is at the forefront of worldwide media. And of course, every country has its own unique quirks and customs that we take for granted. 

Compiled below you'll find answers from both patriotic Americans and observant expatriates to the question, "What is your biggest 'Only in America!' moment?"

Check out the original Quora thread source at the end of the article for more responses.

I came back to my hometown to visit my parents around 2008 or 2009, and I was sitting in the living room reading on my laptop while dad napped in the recliner with the TV on. The noon news came on, and I gave it an iota of attention. About ten minutes in, they went to commercial, and teased the next segment with a bit of video with the voiceover saying A KKK rally in a neighboring town has residents upset, more on this after the break.

It may actually surprise you to know that, despite growing up in rural Indiana, I hadnt actually been exposed to this type of behavior before. I had seen the casual kind of racism that, while asinine, is usually born out of ignorance rather than full out hate. As Id crisscrossed the country, Id seen it everywhere, and from every group. (My favorite story that typifies this came from my time in South Florida. I called my dad on Thanksgiving and told him we were going to my Cuban sister-in-laws parents house for dinner. Dad asked, What do they eat?. When I arrived at the in-laws place, the father looked at me and asked, What do you rednecks eat up North? Two retirement-aged men from different cultures, unintentionally otherizing each other, but really only out of curiosity about their bellies. As if rednecks had never heard of beans and rice or Cubans had never had meat and potatoes. Still, makes me laugh.)

After the commercial break, the anchor launched into the KKK story. He said that, despite protests from the residents, the city had to allow the march to take place. They cut to an interview with a city official who didnt seem at all pleased with the whole mess, and then footage of the march/rally/whatever.

It was a pretty sad affair. Maybe a dozen or so men marching, carrying flags. They didnt seem as if they wanted to be there, really. (I later learned that the KKK would employ this tactic fairly often. They would apply for a permit to have a rally, and if the city or town denied it, the Klan would sue the town for violating their First Amendment right.) 

Scott Leedy

Drive-through option for a large number of services like restaurant, pharmacy, banking, tattoo/body piercing, liquor store, wedding - you name it!

Rimi Roy

Divorce advertisements on roadside billboards, still unimaginable in the country where I was born.

Rimi Roy 

Two that immediately spring to mind, both during my first visit to New York (I think it must have been 2007/2008 something like that).

It was a staggeringly hot day with clear azure blue skies, the kind where the sunlight and the dust combine to make the whole world look like its been run through some 1970s vintage Instagram filter. I was walking around Alphabet City, just taking in the sites, sounds and smells of the city when a car slowly drove by blasting out Eric B & Rakims Paid In Full, at that moment a kid opened up one of those fire hydrants on the street and him and his mates were spraying each other.

For someone who grew up in the suburbs in the U.K, it was like every N.Y based film I'd ever watched as a kid coming to life in front of me. Just a magic moment.

Later that same day I was walking around Battery Park where those people who pretend to be statues hang around. There were two of them both done up like the Statue of Liberty and one of them obviously thought the other was encroaching on his territory. The end result was two men dressed as Lady Liberty rolling round on the floor having a fight, with the actual monument in the background.

Sadly it was before camera phones were standard issue, but both events stuck in my mind as about as American as you can get.

John Power

2 interactions, with unforeseen consequences:

1. An employee at storefront: Hey! Hows your day?

Me: Its been OK so far

An employee at storefront: Oh my! Did something bother you, my dear? Your boss say something rude?

Me: … no? I said my day was OK. Nothing bad happened!

(Unwritten Rule #1: Regardless of the situation, always say Good or Great)

2. An employee at storefront: Hey! Hows your day?

Me: It was one of the worst!

An employee at storefront: Good!

Me: …

(Unwritten Rule #2: Hardly anyone is interested in knowing your reply)

Nishit Parekh

I havent traveled enough to provide a solid backing to my statement. But I have a feeling that this is a very USA thing.

Only in the USA will you find the national flag waving in every other place!

I love it. The beautiful star and stripes are displayed proudly outside homes, restaurants, fast food chains, and business establishments.

To me, this represents the love and pride, U.S. Americans have for their country. Even as a non-immigrant, it makes me feel patriotic towards this country. It is true love.

Afiya Khan

Im from India. While there were many Wow and Oh moments, these 3 things stand out:

 Self-checkout - I was at Walmart and saw that they have self-checkout. As the name says, once you are ready to checkout, you dont need to waste your time by standing in those long lines. You can go to one of the self-checkout counters, scan your items, bag them and pay by card. Thats it. Youre done.

Power sockets with no switches - You just pull the plug out of the socket to switch them off. In India, every socket has a switch.

Online reservations - Ok this is a big one. We reserved an enterprise car online. All I had was a confirmation number. Typically in India, you need to make a payment for a small amount to confirm that it is a legitimate deal. It was hard for me to believe that I could actually get a rental car by just producing a confirmation number without any prior payment. So I had made up my mind that it would take up to 2 hours to get out with a rental car. But to my surprise, there were self-service kiosks. If you have a confirmation number, drivers license and credit card, youre all set! We were out in 20 minutes, 10 of which minutes were spent choosing the car.

Shruthi Nayak

I get on the NYC train.

Behind me, people of all races file on. The train starts getting packed.

I sit down on a bench and open a magazine to read and keep to myself.

Suddenly, I hear bells clunking with footsteps. And hear people shuffling to make room. Looking with my eyes from my magazine to the ground I see two ornate boots with bells attached. The second pair of boots steps in line with those boots. And then a third.

I look up to see, in full cowboy regalia, with deep, dark mustaches, 3 Mexican men holding acoustic guitars. They are staring forward stoically.

Oh god dammit.

Then, in perfect unison, they break into a mariachi song.

How am I supposed to read…argh….hhmmm…actually….this is kinda catchy

I start bobbing my head.

30 seconds later the song abruptly stops and the men take their hats off and start walking around holding their hats out for tips.

Being a fan of people with a good hustle, and knowing they probably need the money, I toss a buck or two in the hat.

The creativity of their hustle, the diversity of people on the train, it felt pretty damn American.

Sean Kernan

Airport in Bangkok, I spent my time before my flight talking with several people that were interested in who I was and the work I was doing in Thailand. They were amazed that I am 66 tall (almost 2 m) and asked if they could take their picture with me.

We talked about school, as I was a principal at an international school in Chiang Rai. We talked about the North of Thailand and the growth it had seen. We talked about their family and politics and generally got to know each other a bit.

When I landed in Chicago and got to the gate, I looked around. There were 6070 people there and everyone was electronically engaged. Several were reading Kindles, many were on their phone, there were Gameboys and iPods out in force. When we boarded the plane, the only people who had spoken to each other were a couple who exchanged a few words.

For some reason, the contrast was so great between the cultures. While the internet has brought us closer together in many ways, I think it has separated us as well.

Perhaps this wasnt an only in the USA moment, but the hyperfocus on electronic engagement is certainly prevalent in our culture.

William Haynes

I traveled to Los Angeles for a week with some friends, and though Norway and America are both western, I was amazed by the differences:

  • People talking to strangers - We went on a bus. Argued who should ask the bus driver where we needed to get off for the metro for 20 minutes. We didnt want to bother (in Norway, there are signs in buses literally saying dont disturb the driver). And then in America, people just came up to chat? Just like that, like they were old friends? I was shocked, I pretend I dont see people I know on the street because its so awkward. I was always uncomfortable in stores because workers would say how are you and I would freak out because I didnt know how I was? I was panicking. Never did reply to that one right.

  • 24/7, HUGE stores - I was so stoked to visit Walmart. The assortment in Norwegian stores is bland, small and very expensive. They also close at 11 pm the latest, and theres an own term for Norwegians traveling to Sweden to buy food because its so expensive in Norway. We traveled to one of those giant stores and I literally couldnt believe my eyes. So much food! 1 gallon of chocolate milk for $3? I pay $3 for 5 deciliters at home. $1.50 for cake mix? I pay $7. The amount of ready-made cookie dough, cinnamon rolls, and fast food was also almost unsettling. I had… fun, as you can imagine.

  • THE SUGAR (or corn syrup of artificial sweetener) - Sugar here, sugar there, sugar everywhere. How does cheesecake factory manage to push 1700 calories into one slice? Thats more than I consume in a day, and this is dessert for people? Everything is sugar. And if it isnt sugar, its salt.

  • Politics - Not getting around that one. I was so careful not to bring up politics simply because I had seen how people reacted and I was afraid for my Bernie-loving self. Its also beyond me how theres no universal health care or system to take care of homeless people. In Norway, everyone that cannot support themselves gets money from the government and an apartment to live in.

  • Shruthi Nayak

My husband and I had just moved to a new state before Independence Day(July 4th). In our old state fireworks were regulated very little, but in the new state, there were a lot of restrictions so we had settled for buying sparklers and snaps.

  We decided to take a walk through our neighborhood right before sunset on the 4th and lo and behold as sunset arrived the neighborhood exploded with color and sound. It seemed like every other house was launching mortars, firecrackers, rockets, you name it.

On Independence Day, the whole neighborhood decided it didnt care what the laws were and chose to shoot them anyways. It was so perfectly American.

Maritza Mills

Regular water is ice-water - Yes, it's true. No matter how cold the weather is, and I mean real cold (less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit), people drink a glass half filled with water and half ice. If you are visiting a restaurant for the first time, you better ask for water without ice.

Plastic Money - Even for a bill of less than a dollar, a credit card is accepted, well at most of the places. 

Conversations with cab drivers - This may not be totally only in the USA moment, but cab drivers in the US are encouraged to start a conversation with passengers, and it could be anything from knowing where they are from to their favorite music to suggesting local places to visit for. At least in Uber, drivers are compensated on how you rate them on these parameters.

Shraddha Gupta


And more specifically, the awkward hug where you make sure to give the other plenty of personal space. You know the one I mean - your feet are a meter apart and you slowly bend towards the person, careful that your chests dont touch, and maybe add in a soft pat or two if youre particularly close.

Now, this is probably because Im European, and French at that, so physical contact is more pronounced - our greetings are kisses on the cheek after all! Hugging isnt that big a part of it though - youd keep it for your significant other and… maybe your grandma.

Awkward hugging. The most American thing I can think of.

Kevin D. Aslan

I am from Scotland.

In June 2009, I went on a holiday vacation to New York City.

This was a few months after Susan Boyle became a global celebrity from her appearance on Britains Got Talent.

If you are unaware, she is an opera singer from a small town in Scotland that blew the judges and everyone away with her surprisingly brilliant voice (surprising because of her appearance and unusual personality).

Oh, the joys of show business.

Anyway, I was standing with my family waiting on a tour bus. A passer-by stopped suddenly with open eyes and a thick New York accent and loudly proclaimed are you guys from Scotland?!. With amusement mixed with terror, I replied: yes, yes we are. He then asked Awesome! What is Susan Boyle like? You are friends, arent you?. My family was amused by this lovely but naive man.

We had to explain (as I have had to already explain to other U.S. Americans in the past) that Scotland (among many other countries that some Americans probably think the same of) is a country with millions of people in it. Its not a small village where everyone knows each other.

Dear United States, learn more about the rest of the world.

Side note: I do live a town away from Ms. Boyle and walked past her in the street a month later, but lets keep that between us!

Colin Stewart

This stands out to me the most being murican.

 Conversations many social studies classes generally go like this:

Teacher: United States entry into WWII marked a turning point in the war and led to the demise of the Nazis. It was the foremost important event in WWII

Student: Well, the Soviet Union did the bulk of the fighting against the Germans, and lost the most army men.

Teacher: Ya, but the United States turned the tide of the war.

Student: But didnt The Battle of Stalingrad signal the beginning of Germany being on the defensive. The Battle of Stalingrad proved to be a momentous event in the war. Not to marginalize the U.S. engagement in war campaign, but even before the D-Day invasion, the Soviets have been pushing into Germany, eventually capturing Berlin in 1945.

Teacher: Excuse me, who is the teacher here.

Student: You are, sir.

Teacher: Who has been teaching for 30 years here?

Student: You, sir.

Teacher: Do not ever condescend me or question me, you little communist!

Student: Yes, sir.

My personal favorite:

Student: Hey Alexandre, do you know how to speak African?

Me: …no. African isnt a language.

Student: Really, I heard some people speaking it the other day, should you also be able to speak it


Alexandre DeForge

I'm from the US, but I now live abroad (in New Zealand). Once, when I was visiting the US on business, I somehow contracted THE WORST case of food poisoning. Ill spare you the gross details, but I ended up having to go to the emergency room. Knowing what this would likely cost in the good ol U S of A, I was grateful that I had very comprehensive travel insurance. However, even as an American expatriate, I was shocked beyond belief when they eventually released me (after I was recovered enough to make my own way back to the hotel) and gave me one-time prescription for anti-nausea pills which they instructed me to fill at the hospital pharmacy on the way out - the price: $1,111.00! I thought there must be some sort of mistake and questioned them up and down about what kind of magical pills these must be or whether they had accidentally prescribed a lifetime supply. Nope. $1,111.00 for a handful of average, everyday anti-nausea pills. Needless to say, I tore up the script, drove to the nearest drug store and bought a bottle of the same for $3.25. Universal Health Care is definitely one of the reasons I love living in New Zealand. It's not perfect, but it works pretty well most of the time.

Margaret Kramer

Owing to very different cultures, the teacher-student relationship is diametrically opposite in the US and in the Indian educational scenario. Both are good and bad in their own ways. I have studied in both systems for almost a decade each. One incident that I experienced is something that is so true blue American.

In middle school, I was writing a 1000 words essay on Beethoven. For some educated insights, I needed to interview my choir teacher. Her day was lined up with meetings and classes and I needed that interview pronto.

So we decided to meet over lunch. Her office was under renovation and the choir building was a long walk away from the cafeteria. I'm telling a story that happened on a scorching hot Texan afternoon and so we just sat down criss-cross apple sauce right there on the carpet and had the interview over lunch.

At the end of the interview, she THANKED ME for letting her eat during an 'interview'!!

I don't know if it was just the Southern warmth or her personal charm….but in many Asian educational systems, it is unimaginable to sit down with your teacher and have lunch together.

The relationship over in India between a pupil and teacher is very strict and functional. Teachers here have the unspoken role of a parent. They sometimes play bad cop just to discipline the child. I think this is very commendable because nobody sane wants to be feared or dreaded. Teachers and students don't interact outside of school/college work and would not even smile if they ran into each other. I'm not saying this NEVER happens…but it is a majority situation.

Once you Graduate from that grade, your ex-teacher becomes an acquaintance which is as close as it gets.

Both the United States and Indian educational systems have shaped me into the adult I am today. Both taught me how to be an upstanding person. Both gave me the gift of knowledge.

I think BOTH systems have their pros and cons in unique ways.

It's so interesting to experience cultures!

Arundhati Bhide

As an Australian resident, with most websites being US based, a big grievance I have is with the US standard of writing dates.

As most U.S. Americans would be used to, the date format is written as MM/DD/YY. If you have used to that format then its no problem. However, for pretty much all other countries (except China) they all use the DD/MM/YY format (some using other formats too), putting the day first.

Whats the big issue you may ask. Well, when it comes to blogs, articles, texts, files and many other written copy, if the day of any date is before the 13th, then there is a period of time when the rest of us have to scrub around the text to double check if its a US date with the month first, or a non-US date with the day first. If there are no supporting clues, and there's no reference as to the geo-location of the author, then its all guesswork.

In saying that… as someone who organizes files and folders as part of my job, I would love to see certain situations take on Chinas example and use the YY/MM/DD format. That way, folders starting with the date would always sit in chronological order.

Warren Hyde

Im an American, and a few things that I think can only be found in the USA:

 1. Fried Vegetables

2. Fried Ice-Cream

3. Fried Butter

4. People drop a Fried Turkey into a barrel

Sometimes we hurt ourselves (or die) trying to drop a fried Turkey, stuffed with a Duck, stuffed with a Chicken . . . into a barrel. A TurDuCken.

Sometimes its a Pig, stuffed with a Turkey, stuffed with a Duck, stuffed with a Chicken. A PorTurDuCken. Or Something . . .

It tastes good (yes it does!!!) . . . but who has to die to make that?

And Fried Butter? Somebody really has to put a stop to this madness! :)

5. CHICKEN AND WAFFLES. I do not want syrup on my chicken. Enough said.

Brian Franklin

As a recent graduate student living in USA, I have been amazed many times in a short period. Having been to 4 different countries before coming to the States, I believe my answer would be a little more relevant.

So, just after landing in Atlanta and reaching to Athens(GA) via a cab, I reached the apartment where I had a pre-booked room. After staying 15 minutes in the drawing room, I felt tired enough to go to sleep in.  the bedroom, to start the fan, I found something kind of a switch with regulator for the fan as given in the image below:

So, I genuinely pressed the switch(button in the middle) and started to rotate the regulator around it. Nothing happened! I pressed it 34 times to make sure it is working, but no luck !!

5 minutes later, the local police knocked the door of the apartment, telling that someone had pressed the Panic Button!!

Terrified me was trying to explain to the officer,

Me: Sir…., I just landed here. Just today. Just half an hour before! I was trying to sleep and.. and ..started the fan…with this regulator. I didnt know that its a panic alarm.

Officer: Yeah, happens in your country. By the way, welcome to the USA!!

And he left! Everything unusual!

Maulik Shah


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