Campus Life, Lifestyle

Why is the United States so weird?

Having an international roommate has taught me a lot. She is from Spain, and many of her culture shocks have caused me to revisit my own disillusionment with factors of life in the United States. Many of the practices we have here make sense to us because we are used to them, but they don’t make sense objectively.

I would like to examine some of this country’s quirks and habits in an attempt to understand how we compare to other parts of the world.

Systems of Measurement

wall clock
The United States has many customs that could seem odd to someone from another country, such as telling time with a 12-hour clock and using the imperial measurement system. THALIA LAUZON/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

When we are talking about the temperature outside, my roommate and I used to have to convert degrees between Fahrenheit and Celsius in real-time so we could understand each other. Now, I have familiarized myself more with the Celsius scale because I realized it just makes more sense.

The United States is one of the very few nations that officially uses the customary, or imperial, system to measure distance, area, temperature and other quantifications.

Doesn’t it make more sense to use a system where each physical quantity is based on one unit, rather than a system that doesn’t have a straightforward conversion? Scientists already use the metric system for statistical purposes. Why do we still adhere to this system so strongly?

Time

My roommate gets very tripped up over whether to say “a.m.” or “p.m.,” as she is used to using military time. Although we are not the only country that does this, the United States is accustomed to using a 12-hour clock rather than a 24-hour clock. Doesn’t it make more sense to tell time by a standard where every single hour is different?

Sports

We all know about the “soccer” versus “football” argument, but one thing that was striking for me to learn was that my roommate had never heard of the Super Bowl until moving here. Some countries besides ours watch the event, but it understandably has nowhere near the global appeal of the World Cup or the Olympics.

I don’t know why I was so surprised that my roommate was unfamiliar with this event. Why would she care?

Food

Since we frequently order takeout, another difference my roommate noticed is the portion of  food U.S. restaurants serve. Here, fast-food portion sizes have increased significantly throughout the past two decades. This is alarming because it is a contributing factor to widespread health issues.

No wonder I tend to engulf the large meals at my disposal while my international hallmates generally save half of their meals in the fridge for the next day.

I cannot conclude that this small glimpse into this country’s customs fully addresses all the nuances of historical context, government influence or rationale in other parts of the world. Nor can I make any sort of blanket statement asserting these customs are wrong or that they fail to account for the well-being of all citizens. It’s not that simple.

One conclusion I can make is that international travel is important because immersion helps you step outside of your bubble in a more impactful way than mere research can. I have never been out of the country, but I know when I finally get the opportunity to do so, I will pay attention to habits that seem peculiar to me so I can learn something new.

I will continue to question U.S. norms because I don’t just want to be a citizen of the United States, I want to be a citizen of the world.

2 Comments

  1. Joy Thompson

    Well written and insightful!

  2. And also:
    – US spelling (that no one else uses)
    – the MDY date format (“Month DD, YYYY”) that no one other than parts of Canada with heavy US influence uses
    – 120 V electricity that essentially only mainland North America uses
    – appropriating the name of a continent to mean the country specifically (synecdoche)
    – a power plug that essentially only mainland North America uses
    – light switches/rockers that turn on when tilted/pressed up
    – citizenship-based taxation that is essentially non-existent everywhere else
    – no VAT (value-added tax) which is incredibly rare in the world (and unique in the developed world)
    – no universal healthcare (which is unique in the developed world)
    – tip-dependent wage compensation (which is unique in the developed world)
    – as you mentioned, gridiron (“football”) and baseball (which is essentially not played by anyone else)
    – an electoral college system (which is unique in the world)

    and on and on. I could keep going, but I’ll leave it at that. Many, if not most, of these are because of deliberate attempts to be different rather than “quirks” or “customs” which have developed because, unfortunately, a lot of US identity is based on how different.

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