If you're from the U.S., American traditions seem common and normal. However, those from outside the states have a clearer view of what rituals are uniquely American. Explore everything from American family traditions to the seemingly odd things only Americans do.
American Family Traditions
American family values differ from family to family, but there are many traditions a large portion of American families have in common.
Sunday Family Dinners
While it may seem outdated to some, many traditional American families enjoy regular Sunday family dinners with extended family members. In other cultures, multiple generations live together in the same household. Since Americans don't tend to live in multi-generational households, weekly extended family dinners are a way to connect with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. These gatherings typically include a large spread of food.
Throwing a baby shower for a pregnant friend or family member is an American custom for almost every family. People play games and watch the mom-to-be open gifts as a way to celebrate the impending birth. Baby showers are common in some countries, but in other cultures it can be bad luck to give gifts before a baby is born.
Opening Gifts In Front of the Giver
From birthday parties and baby showers to holidays such as Christmas, people in the U.S. consider it customary to open a gift in front of the person who gave the gift. This gives the giver a chance to see your reaction and receive immediate thanks. In some countries, opening a gift in front of the person who gave it to you is offensive because it makes you look greedy.
Hugging or Shaking Hands
When Americans greet strangers and colleagues, they almost always shake hands. When people in the U.S. greet close friends and family members, they hug. Americans do not generally kiss anyone other than a partner or child as a greeting.
Bachelor and bachelorette parties before a wedding are not unique to American culture, but they are not common in some regions, like Asia. These all-night parties celebrate a person's last days as a single person. Every bachelor or bachelorette party is different, but they often include drinking alcohol.
Wearing Shoes In the House
The rules about wearing shoes in the house vary from region to region around the world, but it's considered rude and offensive in many northern and eastern European countries. Not all Americans wear their outside shoes inside someone else's home, but it's common.
Holiday Traditions in America
Some of the most recognizable American customs and traditions surround U.S. holidays.
The 4th of July
While celebrating your country's independence or founding isn't unusual, the way Americans celebrate their Independence Day is unique. In America, the 4th of July features large parades, crowds of people wearing patriotic clothes, and backyard barbecues. The day ends with massive fireworks displays.
Most American families gather on the fourth Thursday of November every year to eat and give thanks at a Thanksgiving celebration. The staple of this family meal is turkey, but side dishes such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce are also traditional. There's also a grand Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City complete with dozens of giant balloons.
The day after Thanksgiving in the United States is famously known as Black Friday. It's a massive shopping day filled with extreme deals to encourage early Christmas shopping. Some shoppers camp out in front of stores until they open for Black Friday shopping. There are even injuries reported annually as shoppers will do almost anything to get their deal items.
The U.S. isn't the only country to celebrate Halloween or a holiday on October 31st, but most other countries don't trick-or-treat like Americans. Trick-or-treating involves kids dressing up in costumes and knocking on the doors of strangers asking for candy.
Excessive Displays of Patriotism
Outside of Memorial Day, Flag Day, and the 4th of July, Americans are known for their excessive patriotism. You'll find American flags hanging indoors and outdoors all around businesses and private homes. You'll even see Americans wearing patriotic clothing any time of year. Kids in U.S. schools recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag daily.
American Coming of Age Customs
Every culture has coming of age customs for kids and adults. U.S. customs related to being certain ages are sometimes viewed as odd or over-the-top.
Big Birthday Parties for Kids
Americans love birthdays! Elaborate birthday parties for kids are standard in many American families. Everything from renting a backyard petting zoo to creating an entire carnival is acceptable. Kids of all ages, even babies, get birthday parties that include friends and family members. Parties usually follow a certain theme that's seen in the food, decorations, and activities.
High School Prom
Heading to prom as a senior in high school is almost equivalent to getting married in the U.S. This important school dance takes place toward the end of the school year and is a formal event. Students spend months and thousands of dollars planning the event. Boys ask girls to the dance through elaborate "promposals", which resemble marriage proposals.
Getting a Car at 16
Most Americans own a personal vehicle, and getting your first car as soon as you can legally drive is a U.S. custom. In wealthy families, cars are purchased by parents, while in lower-income families teens save up for years to buy their own cheap cars. In many states you have to be 15, 16, or 17 to get your driver's license, so that's when you'd also get your first vehicle.
Moving Out of the Family Home at 18
Americans value independence, so it's no surprise that moving out of your family home as soon as you finish high school is a tradition. Even if you don't attend or finish high school, 18-year-olds are expected to move out and live independently. College students are welcomed back into the home during school breaks, but they're expected to get their own home as soon as they graduate college.
Drinking Too Much on Your 21st Birthday
The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21. Many Americans plan to go out for a long night of drinking alcohol with friends on their 21st birthday to celebrate this right.
Sports and Entertainment Customs in America
Sports are a huge source of entertainment around the world. America is arguably one of the most sports-obsessed countries, though.
In the U.S., "football" is the term used to describe what others call "American football" since "football" is what the rest of the world calls soccer. Americans love football so much, they spend hours before football games gathered in the stadium parking lot tailgating. Tailgating involves grilling and playing games with friends or strangers to get pumped up before the game even starts.
The Spectacle of Super Bowl Commercials
Football tailgating is crazy, but not nearly as crazy as the hype over Superbowl commercials. Usually, Americans hate TV commercials. But the commercials aired during the Super Bowl every year get more attention than the game.
The World Series of Baseball
If you just go by the name, you'd think the World Series is an international competition, but it's not. Baseball is another sport Americans love, and they celebrate the end of the season with a tournament for Major League Baseball (MLB) teams to see who's the best each year. This tournament is called the World Series, but all except one MLB team are from the U.S.
Playing the National Anthem at Every Sporting Event
American pride is strong at sporting events from youth soccer all the way up to professional sports. If you attend any kind of sporting event for any age group, you'll hear the Star-Spangled Banner played or sung live. Players and spectators stand with hands over hearts to show their American pride.
American Dining Traditions and Customs
Those visiting the U.S. will quickly notice how important food and drink are in American culture. Most noticeably, Americans love big portions.
A Sauce for Every Dish
In the U.S., there's a sauce for everything. From dipping sauces to traditional sauces, Americans eat a lot of sauces. Ketchup and ranch dressing are favorites for kids to dip everything from veggies to chicken nuggets. Adults enjoy things like barbecue sauce on burgers, and they smother other meats in gravy.
Restaurant Leftovers to Go
To-go bags or boxes are standard in the U.S., but not everywhere else in the world. The portion sizes are so huge, it's almost impossible to finish a meal at any restaurant. Taking the food home in a special container is an American custom that makes people feel like they're getting their money's worth.
Eating Sweets for Breakfast
In many countries, lunch or dinner is the most important meal of the day. In the U.S., breakfast is. While others grab a coffee and some fruit, many Americans eat sweets for breakfast such as donuts, sugary cereals, or pancakes smothered in maple syrup.
Adding Ice to Every Drink
Americans don't only put ice in their water as a standard, they also put ice in coffee and even wine. When you order a cold drink at an American restaurant, it automatically comes filled with ice. In many other countries, drinks are served at room temperature as the standard.
Professional Customs of Americans
Some of the ways Americans handle things like college, work, and writing are unique to the U.S.
The Imperial System of Measurement
For common measurements, most people in the U.S. use a form of the Imperial System called the United States Customary System (USCS). While Americans do learn and use the metric system like almost every other country in the world, the USCS is preferred.
Writing the Month First in a Date
When Americans write a date, they write the month, then the day, then the year. Many other countries write the day first, then the month, then the year.
Student Loan Debt
Going into debt for a college education is an American custom even Americans don't like. While other countries offer free college options to all, college students in the U.S. are responsible for figuring out how to pay for an expensive education. This often involves taking out student loans and paying them back over years or decades after completing a degree.
Limited Time Off From Work
In the U.S., it's customary to take as little time off from work as possible. Many employers don't offer generous time off benefits, and employees feel guilty or inefficient for taking off any unnecessary time. This custom is slowly changing in the U.S., but time off from work is nowhere near what other countries customarily have.
Tipping Service Workers
In many countries, tipping your waiter, cab driver, barber, or other service worker a large amount is considered offensive. In the U.S., it's customary to tip around 15 to 20% because service workers are paid a lower wage with the expectation of tips in many industries.
Sitting In the Back of a Cab
Whether you're hopping in a taxi cab, an Uber, or some other driving service vehicle, Americans sit in the back of the car. In many other countries this is considered offensive and elitist, so riders sit in the front passenger seat.
The American Way
Even though the U.S. isn't the only country in the Americas, U.S. traditions and customs are referred to as the American way. If you love learning about American traditions and customs, explore more specific topics such as American wedding traditions.