Giving Thanks: Why Foreigners Find America Amazing

Some things Americans take for granted, foreigners find strange, hilarious or even offensive. Read on to see how thankful we should be for the things we have.


A couple of years ago, there was a question on Quora.com that asked the following: “What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America?”

Many people answered, and each reply was like a thread in a tapestry of the things that make our country unique, provided by those who first experienced the United States when they or their relatives arrived at our shores.

Thanksgiving is the perfect day for such a reminder of how lucky we are to live where we do.

I sifted through the extensive list of responses and pulled quotes — particularly those concerning money — that I found interesting, thought-provoking, charming or otherwise noteworthy.

Not all are flattering, but many are. Here, in their own words, are things about America that foreigners find amazing:

We’ve got a big country

“Foreigners cannot believe how vast the country is. I am from the West Coast of the U.S., and my Italian relatives come here thinking they can visit me in Seattle, plus also see New York City, Miami, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood all in a week — by car.”

Our priorities are different

“At least until the 1980s in Guyana, dog food was not a thing that existed. Dogs got table scraps and mostly were outside. They are surprised by how in America, people actually avoid feeding their dog “people food.”

“There is almost no public transportation except in a few large cities. People actually have to have cars to get places. Cars are necessity, not luxury.”

“Bottles of water. For some reason, people carry huge bottles around. And the funny thing is, there’s a (refrigerated) water fountain in almost every corridor.”

“Biased media: Political bias, economic bias, geographic bias, etc. Clear misuse of freedom of speech. If all I hear is inaccurate news, my perception of the world will be grossly inaccurate. How hard is it to realize this?”

“The U.S. preserves its nature: I was thrilled to see how far ahead America is in preserving its beautiful nature. Absolutely terrific, kudos to you guys.”

We have some weird rules

“Coming from India, I found it amazing the way traffic behaved without any intervention from traffic policemen. Just everyone following the rules.”

“You’re not allowed to just cross the road when it’s safe? Crazy. You’d get nowhere in a city like London if you had to follow the rules you do in the U.S. No one believes you can get arrested for crossing the street.”

“An intern at work was saying he couldn’t go to the pub with us. I assumed it was because he was allergic to something or religious or something. It turns out he wasn’t 21. So you can vote, get married and serve in the military but can’t have a beer? Seriously?”

“The credit system in America will create a numerical value (credit score) to assess everyone’s financial fitness. No one know how the score is calculated but you need that to get a loan… or two… or three… and beyond. The irony: despite all this credit score stuff, 2008 Financial Crisis still happens.”

We’re heavily into ads

“My god how do people watch anything on TV in America without going insane? We watched half a movie, about an hour in length, but it took nearly two hours due to the adverts popping up every 8 or 9 minutes for 6 or 7 minutes. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was the same adverts EVERY TIME.”

We’re both friendly and trusting

“The niceness of strangers. Nicest people in the world, even in New York, which is supposed to be one of the rudest cities in the world.”

“In bars I’ve been in the situation where everyone hands over their credit cards and the bar staff keep track of how much everyone has spent and will hand you back a bill at the end of the night. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. In England you’d not trust the bar staff to do this at all — they’d probably steal your card.”

“Every cashier will greet you with “How are you today? You find everything okay?” with a smile, and you’re quite thrown off the first few times.”

“There is no culture of philanthropy in Russia and many view American philanthropy either as a waste of money or as some intricate plot to get some additional benefits.”

“That Americans make what they call “friends” in a matter of minutes — and ditch them just as fast.”

“How people feel it’s important to immediately know your first name and use it.”

“Two of my friends were visiting from Moscow, and they quickly grew to appreciate the concept of valet services. Voluntarily giving your car keys to a complete stranger is a risky proposition in many other countries.”

Some stuff is cheap, some expensive

“Petrol is around $9 a (U.S.) gallon in England. No one from England can believe how cheap fuel is in America. Stop complaining when it’s $3.50 a gallon.”

“The cost of health care in this country is insane. It seems that all aspect(s) of health care (are) designed with ‘patient must be insured’ assumption — read: charge as much as possible. Any uninsured small procedure will leave a lasting impression in your financial health for many years to come.”

Family life is different

“Many Americans would rather stay in a hotel, or at least the Americans we know. Guyanese people (or at least my family) think it’s strange that you would pay money when you have relatives to stay with, even if you can afford it.”

“Many children, even in well-to-do families, work in fast food, car washes and do a lot of other things to get money and it is not an embarrassment.”

“You haven’t spoken to your family in more than a month?”

“The children here are allowed to do whatever they want, without corporal punishment, and are largely disrespectful to their elders. In Philippines, there were four generations of one family living under the same roof — sometimes the same bed. Here, children leave home and put their parents in nursing homes.”

We have it pretty darn good

“I’ve noticed that most Americans roughly have the same standard of living. Everybody has access to ample food, everybody shops at the same supermarkets, malls, stores, etc. I’ve seen plumbers, construction workers and janitors driving their own sedans, which was quite difficult for me to digest at first since I came from a country where construction workers and plumbers lived hand to mouth.”

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a car seat in India. And parents carry their children mostly, most people can’t afford strollers here.”

“How well elderly live, even those on SSI and Medicaid. How many services are available to them.”

“My Russian in-laws were shocked when they found out that we get packages left on our doorstep and no one steals them. They were also shocked by buffets. My father-in-law told everyone back in Moscow, “No, really! You just pay to enter!”

“The typical supermarket has at least a hundred varieties of frozen pizza, 50 brands of trail mix, etc. I was just astounded by the different kinds of products available even at small gas station convenience stores.”

“The cashier gave me an empty cup when I ordered soda. The concept of virtually unlimited soda refills was alien to me, and I thought there was a catch to it, but apparently not.”

“Why individual houses are so large? We always get into discussion that house is not just a shelter, but also a manifestation of one’s financial achievements.”

“My garbage disposal eats better than most of the children in the world.”

What do you think about the way people from other countries view ours? Leave a comment below, or in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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Comments

  • Courtney Fosnight

    This was surprising to me. I have traveled abroad and been impressed by what I’ve seen there. For example there is no litter in Switzerland. It is as clean as a whistle. And no one is in a hurry in Europe in general. I guess we take for granted the good things we have. It was refreshing to hear that foreigners are amazed by our trust of each other, our bar tab system or no one stealing your UPS

  • fox2george

    When I expressed surprise to an Englishwoman that their country has no written constitution and “how can you govern with no written constitution?” she responded: “How can you govern your country when it consists of 50 different countries?”

    • TeeTime

      What surprises me is the fact that so many Americans think their Constitutional rights follow them to other countries. Believe me, they don’t.

    • Well, that’s the reason we need a constitution–or at least one of the main reasons.

  • JB

    Once when we were at Disney with our two young children, I overheard a British family discussing a restaurant menu. One of the kids wanted something on the kids menu, but was over 12 years old. The mom said he was too old to order it, but the dad responded, “This is America; you can get whatever you want!” I thought he had an interesting view of our country!

  • Sharon J

    We met a couple from the middle east a few years ago. They remarked how quiet the USA was. No bombs, large amounts of gunfire and not much traffic noise in the middle of the night. They had a really hard time getting to sleep. And this was in L.A.

  • Dave Francis

    I was employed on cruise ships for 26 years; been to just about every country in the world, including islands and the Galabogos island. There is no other place in the world, that compares to the United States.

  • Kent

    Healthcare in America is a joke. It’s all about the money. We have insurance companies who add no value whatsoever to our heathcare yet they take a huge slice of profit out of almost every transaction, unless of course, you are one of the high maintenance elderly, too poor to pay the premium or too sick to be profitable, then our greedy insurance companies let the government take care of the problem. It should also be illegal for hospitals and drug companies to advertise.

    • Paula

      You know Kent, until Obamacare became the law, no one was forced to buy health insurance in this country. If a person wanted to save up a million dollars in case their loved one became seriously ill, that was perfectly acceptable. Most people however, prefer to pool their money with others counting on not everyone needing the big bucks at the same time. That’s all health insurance is, you know, a way of spreading the risk among numerous people. The evil, no good insurance companies who do this also hire smart “math people” who know how to calculate how many people will get sick, with what, and when, and how much it will all cost. They also work to control those costs by getting on the phone with hospitals, doctors, drug companies, therapists, etc., and negotiate price breaks for the people they insure. It’s called economies of scale and it becomes a possible way of doing business when lots of people are involved, as they are in insurance.

      I think you will find if you go it alone, and save all the necessary money yourself, and then go to the doctor or hospital and have a procedure, you will find that you actually have to pay MORE than if you were insured as part of a group. It’s called a “negotiated rate” and it’s lower than what individuals without insurance pay. Also, insurance companies hire medical people as well, who understand the work being performed by the hospitals and doctors. They often spot ways to save money, avoid unnecessary procedures and tests, etc.

      The “evil insurance companies” are made up of people who live up and down the streets of America, who get paid average salaries just like other people in the community. Do grocery stores make a profit? Banks? Manufacturing companies? Do policemen, teachers, lawyers get paid? What do you do, Kent? Do you get paid to do it? Why is it so unfair for people who work in insurance to get paid?

      Sure, insurance companies have to make more money than they pay out in order to stay in operation. Personally, if I’m paying premiums to a company, I WANT them to charge enough to pay for all the bills that might come in. It’s not in my best interest if they take my money then end up going broke because they didn’t get enough from everyone and can’t pay my claim when I have one.

      I do think that our entire system of delivering and paying for healthcare in America needs an overall, from one end to the other. I believe it is inefficient and wasteful, and everyone should be able to get quality care, no matter their income. Obamacare however, was not well thought out, with all parties involved being a part of the solution. I believe it will make healthcare more expensive in the long run, if you can get in to see a doctor at all.

      • Amelie

        I was with you until the last sentence. You brought fresh information and insight to a sensitive subject.

        The ACA did have input by the insurance companies, and it was well thought out, about 1000 pages of thought, open to comment before it was implemented.

        I have family who’ve had serious illnesses, afraid to change jobs because of pre existing conditions. Obtaining reasonable healthcare insurance would be difficult without the ACA.

  • OcklawahaTheTransitGuy

    Living the working in La Republica de Colombia for a number of years allowed me to answer this life question: “What do you call a 4-Way stop in Colombia? Homicide!

  • Draftdog

    I do find it disturbing that when traveling to visit friends and relatives you are generally expected to stay at a hotel, when the whole point was to visit the friends and relatives! Every aspect of family is just so much more important in other countries.

    • ModernMode

      I find visiting my in-laws stressful. It’s not that I don’t like them. But if I could stay in a hotel, I would have some privacy to decompress. Instead, for 24 hours I’m cold because they don’t like to run the heat, we don’t have much food and drink in common, and I have to sleep on a trundle bed (terrible sleep) and share a bathroom. I would happily stay in a hotel, but wife won’t allow it.

  • Beth Knipple

    I really think the last comment or quote is a very sad commentary for our country.

    “My garbage disposal eats better than most of the children in the world.

    • Clairmonte Hughes

      It’s so very true! I am a US citizen of foreign extraction and have been a world traveler and I can positively say that the USA is the best country to live in the world!

    • 8317dh .

      Beth: Very sad I agree. We Americans waste a lot of food.
      Monty: Thank you for your praise of our country.

  • Lorilu

    It’s surprising to me that plumbers are poor in other countries.

    • Amelie

      Most craftsmen are poor in other countries.

  • Vic

    I am surprised no one mentioned “Freedom!”

  • Vic

    God bless the USA, the greatest country in the world.

    • 8317dh .

      Thank you Vic for your praise of my country. However, I agree with others who wrote comments that our health care is expensive. Outrageously expensive in some cases.

  • smokey347

    thanks for visiting. and thanks for going back home.

  • Steve Dristy

    Been overseas many times – they really do think just like that. Many visitors come to my state every year, and are flat out astonished by what they see. BTW smokey, you might think about this – not every state gets tourists, but some of them – including mine – DEPEND on tourism for a lot of the municipal revenue. I don’t like paying a lot of taxes, and those who come here help to keep my taxes low.

  • Cgjgeoman

    Most Americans have never traveled abroad and those that have more often than not stay in upscale hotels and have little contact with ordinary people. Because of this we as a people have little understanding of how wonderful our lives are in comparison to the vast majority of the world’s people. That is the main reason so many people wish to immigrate to the U.S. On this day of Thanksgiving every American should drop to their knees and thank whatever Deity they pray to that they were lucky enough to have arrived or to have been born on these blessed shores.

    • Elliot J. Stamler

      So true, so true. And for me and others like me, had my ancestors not come to America I would not be alive. We dwell on our national problems but what we should all be doing is what we can to make this an EVEN better country. America does not need to be “made great again” (as a certain person falsely says), America remains great.

      • Cgjgeoman

        We are in agreement.

  • Great list, and pretty much right on! I’ve lived overseas in four different countries – “on the economy” – so to speak, and I realize how lucky we are in this country. In fact, I’m very often embarrassed by how wasteful and ungrateful we so often are.

  • Whenever I went overseas, I tried to spend time with locals and where locals went. You get a different impression of a country and a different of your own as a result. Despite what the world has to offer, it was always nice to come home.

  • Linda Salter

    My first husband was from Trinidad. He told me that when he first came here to the United States, he was very disappointed to see that the streets were not paved in gold as he had heard. Also, I’ve never traveled outside of the US, but my mother has. She’s traveled to the West Indies and to Mexico. She says both places were very beautiful if you stayed in the tourist areas. Once you ventured out a little further to where people actually live, you see people living very poorly with children out begging in the streets. It’s very sad.

  • Tom

    An exchange student from Europe that we hosted several years ago was shocked at how her peers would look at porn on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday acting all holier-than-thou.

  • Angelo_Frank

    On visiting Las Vegas my friends from overseas inquired of me “Is everyone rich in America? Look at how they gamble, eat like kings and stay at luxurious hotels.” I replied, “They all have credit cards and will eventually pay dearly for living beyond their means. Forty percent live paycheck to paycheck.”

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