12 Things About America That Always Surprise Tourists

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by Reader's Digest Editors

Ask any foreign traveler who has visited the U.S. and they'll tell you that there are things about our culture that are as funny as they are wacky. Read on for 12 things that are as American as apple pie, yet give visitors pause.

1. DONUTS

"Why do Americans have pastries with holes in them? Why would you remove the center? And then you sell the holes separately? That's crazy," says Dmitry Kuzhanov, a Russian citizen who has been living in the U.S. for two years.

2. SQUIRRELS

Photo of a little girl feeding a squirrel
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“Foreigners find it funny that some Americans go as far as to interact or feed squirrels in the park,” says Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert. “This is viewed as quite bizarre and eccentric!”

3. FOOD PORTIONS

“Food portions in the U.S. are much larger than in China, where food is served 'family style' for everyone to share,” say Glen Loveland, an American who has lived in China for over a decade. “Seeing the look on the faces of Chinese tourists at The Cheesecake Factory, for example, as their dishes are served is quite amusing!”

4. WHITE SOCKS

Photo of man in white socks and sandals.
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"The white socks thing baffles many Europeans,” says Alex Bunten, who has lived in Scotland, Sweden, Spain, and Russia for over a decade. “You can pick an American tourist out from miles away—poor-fitting clothes, usually brand-new sneakers (if not sandals) with bright white socks!"

5. SUPER-SIZED BEVERAGES

"In most European countries, the sizes of beverage packaging are standardized, usually in the size of one liter or one and a half liters,” says Clemens Sehi, a Germany-based travel writer. “Also, most Europeans buy just as much milk as they really need. Not so in the U.S. where milk or red wine is often bought in huge containers so that it can last for weeks to come."

6. CHILD ATHLETES

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"Little League sports teams, and specifically parents coaching them, is something I just don't understand,” says Kuzhanov. “Maybe that's because children's sports teams don't exist in Russia."

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7. FAST FOOD

"It's hard to get used to all the fast food in America,” says Sehi. “It seems that many Americans love eating their food on the go and as quickly as possible, whether it's the drive-through, at In-N-Out Burger or a short stop at a favorite food truck on the corner."

8. INSTA-SMILES

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"I find the 'American smile' really funny and endearing,” says Sonam Yadav, who lives in New Delhi, India. “I'm talking about the wide ardent 'say cheese' grin every kid and adult seems to have practiced and is visible in every image which appears at a second's notice.”

9. ENORMOUS HIGHWAYS

"Particularly as a German used to the Autobahn with its six lanes, it's shocking to see that in the U.S. you have highways with 12 or more lanes, on which most cars drive at the same speed,” Sehi says. “It can be hard to learn the rules of the road!"

10. ICED DRINKS

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"Iced drinks are something Chinese people don't understand,” Loveland says. “Chinese people tend to drink lukewarm or hot water for beliefs related to traditional Chinese medicine."

11. EXTENDED SHELF LIVES

"I find it unbelievable that Americans buy groceries for one or even two weeks at a time,” says Landon Lin, who was born and raised in China. “I can't believe Americans trust food to stay fresh that long. In Asia, people go shopping every day, or at least once every two to three days!"

12. AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS

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"In Germany and other European countries, you mostly learn to drive with cars that have a gear shift and not with a transmission,” Sehi says. “This makes it weird for many foreigners to rent a car in the U.S., because most rental cars have automatic transmissions.” 

What Would Happen If a Plane Flew Too High?

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Tom Farrier:

People have done this, and they have died doing it. For example, in October 2004, the crew of Pinnacle Airlines 3701 [PDF]  was taking their aircraft from one airport to another without passengers—a so-called "repositioning" flight.

They were supposed to fly at 33,000 feet, but instead requested and climbed to 41,000 feet, which was the maximum altitude at which the aircraft was supposed to be able to be flown. Both engines failed, the crew couldn't get them restarted, and the aircraft crashed and was destroyed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable causes of this accident were: (1) the pilots’ unprofessional behavior, deviation from standard operating procedures, and poor airmanship, which resulted in an in-flight emergency from which they were unable to recover, in part because of the pilots’ inadequate training; (2) the pilots’ failure to prepare for an emergency landing in a timely manner, including communicating with air traffic controllers immediately after the emergency about the loss of both engines and the availability of landing sites; and (3) the pilots’ improper management of the double engine failure checklist, which allowed the engine cores to stop rotating and resulted in the core lock engine condition.

Contributing to this accident were: (1) the core lock engine condition, which prevented at least one engine from being restarted, and (2) the airplane flight manuals that did not communicate to pilots the importance of maintaining a minimum airspeed to keep the engine cores rotating.

Accidents also happen when the "density altitude"—a combination of the temperature and atmospheric pressure at a given location—is too high. At high altitude on a hot day, some types of aircraft simply can't climb. They might get off the ground after attempting a takeoff, but then they can't gain altitude and they crash because they run out of room in front of them or because they try to turn back to the airport and stall the aircraft in doing so. An example of this scenario is described in WPR12LA283.

There's a helicopter version of this problem as well. Helicopter crews calculate the "power available" at a given pressure altitude and temperature, and then compare that to the "power required" under those same conditions. The latter are different for hovering "in ground effect" (IGE, with the benefit of a level surface against which their rotor system can push) and "out of ground effect" (OGE, where the rotor system supports the full weight of the aircraft).

It's kind of unnerving to take off from, say, a helipad on top of a building and go from hovering in ground effect and moving forward to suddenly find yourself in an OGE situation, not having enough power to keep hovering as you slide out over the edge of the roof. This is why helicopter pilots always will establish a positive rate of climb from such environments as quickly as possible—when you get moving forward at around 15 to 20 knots, the movement of air through the rotor system provides some extra ("translational") lift.

It also feels ugly to drop below that translational lift airspeed too high above the surface and abruptly be in a power deficit situation—maybe you have IGE power, but you don't have OGE power. In such cases, you may not have enough power to cushion your landing as you don't so much fly as plummet. (Any Monty Python fans?)

Finally, for some insight into the pure aerodynamics at play when airplanes fly too high, I'd recommend reading the responses to "What happens to aircraft that depart controlled flight at the coffin corner?"

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Baskin-Robbins Russia Debuts Self-Driving Ice Cream Truck

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While technologists tend to tout the potential benefits of self-driving cars for futuristic commuters, the best use of autonomous driving technology may not involve passengers at all. (Apologies to everyone who wants to nap while they drive.) What we really need are self-driving ice cream trucks.

In Russia, that's already a reality. A driverless ice cream truck from Baskin-Robbins Russia and a company called Avrora Robotics just debuted in Moscow, according to The Calvert Journal.

The VendBot, similar to a smart ice cream vending machine on wheels, debuted at Moscow's Hydroaviasalon conference, an event about seaplane technology and science. The small vehicle is currently designed to move around parks, event spaces, and shopping centers, and can maneuver independently, detecting obstacles and stopping for customers along the way. For its debut, it was stocked with six different Baskin-Robbins flavors.


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Based on videos of the VendBot Baskin-Robbins Russia posted to the company's Instagram account, the miniature truck doesn't come equipped with the jingles U.S. ice cream trucks play incessantly. Instead, it beeps to alert potential customers of its presence instead. Once it stops, customers can order their dessert from a keypad on the side of the vehicle similar to ordering from a vending machine.


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Avrora Robotics, based outside of Moscow in Ryazan, Russia, specializes in developing autonomous vehicles for freight transport, industrial farming, and military use. And now, ice cream delivery.

Unfortunately, there's no mention of Baskin-Robbins bringing its driverless ice cream truck to other countries just yet, so we will have to content ourselves with chasing after human-driven ice cream trucks for a while still.

[h/t The Calvert Journal]

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