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

Photo of Little League baseball team
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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

Family photo selfie
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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

Photo of iced coffees
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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

Photo of an automatic car
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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.” 

A Handy Map of All the Royal Residences in the UK

Frogmore House, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's primary estate on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Frogmore House, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's primary estate on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Somewhere along the way, you probably learned that Buckingham Palace is home to the ruler of the United Kingdom and many unflinching, fancily clad guards. And, if you watch The Crown or keep a close eye on royal family news, you might recognize the names of other estates like Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace.

But what about Gatcombe Park, Llwynywermod, or any of the other royal residences? To fill in the gaps of your knowledge, UK-based money-lending site QuickQuid created a map and corresponding illustrations of all 20 properties, and compiled the need-to-know details about each place.

quickquid map of royal family residences
QuickQuid

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip kept eight estates for themselves, and divvied up the rest among their children and grandchildren, some of whom have purchased their own properties, too. Though Buckingham Palace is still considered the official residence of the Queen, she now splits most of her time between Windsor Castle and other holiday homes like Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Sandringham House, which Prince Philip is responsible for maintaining.

quickquid illustration of royal family residences
QuickQuid

Windsor shares its grounds with two other properties: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s home, Frogmore House, and the Royal Lodge, where Prince Andrew (the Queen’s second youngest child) lives.

illustration of frogmore house
QuickQuid

Southwest of Windsor is Highgrove House, Prince Charles’s official family home with wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. They also own Birkhall in Scotland, Clarence House in London, Tamarisk House on the Isles of Scilly, and the aforementioned Llwynywermod in Wales. Much like the Queen herself does, Charles and Camilla basically have a different house for each region they visit.

illustration of highgrove house
QuickQuid

In 2011, the Queen gave Anmer Hall—which is on the grounds of Sandringham House—to Prince William and Kate Middleton as a wedding gift, but they’ve recently relocated to Kensington Palace so Prince George could attend school in London.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s only daughter, Anne, resides in Gatcombe Park with her daughter, Zara Tindall. Anne also owns St. James’s Palace in London, where her niece (Princess Beatrice of York) and her mother’s cousin (Princess Alexandra) sometimes live.

Lastly there's Edward, Elizabeth and Philip's youngest son, who lives with his wife in Bagshot Park, which architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner called “bad, purposeless, [and] ugly.”

illustration of bagshot park
QuickQuid

If you’re feeling particularly cramped in your tiny one-bedroom apartment (or even regular-sized house) after reading about the royal family’s overabundance of real estate, take solace in the knowledge that at least you’ll never have to follow their strict fashion rules.

Stephen King's Maine Home Will Become a Museum and Writer's Retreat

Russ Quinlan, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Russ Quinlan, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Early in his career, author Stephen King (It, The Shining, The Outsider) embraced his public persona of being a spooky writer of the macabre. He purchased a 19th-century Victorian mansion in Bangor, Maine in 1980 for $135,000 and spent some Halloweens outside passing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

Now, King’s residence is set to become something of a Bangor landmark. As Rolling Stone reports, King and his wife Tabitha requested that their private home at 47 West Broadway be rezoned as a nonprofit center, which the Bangor City Council granted this week. The plan is to turn the home into a museum devoted to King’s work as well as a writer’s retreat.

King isn’t evicting himself, exactly. While he remains the owner, he and his family have spent less time at the residence over the years, instead residing in Florida or Oxford County, Maine.

Shortly after King purchased the home, he wrote and read aloud an essay addressing why he chose Bangor and his earliest impressions of 47 West Broadway. “I think it disapproved of us at first,” he wrote. “The parlor seemed cold in a way that had little to do with temperature. The cat would not go into that room; the kids avoided it. My oldest son was convinced there were ghosts in the turret towers …” A few months in, King recalled, his family began to settle in.

The Bangor home has morphed into a tourist attraction of sorts over time, with fans of King’s making a pilgrimage to the spot to take photos or idle around its ornate iron gate. Soon they’ll be able to peek inside, though the museum will be by appointment only. It’s not yet known when the home will open to visitors or how writers can apply to stay there.

[h/t Rolling Stone]

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