I might as well join everyone else writing about and linking to this article that appeared in Chinese state media this week. Titled Top 10 Strange American Habits Incomprehensible to Chinese, it’s a quirky glimpse at a few American peculiarities. To be sure, some of them have a feeling of “I saw an American do this once, so this must be a typical habit of Americans,” but never mind; sometimes it’s good to see how others view us.
#1: Drinking cold water throughout the year
Americans tend to drink only icy cold water all year round. On their water coolers, there are only two options: hot water, which is merely used to make instant coffee or tea, and cold water, which is for direct consumption. Americans do not really understand why people might drink warm water. Likewise, there are no exceptional circumstances where people are advised not to drink cold water. For instance, whereas most Chinese people think that women who are menstruating or who have recently given birth should drink only hot water to stay healthy, American women have no qualms about drinking ice water or eating ice cream at those times.
#2: Eating hamburgers while drinking diet soda
For Americans, eating a hamburger while drinking a soda is as normal as the combination of soy milk and fried dough twists in China. Although tasty and convenient, the combination has a high calorie count. Amid growing obesity problems, many Americans have developed a habit of drinking reduced-sugar beverages referred to as “diet sodas,” which contain 99 percent less of the calories in regular sodas. Hamburgers and french fries already contain a huge amount of calories, so what is the point of only drinking diet soda?
#3: Hitting the hay with shoes on
Americans tend to think of bed sheets and sofas as expendable domestic items meant to be replaced sooner or later. Therefore, a lot of Americans see no reason to inconvenience themselves just for the sake of keeping things clean. Moreover, the United States is a relatively clean country, where there is less dust and dirt on the roads and in public places, meaning that shoe soles tend not to get very dirty.
#4: Wearing Ugg boots in the summer
Many Chinese viewers of “The Big Bang Theory” (which is popular in China) must have noticed that Penny, one of the TV show’s main characters, often wears T-shirts and shorts with a pair of snow boots. In fact, many Americans wear these fluffy boots in summer.What do you think? Personally, I take issue with #3 and #4. Sleeping with shoes on? Really?
#5: Wearing light clothing in winter
Americans tend to dress more casually than Chinese people. Many young people wear short-sleeve T-shirts in the winter, although they might put on an overcoat and long jeans when it becomes extremely cold. This is primarily because there is central heating everywhere — inside buildings and in subway and bus stations. Hence, it is normal to see corporate women dressed in professional shirts and skirts under a thin overcoat in New York streets in early winter.And as for tipping, it’s one of the things that I have had the hardest time adjusting to since moving back to the US 2 years ago.
#6: Tap water is safe, but not the warm water
In the United States., tap water is nominally safe to drinking straight from the faucet. Although some people may not like to drink tap water because of its slightly strange flavor, it is indeed safe for drinking. However, one has to remember that hot tap water from the faucet may not always be safe for drinking, because it comes from a different water source and the quality of hot water is often far lower than that of cold water.
#7: Tipping, even when you are already paying for a service
Tipping is a normal phenomenon in the United States. One gives tips when eating in a restaurant, taking a taxi or having a bellboy carry your luggage to your room. Tipping is usually 15 percent of the amount you spend on your entire bill, but it differs according to the quality of the restaurant or cab ride. Refusing to tip is impolite and will make you an unwelcome guest.
#8: Wearing pants lower than underwear
There is an actual saying used to describe this “baggy pants” style. It started in some African-American communities before a variety of other social groups adopted the trend. It is already part of American street culture throughout the country, and even celebrities like Justin Bieber can be seen sporting such pants.
#9: Taking showers in the morning
Americans differ from Chinese people in that many Americans take showers in the morning. Some Americans explain that showering in the evening is unnecessary if one works in an air-conditioned place. Those who have outdoor jobs also need to take evening showers.
#10: Pet culture
Americans are famous worldwide for loving their pets more than they love people. Some have explained that this is because there are more dogs than people in the United States. Although this is an exaggeration, the saying is not completely nonsense. The costs of raising pets like dogs — including providing for their daily well-being and even medical care — may be high, but Americans are just willing to spend that money.
Time for a big glass of ice water — I wouldn’t think of starting my day without one!
Photo Credit: “Ice Water,” by Pink Sherbet Photography (CC License)