Things Americans do that totally confuse people in other countries

Since the United States is arguably the world powerhouse, it's easy to think everyone else must have us figured out by now. We export our music, our movies, and our military, so surely foreigners must know us inside and out. But it turns out there are still aspects of the USA that confuse the heck out of the rest of the world.

We put ice in all our drinks

When was the last time you had a drink without ice in it? If you're an American, it's probably been a while. We love ice. We take our liquor on the rocks, we ice our coffee and our tea, and we fill our fountain drinks to bursting before adding a dash of soda. If a waiter brought us water with no ice in it we'd wonder what kind of apocalypse was happening in the kitchen.

Not so in the rest of the world, especially Europe. If you've been abroad you probably noticed that getting ice in a drink is the exception, not the rule. According to Smithsonian magazine, this might be because Europeans see ice as taking up precious room that could be filled with the liquid you're actually paying for. (Free refills are rare in Europe, and per the BBC, France has even banned them in the battle to stop people getting fat.)

But history-of-drinking writer Henry Jeffreys suggests a more historical explanation. Before refrigeration, ice was a luxury item in Europe. Since it was so hard to keep ice frozen, only the rich had access to it. But it was much easier to get ice in America, where it was literally harvested from lakes and kept cool in special boxes. Over time, Americans got used to having ice in their drinks, while Europeans continued to drink their tepid liquids, a trend that still exists today.

We're complete prudes

America was founded by Puritans, and we've managed to keep a firm grip our puritanical label with white-knuckled fists until today. Violence we're relatively okay with, but when it comes to sex and nudity, we could not be bigger prudes.

This is obvious in pop culture. When movies show most nudity and any sort of sex, they're usually given an R rating. Meanwhile, violence has to be incredibly intense to get the same. In a YouGov poll, parents rated "graphic violence" as just as deserving of an R as female nudity, male nudity as slightly worse, and sexually oriented nudity as much less acceptable to the poor virgin eyes of anyone under 17.

In Europe, the opposite is true. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the erotic lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color, which received an NC-17 rating in the U.S. for its graphic sex scenes, was rated suitable for anyone over 12 in France. Countries like Germany are especially okay with nudity, to the point the government included instructions to its citizens visiting the USA that being nude in public, even just topless (for women), even on a beach, could be enough to get you arrested. Rick Steves' travel blog warns Americans that sightseeing in Europe can mean seeing lots of naked flesh. This includes on billboards, in government-issued pamphlets, newspapers, and on saucy postcards you can send home to your pearl-clutching friends.

We love our small talk

If you venture outside in America today, chances are you'll have numerous conversations, even if you're just getting groceries. That's because we're expected to chat with anyone we come into contact with. "How's your day going?" "Did you find everything all right?" "I love your top." Americans are the world champions of small talk.

This can be anything from jarring to insulting for people from other countries. According to The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed as reported by Quartz, the French might shut down a conversation with you if you ask what they do for a living. They don't like being fit into a box like that, defined by what they do. In the New Yorker, Karan Mahajan, who's originally from India, says it took her over a decade to master the art of American small talk. In her home country, she says, interacting with shopkeepers is about your transaction and nothing else. You aren't supposed to act like you're friends with them.

According to the Harvard Business Review, getting the hang of small talk is especially important for foreigners in corporate settings, where being able to chat casually with your superiors can be good for your work prospects. And you thought you got that promotion because you were good at your job.

We take our extra food home with us

We've all been there. You're eating out and it's the end of the meal. Your eyes were a lot bigger than you stomach, and you have a bunch of food left over. No problem, just ask the waiter for a doggy bag and take the rest home. Everyone knows it's not actually for the dog, though, and that you'll be eating it cold tomorrow night in your underwear while watching Friends on Netflix.

What's completely acceptable in the U.S. is downright mortifying in other countries. According to the BBC, a survey by the Sustainable Restaurant Association found that 25 percent of people surveyed in the U.K. were too embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag, and 24 percent of people actually thought they weren't allowed to because of health and safety regulations. According to The Local, the same is true in France, with some restaurant owners thinking they could be sued if people left with food that ended up making them sick once they were at home. Another difference is that the French are taught to always finish everything on their plate to be polite, even if they're full. That might be possible in a country that gives you realistic portion sizes, but in America we like our plates piled high, and no one wants to see restaurant patrons fill themselves to bursting. The inevitable result could really ruin the ambiance.

We expect you to tip

Tipping is ingrained in Americans from a very young age. We know that it's the polite and correct thing to do, and it's so expected that most waitstaff are paid less than the minimum wage on the assumption they will get lots of tips to make up for it. Not tipping when it's expected is almost unheard of and makes a very clear point: either you're a terribly cheap person or the waiter literally stuck his face in your soup.

To foreigners, tipping can be an absolute minefield. Just think about how complicated the process is when you break it all down. Some service staff you tip, others you don't. Some get 15-20 percent, some just need a couple bucks. BBC America had to tell its readers that tipping wasn't actually legally required, even though it also said that if you don't tip you might get chased down the street by a waiter wanting to know what's up. It also explained the secret code all Americans know of tipping 10 percent or less to say the service was terrible. The Australian site Traveller gives its readers a helpful and very detailed breakdown of who to tip and how much. When in doubt, if you come from a non-tipping culture and are visiting America, just throw money at anyone who (politely) talks to you.

We can't get enough of our flag

It's hard to escape the American flag. We fly it in front of buildings and from our houses. We put it on T-shirts and bikinis, on cakes and cookies. In school, each day starts with pledging allegiance to the flag hanging in the corner of the room. We sing our anthem about it before every sportsball game. There's probably one sneaking up behind you right now.

Not so in many other countries. According to the National Review, in Europe, if you go waving a flag around people are likely to think you fall on the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum. In England, the people who display the St. George's cross tend to be football hooligans at best and racists at worst. This means your normal, everyday Englishperson doesn't want to have the flag around lest people get the wrong idea about them. According to Der Spiegel, over 60 years after World War II ended, the Germans still have a "pathological" fear of being patriotic, especially when it comes to flying their flag. The Nazis went a bit overboard with the whole swastika thing, so it makes sense, even though we're now talking about a completely different flag. The LA Times says that some countries, like India, discourage reproduction of their flag for non-official reasons. It's almost like putting it on everything in the world makes it less sacred.

We don't include tax in our prices

Americans are used to the idea that the price you see on a tag is not going to be what you end up paying. We just prepare to hand over a little more money than we see on the sales floor, and most people don't bother calculating things out later to make sure the tax was correct.

It's crazy when you think about it. We have state sales taxes but then cities and counties can add more to that, which means the amount you pay for something that has a tag price of $9.99 can vary from one store to another one close by. Then there are special rules for things that don't have added tax in some places, like alcohol or groceries or even clothes. Try explaining all that to a foreigner who is used to having their taxes included in the price and paying exactly what it says on the tag. TripAdvisor spends hundreds of words trying to make all this clear to its readers. Maybe it's just a good idea to hand over your wallet at the counter and hope the cashier is honest — it's not that different than what everyone else does.

We smile like crazy people

Americans smile all the time. Whether it's saying "cheese" for photos because genuine joy is too difficult, or being told to smile by some jerk walking down the street if we dare to have a contemplative moment, the American instinct is to bare our teeth and crinkle our eyes.

Unfortunately, this makes us look ridiculous to people from other countries. According to a psychologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences, people from Japan, India, Iran, South Korea, and Russia think those who smile look significantly less intelligent than those who don't. People in India, Argentina, and the Maldives think smiling makes you look dishonest. Smiling is so foreign to some countries that American companies actually have to teach their employees how to grin at customers, which is what happened when McDonald's opened in Russia in the '90s, according to NPR. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Walmarts in Germany had to let their staff stop smiling at customers after some men interpreted this basic kindness as flirting. Best to just walk around ashen-faced and serious all day.

We have the longest, most expensive elections ever

Did you know Donald Trump is already campaigning for the 2020 election? The rallies he attends are paid for by his reelection campaign, meaning the race for the White House began a month after he took office. Even for America that's pretty crazy, but we're used to our elections lasting years at a time and costing more than the GDP of some nations.

The cost and length of American elections are absolutely obscene when you look at other countries. In 2012, the cost of all federal U.S. elections (the presidency and Congress) was $5.8 billion. Meanwhile, the 2010 British elections cost a mere $49 million, which, according to the BBC, means we spent 120 times as much total and 23 times as much per person. In the U.S., candidates campaign for years, while the Washington Diplomat reports that the country with the next-longest campaigns is Germany, at a measly 114 days. According to the CBC, the longest campaign in Canadian history lasted less than 11 weeks and that was way back in 1926. No wonder Canadians are so polite: they have so many fewer family dinners to yell about politics.

We're obsessed with guns

Americans love guns so much it's almost a religion, coming right after actual religion in the Bill of Rights. Even the most liberal politicians can be put in political danger if they hint at stronger gun laws. Our devotion to these deadly weapons is baffling to people in many other countries.

According to CNN, 19 countries, including Ireland, Norway, and New Zealand, don't even normally arm their police. Additionally, Americans own 48 percent of all the civilian guns in the entire world. That's a mere 5 percent of the population owning almost half the guns. We also own more guns per person than any other country, with Yemen coming a distant second.

Business Insider reports that our gun culture is shocking to people in places like Australia, who enacted tight restrictions on gun ownership after a terrible mass shooting in 1996. After the shooting of nine people in a South Carolina church, the British newspaper The Independent ran with the headline "America's Shame." Love 'em or hate 'em, there are some Americans' hands you'll never pry guns from.