America is unlike any other country on earth. Here, everything is bigger, bolder, brasher and more bonkers than anywhere else, with added emphasis on enjoying yourself as much as possible. Life is too short to waste time wondering. This attitude permeates all aspects of pop-culture, but is especially obvious when you look at the food.
American eating is full of idiosyncrasies that might make perfect sense to a native, but seem completely baffling to an outsider. For anyone coming to America, these harmless habits can turn cooking and eating into a mysterious pastime. Here are just a few of the American food traditions that the rest of the world finds really weird.
1. Still using ounces
Despite almost everyone agreeing that the metric system is easily the most sensible way to measure ingredients, America seems to disagree. Even though ounces and pounds make demonstrably less sense than weighing things in neatly organised 10s and 100s, America is apparently determined to make it almost impossible for foreign cooks to grasp what’s going on in a US cookbook.
2. Enjoying Pumpkin
America’s obsession with Halloween has become an international touchstone. Today, pumpkins all over the world are carved with varying degrees of skill and left to slowly rot on soggy porches. But, only one country has decided that pumpkins are worthy of a regular place on the menu. Whether it’s a nearly-normal pumpkin pie or a totally baffling pumpkin latte, America’s adoration of the orange gourd is yet to find a following elsewhere.
3. Mocking Fruitcake
For some reason, fruitcake is the butt of the annual American Christmas joke. Despite the fact that it’s undoubtedly delicious, and stuffed full of all sorts of fruity, boozy goodies, fruitcake never gets the respect it deserves. There are even events that revolve around throwing fruitcake as far as possible and catapulting it into the air. Everyone else, meanwhile, would be more than happy to just eat it.
Not all American eccentricities are a bad thing. Probably the single greatest thing about the country’s excessively fragmented and needlessly ad-heavy sports-scene is the tradition of tailgating. Say what you will about American football, spending the day surrounded by barbecue, beers and beef-laden back seats is both uniquely American and completely awesome.
5. The Super Bowl
You would have thought that the biggest date in America’s sporting calendar would be about, well, sport. You’d be wrong. Every Super Bowl Sunday, an astonishing one billion chicken wings are guzzled by greedy sports fans, making this the single biggest food day of the year. We don’t care how much you like football, a billion chicken wings seems excessive.
6. Doggie Bags
If you went to a Parisian bistro or a traditional Italian trattoria and asked the staff to scrape your leftovers into plastic bag, you’d probably be chased out with torches and pitchforks. American eateries have no such qualms. Presumably thanks to the enormous portions, taking the remnants of your meal home with you is a key principle in the US food industry. Chefs may not approve, but we can’t say we disapprove of this idea.
The single biggest difference between American and global dining culture comes not with the food, but with who is serving it. Unlike the majority of countries, tipping is an indispensable part of waiting staff income, often making up a higher percentage than their day wage. To the rest of the world, relying on strangers to pay your staff seems more than a little confusing.
Of course, every country has their own foibles when it comes to food. America is certainly not alone in having habits that leave outsiders scratching their heads. While there are some things that could probably benefit from a change, it’s worth remembering that there are some awesome American eating oddities as well.