5 differences between the USA and Australia

So we have been in the United States for nearly two months now and I must say that we’ve managed to get a good sense of American culture during this time.

view of the sunset over lake michigan Double-Barrelled Travel

The USA is beautiful – this photo was taken near Traverse City on Lake Michigan

Some parts of the country (like Traverse City) make me want to move here permanently, while other parts (like Detroit) make me glad it’s near impossible to get your hands on a Green Card.

So what have I noticed that’s different about the US when compared to my homeland of Australia?

I mean, we both speak English and Australia is becoming more Americanised by the day, so there couldn’t be too many differences, right?

Wrong.

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lighthouse near sleeping bear dunes Double-Barrelled Travel

Another example of the beauty of the USA. This photo was taken near the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan

The differences between the USA and Australia

The gun culture

We all know the stats for American gun crime are some of the worst in the world.

And for me, the gun culture in America is the biggest difference between the Aussies and the Yanks. I must admit, I prefer Australia’s attitude towards guns.

At the moment we’re housesitting in Wisconsin where it’s legal to conceal and carry a firearm on you whenever you like.

Deer hunting target for practise Double-Barrelled Travel

Deer shooting practise – not for guns this time but for bow and arrow, which is another way they like to hunt in Wisconsin

Indeed, the other day we were eating dinner in a very remote part of the state (where the nearest town was a 45 minute drive away and there were only the deers at our campsite to keep us company) and I saw a man carrying a gun.

He’d come outside to make a phone call while Dave and I were enjoying our dinner on the restaurant’s patio and I saw the gun shoved down the small of his back. He’d put his t-shirt back down over the top of the weapon, but it had got caught and you could see the metal gleaming against his skin.

Even as I write this, I can hear people shooting in the woods. Each shot, the dog (Buddy, the cutie we’re looking after) jumps up and barks.

The house where we’re housesitting is owned by keen hunters and on the lounge room wall hangs a deer head and many antlers. I keep staring up at the deer head and wondering how someone could put a bullet in the side of something so beautiful.

hunted deer head trophy Double-Barrelled Travel

I’m not sure how hunters can shoot something so beautiful but hunting is a popular sport in the USA

Today we went to the local flea market and they were selling tickets to a raffle where you could win a number of rifles.

It’s certainly different from Australia where the most harmful thing you’ll find at the local fair is a death-by-chocolate cake.

Tipping

Another difference in the US, that is taking us a little while to get used to is the tipping culture.

In Australia, you only tip in restaurants and only if the service is worth tipping for. In the US, as most of you probably know, tipping is compulsory. And it’s only fair you do, as the waiters and waitresses get paid under the minimum wage because their tips are meant to make up the difference.

Apparently this is the rough tipping system:

10% dismal service

12% below average

15% average and the most common tip

18% good

20% very good

Money to symbolise tipping Double-Barrelled Travel

How much to tip and when to tip has got us a little confused in the USA

For a long time we kept tipping 20%, mainly because our math skills are so poor that we struggled to figure out 15% (embarrassing, I know).

But I think I’ve got tipping down pat now.

Although once I’ve got the ‘how much’ part covered, the other dilemma is the ‘when’.

For example, do we tip the mechanic who fixed our car? Do we tip the guy who bags our groceries? Do we tip if we buy ice cream from a corner store?

You get the picture… tipping can get confusing for us Aussies!

I’m getting my haircut on Wednesday – can someone please advise on what to do regarding the tip?!

Patriotism

Americans are by far the most patriotic nation I’ve ever seen. Before coming here, I knew I’d see a lot of American flags out the front of houses but what I wasn’t expecting was the other paraphernalia.

American teddies Double-Barrelled Travel

You name it, they’ve got it – Americans love their branded trinkets

T-shirts, napkins, flags on cars – you name it, someone has produced it. (Ironically, probably made in China).

I even saw an American-branded picnic basket today.

American flag welcome placemats Double-Barrelled Travel

An American branded placemat – one of the many patriotic items you can purchase in the USA

And don’t think that these patriotic items are only used on the 4th of July. Oh no, they are proudly displayed all year round.

Some foreigners might find it all a little stifling but for me I think I prefer it to places like the UK where you hardly ever see the national flag on display. (Unless it’s a royal event or the Olympics.)

Food production methods

There are some ways of preparing food that Americans do differently.

They don’t tend to have toasters – instead they like to grill things in little ovens that plug in on top of their kitchen benchtops.

Toaster Double-Barrelled Travel

Not many USA homes seem to have toasters but the most recent place we house sit did – hoorah!

This is great if you’re longing for cheese on toast, but if you just want a piece of toast quickly, it’s a little bit of a pain in the butt.

Americans also don’t seem to own kettles very often. Instead, folks from the USA tend to have coffee machines for their morning cup.

They’re not so keen on tea either, so I suppose they don’t need kettles. If they do drink tea, they’d rather put a tea capsule into their coffee machines and produce it that way.

American food

All the stuff you’ve read about American food being bad for you… it’s kind of true. They seem to put corn syrup into everything here, in order to support the country’s farmers, but it’s not too great for your health.

American log cabin syrup Double-Barrelled Travel

Americans love to use corn syrup in everything. So we look out for the labels that state it doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup added

They eat donuts for breakfast here, which while tasty, is far too much sugar for me in the morning.

In fact, they seem to have sugar with a lot of food here. It’s not good – many people suffer from diabetes and there seems to be a lot of obese people riding around in motorised wheelchairs.

Add this to the food portion sizes you get in restaurants and it’s easy to see why this country has a big problem with obesity.

But some of the food is delicious.

hamburger Double-Barrelled Travel

Yum! Yet another delicious hamburger in America

I was worried about the ‘fast food’ culture here but I shouldn’t have worried because there’s delicious food too.

We’ve eaten some lovely lobster rolls, delicious sushi, AMAZING steaks and a lot of hamburgers – which we order without the fries at an attempt to be healthier.

In Traverse City especially we had some amazing meals. It has been dubbed one of the top foodie cities in the USA after all.

upside down pineapple cake Double-Barrelled Travel

The delicious upside down pineapple cake we ate at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa’s Aerie Restaurant

The ironic thing is that I think we’re both losing weight because we are doing a lot of exercise.

That’s one of the best things about all this travel – not only do we get to experience the USA’s culture, but we have a lot of free time to fit in a fitness regime.

What cultural differences in the USA did you notice?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

16 comments on “5 differences between the USA and Australia”

  1. Sheedia Reply

    Very good pointers. As someone that has visited the US quite often I agree with all of them. The gun one I did not experience for myself though. While in Montana everybody warned us not to step on other people’s property because they might pull out guns. Lucky for me I never even saw a gun while there.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Yep, we’ve seen signs in the gas stations that you can buy which say ‘We don’t dial 911, we just shoot’. We thought that was pretty crazy. Certainly won’t be trespassing on anyone’s land any time soon!

  2. Eduardo@Andaremos Reply

    Yes, that is one of the benefits of travel – you tend to lose weight. Whenever I travel outside the US, I eat healthier and tend to lose weight because of all the walking and better food choices than here in the US.

  3. Christine Mikkola Reply

    Interesting! Some were surprising, and some not at all. Many of us here in the US wish the gun culture were MUCH more like Australia, though having grown up poor and living on meat that was hunted by my dad I can see why you’d shoot a beautiful animal like that. Someone has to kill the meat we eat, and most hunters have a deep appreciation for the fact that they are taking a life in order to sustain their own. (I’m not big on the deer heads on the wall, though. I find it a little creepy.) A hunting rifle is a whole different thing than an automatic weapon, though.
    The toaster one surprised me. I’ve always had a toaster and didn’t realize that wasn’t the norm.
    As far as tipping — even we don’t fully understand when to tip and how much. It’s very confusing, and even “experts” disagree on it. I wish it were much more simple. For a haircut you should tip around 10%, more if they do a great job or take extra care in shampooing/styling.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Yeah, we eat the meat anyway and someone has to kill it, so I suppose I do understand that side to hunting. Plus, I eat venison, so who am I to judge! It’s good if hunters eat the meat – hopefully most of them do.
      I agree that there’s no need to automatic weapons, which are the type that has been banned in Australia. We have met a few Americans that want the gun laws to be changed here too, so it’s certain that not everyone is happy with the laws.
      I tipped 15% for my hair – probably a little much but that seems to be our habit lately!
      I listened to this podcast about tipping where it said economists hate it because whether you get a tip or not depends on many factors such as whether you’re a man or woman, skinny or fat, small or big breasted, etc. You can guess which types get more tips!
      Thanks for your comment 🙂
      Carmen

  4. billybob Reply

    I find it funny that people in Australia seem to find guns totally foreign and it seems to be the first thing that comes up as being ‘different’ between America and Australia. Consider the fact that every police officer in Australia is armed, as in America. In the UK this is not so. Consider the fact that somewhere not to shy of 90% of Australians live coastal lives. A lot of the traditional need/use of firearms is not present in such communities. If you are from an inland or rural background, guns and shooting (either sporting or hunting or simply to eradicate pests) are/is extremely common.

    I do see there being some level of differences (gun laws relating to type of guns legal, general acceptance of guns in culture, as well as licensing and so on and so forth) – but the fact remains guns in Australian society are not at all unheard of. There’s plenty of guns used both legally and illegally here. Just saying. I understand where it is coming from, but it gets annoying reading this very commonly placed view.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      I appreciate your comment and I totally understand that guns are often needed for farming life.

      However, many city people in the US own guns – it’s certainly not just farmers.
      And I’ve never met anyone who lived in Australia and owned a gun. Granted, I didn’t know many farmers but as only 5.2% of Australians own guns this is probably why. My father is ex-military and he doesn’t even own a gun.

      30% of Americans own guns.

      And yes, although many of the guns in Australia could possibly be used illegally, there are many (more) American guns that are used both illegally and legally in America every day.

      As an aside to this point – there have been 222 mass shootings in the US since 2006 – there hasn’t been a mass shooting in Australia since 2002 – although only two people died in that so I’m not even sure this is classified as a mass shooting.

      I’m not completely against guns – I even went to a shooting range a couple of weeks ago and shot one for the first time (post to come!) but there’s no doubting (in my opinion) the culture in the US is much different to Australia.

      Carmen.

  5. Rick Kramer Reply

    It doesn’t bother me if people carry concealed weapons (pistols) Washington State requires to get a background check and pay a fee. Most people that own guns are law abiding and don’t want to hurt anybody though there are some crazy people out there. Some times a person needs a gun, like up in Alaska so they can take of a Grizzly Bear if it attacks. They are very fast and mean. One swipe from a claw and a person will be killed.

    I can’t remember if a person needs a safety class or not and /or takes on class on gun laws. It may vary from state to state in the union. I own a .22 caliber semi automatic rifle. I was taught how to use guns while I was in the army years ago. I like to go to the rifle range once in awhile. My brother who was in the Marine Corps and I, taught my 18 year old niece how to shoot. At the Tacoma Sportsmans, Club and other shooting clubs, safety is enforced and taught.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      I think it’s great when people are taught exactly how to use a gun and all the safety that needs to be known to handle one.
      With the bear thing in Alaska – will bear spray not work? I don’t know how I’d feel about shooting a bear but yes, I agree they are dangerous!
      We went to the shooting range when we were in California and we actually enjoyed it a lot. You can read about it here >> http://double-barrelledtravel.com/shooting-guns-in-america/
      I guess the gun crime statistics say a lot though, which is why I’m glad guns aren’t that popular in Australia.
      And I was shocked at the shooting range the minimum age was 11! That seems too young, in my opinion.

  6. Tony Reply

    America has a lot of temptations to eat bad food. We also have an abundance of CHEAP fruits and vegetables and other healthy food. Go to sunfresh, trader joes, whole foods. Even Walmart is a good place to buy cheap healthy foods. Tell me its cheaper to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats in Sydney…..No.

  7. Rinnie Reply

    Not really sure who you hang out with but I grew up in America (Ohio, Florida, Oregon) and never saw a toaster oven until I lived abroad. Everyone I know has a tea kettle, some even have an electric one. I have never seen anyone’s gun other than a few hunting rifles in Michigan. I never here gun shots, I don’t own a gun nor know who does or does not. A lot of processed foods contain corn syrup, I have never heard of anyone putting corn syrup directly on their food in my life. There are an abundance of healthy restaurants and grocery stores here on the West Coast. Sorry your experience is so crazy. I think people eat donuts for special occassions, but I agree they eat way too much sugar for breakfast especially cereal.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Hi Rinnie,

      These were just some of observations from driving around the US over a six month period.

      I guess the gun culture really depends on where you are in the US; for example we met lots of people in Wisconsin and Texas who hunted and had guns, and then no one we met in Oregon or Washington state had a gun.

      We really enjoyed the healthy stores too – like Wholefoods and the local supermarkets – but they were often a lot more expensive than the plethora of fast food outlets / unhealthy places unfortunately.

      And we never saw anyone use the corn syrup either – but because it’s for sale in the supermarkets someone must be buying it 🙂

      Thanks for your comments,
      Carmen

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