From Stall Gaps to Jaywalking: 6 Things about America that Don’t Make Sense

Over the years (and on this blog), I’ve done more than my fair share of (lovingly) poking fun of the UK as I try to navigate life here. However, I’m an equal opportunist, and there are some things about America that also seem bizarre after living in the UK for awhile. Like, America, I love you, but why are the gaps under your bathroom stall doors large enough to fit a small human?

1. Jaywalking fines
One of the most freeing parts of living in the UK is the ability to cross the road wherever I want. In America, ‘jaywalking’ is illegal and if a police officer catches you on a bad day, you may end up with a fine. For crossing the road! This is particularly bizarre in rural areas with low traffic.
Q: Why did the American cross the road?


2. Toilet stall gaps
Americans aren’t known for wanting our privacy in social situations, and we’re usually the first to strike up a conversation or make a friend in line at the grocery store.

**CORRECTS DATE TO SEPT. 17 ** The stalls in the men's room at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport where U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was arrested June 11 by a Minneapolis airport police officer., are shown Monday Sept. 17, 2007. The Idaho Republican pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Craig has since said his guilty plea was a mistake.

But, seriously, why do we need such big gaps around our toilet stalls? Who is that for? Are people passing things between them? Are they for an easy means of escape?

3. Bank transfers
In the UK, everyone has a ‘sort code’ and account number for their banking account. It’s printed on your debit card so you always have it on hand, and you can transfer money into any UK bank account online using these numbers.


Compare this to many American banks, where inter-bank transfers can require a PhD to figure out (and that’s if you can even find your account and routing number easily). This results in a lot of people still writing checks to transfer money or pay rent. And checks in 2015? So far from cool.

4. Pharmaceutical commercials
All Western countries besides the US and New Zealand have banned direct advertising of medicine to consumers. For Americans, being sold to by pharmaceutical companies is nothing new or notable, and you expect to see advertisements like this one with the nightly news.


“…can lead to coma or death”  SORRY, WHAT?!

After moving to a country where ads like these are banned, it all seems even more bizarre. Wouldn’t we all rather hear about a new cholesterol medicine from our doctor rather than on a commercial for Modern Family?

5. Banned ingredients
I am the furthest thing from a health nut, but even I am slightly worried about all of the ingredients banned in Europe, but allowed in the US.

My favorite dinner as a child, Kraft Mac and Cheese, is literally banned in it’s “American” form in the UK because of the chemicals.


I can’t even think about how many boxes of Kraft I’ve eaten in my lifetime without feeling random pains and web-diagnosing myself with Mac and Cheese induced diseases. Moving on.

6. Pledge of Allegiance
The pledge is another part of American culture that rings no alarm bells for most Americans. You start reciting it in school at a young age, and it’s just something you do every morning as part of your routine. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest patriot, but I happily teach my incredibly patient coworkers the pledge on various American holidays for fun.


However, while many people seem to admire American patriotism (and this is not a knock against that), I find that a lot of people are a bit taken aback that we actually have a pledge of allegiance. Someone the other day thought it was a massive joke and still didn’t seem convinced that it was real after I confirmed.

When you think about it, there is something a bit robotic and next-world-order about reciting our allegiance to the country every morning. I mean, God Bless the USA and everything, but we definitely must look strange every morning when classrooms full of children are facing the flag with their hands over their hearts and chanting.

What have I missed?

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16 Responses

  1. Pharmaceutical commercials I find the most odd.

  2. matt says:

    I think the direct marketing of drugs is similar to the Soma in Huxley’s Brave New World.

  3. #4 and #5 are particularly concerning. I never realized #4 and now that you point it out, that does seem bizzare. and #5 is downright alarming. Great post, thank you!

    • Glad you enjoyed! I truly didn’t realize most of these things until I left America and have had them slowly pointed out to me by my British friends over the years. From what I’ve heard, America is doing a better job now at getting rid of chemicals in food, but, still, yikes!

  4. That’s funny that you mentioned it has slow sections because, in hindsight, I’m pretty sure that’s why I put it down in the first place. Thanks for the nudge, I’m inspired to pick it up again! 🙂

  5. Zoë says:

    Number two is absolutely the one that I agree with most! Hahaha. Every time I go to the UK it’s so refreshing to not feel exposed haha.

  6. I always thought banking was a bit strange in the U.S. Paying for a standard no-frills bank account (you only pay for a high end one with perks here), plus paying for each cheque (check!) deposited or written, plus paying for ATMs… You guys pay a lot for the privilege of having a bank account!

    (And I’m a banker!)

    • How true! I have to have an American bank account still to pay off my American student loans, and there’s a 12 dollar a month fee if I don’t have enough transactions. That’s got to be an American thing too, right? I can’t imagine my Barclays account charging me for no reason…?

  7. ldr13 says:

    I actually never realized that jaywalking is legal here… its illegal in canada as well though everyone does it and I’ve never heard of someone getting a fine for it.

    I never noticed any difference between the stall doors back home and here but I’ve heard many english that have gone to north america talk about it.

    In canada we sing the national anthem every morning at school so coming here to volunteer and work in schools I thought id have to learn god save the queen but as it turns out I’m off the hook!

    All good points. I also love that tax is included in the price of things so you’re not constantly guessing whether you have enough money!

  8. I hadn’t really thought about the pledge before… But I guess you could think about it that way. I do miss a bit of the patriotism at home, and find it strange that people sometimes won’t fly their country’s flag for fear of it being interpreted as a political statement, when in the U.S., many people fly American flags without a second thought.

  9. Jaime says:

    I remember distinctly feeling like a robot when reciting the pledge in school. And then never recited it again.

    I’ve also heard the most people in the UK pay their rent electronically, is this true?? I hate having to write a check and make sure I have stamps to send it to my landlord who lives 3 miles away. Not sure if people use it there but in the US Venmo and other easy money transfer tools have become popular recently.

    Stall gaps. I had a British coworker a few years ago who pointed this out and I must admit I hadn’t ever noticed it before then. At a recent conference in France the bathrooms in the conference center had no stall gaps whatsoever and it was SO NICE. Who can we call to make this a thing in the US?

    • Yep, we pay rent electronically! It’s so easy because of the way you can transfer money to any bank with just a few numbers. I’ve heard of Venmo from my American friends, which sounds similar to just the basic way bank transfers work here. I still have a Bank of America account and it’s always a nightmare trying to access and get money transferred to my parents and things. I’ll have to check out Venmo for myself…

      No stall gaps?!? That’s amazing! Surely that should be the default..forget immigration and human rights and the economy, stall gaps should definitely be the focal point of the next election!

  10. I find America’s health and education systems to be very odd. It is like they don’t want their population to be healthy and educated. Why do they have the largest incarcerated population in the world?

    And in all seriousness, why are all their biscuits either drop style or oreos? Why does their chocolate taste burnt? On that matter – why is everything candied?

    • Yes, the health and education systems are definitely big ones (though it’s one of those cases where it seems like everyone outside the US can spot problems with it while a large portion of Americans are fine with the status quo, which can be a problem).

      Funny you mention chocolate because until you have other chocolate, American Hersheys really does taste great! Then I had Cadburys and realized the error of my ways…

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