6 Things Americans Do That I Don’t Get

I was born and raised in Asia and came to America at the age of 18 for college.

I have been living in the US for 12 years.

Although it’s almost half of my lifetime, it’s definitely not long enough for me to absorb and understand everything about the American culture.

Mr. FAF and I absolutely admire and even worship the freedom, the opportunity, and the power of this beautiful country

And that’s why we have decided to build our family here.

As much as I love America, there are 6 things Americans do that I have a hard time wrapping my head around.

(In writing this post, I really don’t mean to offend anyone.

I truly want to put it out there to get feedback and hopefully to put things into perspective.

I also realized that what I discuss below doesn’t apply to every American.

But as you might already know, you can observe a certain pattern from any samples you collect.)

And here they are:

1. Using the dishwasher when there’re only 1-2 people

I’ve seen or read about people who say they can’t live without a dishwasher although their family consists of 1-2 people.

I understand that if you have a big family or if you often make complicated meals, the number of dishes to wash can be overwhelming.

But if it’s just two people (aka 2 plates, 2 forks, 2 glasses), it’s hard for me to understand why they don’t spend 10 minutes washing the dishes instead of piling them up for the whole day and running the dishwasher for 2 hours at the end of the day.

I’ve lived with roommates who used one plate and one fork for each meal but would pile them up in the kitchen sink so that they could use the dishwasher at the end of the week.

Aside from the amount of water and electricity used to operate the dishwasher, I also think it’s a bit unsanitary to leave dirty dishes in the sink for more than one day.

This is particularly true for non-Asian Americans. Many of my Asian American friends told me their parents used the dishwasher as a drying rack for the dishes. And that’s exactly what I use my dishwasher for.

I don’t think my parents even know that dishwashers exist. I never grew up with one. I think it has more to do with habit and convenience. If you’re so used to something that makes your life easier, it’s harder to part with it.

Related: 10 Expensive Things That Are Worth The Money

2. Buying fruit cups and meals every day 

Mr. FAF and I do eat out every once in a while. But we don’t do that every day and definitely not for breakfast.

In fact, Mr. FAF likes a very simple and cheap breakfast: rice porridge with radish and/or beans or bread and an apple every morning. I’ve encouraged him to eat oatmeal or cereal for more nutrition, and he has done that quite a bit.

However, when I go to work, I see some of my colleagues or other people in the same building buying a $7-10 breakfast. It smells great and definitely tastes good. But do we really need to spend that much on breakfast?

Sometimes I see my colleagues get a tiny bowl of oatmeal with some raisins for $2-3. I can get 5 bagels from the grocery store for $2-3. But you can easily spend that much on ONE bagel plus some cream cheese from the store.

I don’t think buying breakfast saves time either since you have to wait in line and pay for the food. Sometimes the line can be really long if the food is good or if the store is popular (i.e. Starbucks).

And it’s not just breakfast. It’s also snacks, lunch, and dinner. I can get a cantaloupe from the store for $3 and spend 5 minutes cutting it into smaller pieces. But a tiny cup of cantaloupe can cost $3-4 at the store.

Some argue that they don’t have time to prep lunch but spend 15-20 minutes a day going out and waiting in line to buy lunch.

I understand if you just had a baby, have a deadline, or are going through a super busy period in the year, you don’t want to spend time buying groceries or thinking about what dish to make.

But online grocery shopping and repetitive meals can definitely come to the rescue.

Related: How To Be Lazy, Frugal & Happy

3. Getting into debt to pay for vacations

This is what I find the most puzzling. Why would someone use credit cards and get a loan to go on vacation and have fun?

For me, vacation is at the bottom of the money spending pyramids. It’s certainly below the necessities of food, shelter, clothes, and utilities. If I can’t afford an expensive vacation, I won’t go.

If I want to go on vacation but don’t have money, I will choose something free or really inexpensive that I can afford (i.e. a road trip, going to the beach for the day, camping).

If I want to have fun with little or no money, I do something for free (i.e. going to the park, exploring nature).

If the purpose of going on vacation is to impress my friends, family, neighbors, or people I don’t even know, I’d definitely need to examine why I want to impress them.

Is it because I have nothing else that people find impressive? Is it because I feel insecure about what I already have and need to borrow money to show people what I seem to own?

I don’t want to go into debt. But if I do, it’d better be a big unexpected emergency (i.e. medical) or an investment that will yield me a good return in the future (i.e. education, mortgage).

Some people work extremely hard but still go into debt because of their income level or unexpected life events. I totally sympathize with them.

But I don’t see any reason why we need to borrow money to travel the world and then come back feeling miserable with the interest rate and the piled up loans.

Mr. FAF and I refuse to get into debt to have a nice vacation. 

4. Putting artificial sugary flavor in water

I know water is tasteless and boring. That’s why it’s water, not soda. But I see a lot of people put artificial flavor in their water just to get some liquid into their system.

Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of drinking water? If you drink water alone, it’s 0 calorie and can be healthy for your body. If if you put sugary stuff in it, it’s calories put in your system and can be unhealthy.

Plus, the artificial flavor usually costs a couple of dollars. I’d rather save that money or spend it on fruit to stay healthy.

5. Dipping fruit in dressing

Salad is almost tasteless and needs dressing. I get that. But fruit is so flavorful just by itself. Yet, a lot of people still dip their fruit in sweet, creamy, and fattening dressing. The dressing is not so healthy, and it costs money.

I like my fruit the way it is. If it’s too sour, I won’t buy it.

Related: My Frugal Asian Dessert

6. Taking a shower in the morning instead of in the evening

This is what I’ve been pondering ever since I came to America 13 years ago.

I used to live in a dorm where we shared a big public bathroom on each floor. In the morning when I was in a rush to go to class, my American floormates would wait in line to take a shower.

I’m sure everyone is in a rush in the morning, and time is precious. They could have saved so much time showering the night before when they had more free time.

Also, after a day of walking around, cooking, eating, etc., I just can’t wait to wash off all of the dust and odor to smell nice when going to bed.

I was so puzzled I asked an American friend about it. She said it’s because she wants to smell nice in the morning. She tends to get sweaty at night and doesn’t want to smell bad during the day because of that. By washing her hair in the morning, she can also style it better.

This is a good explanation, but it’s still not convincing enough to make me change my habit of showering in the evening.

Conclusion

I realized all of the things I mentioned above have to do with habits, culture, upbringing, and the structure of the economy (i.e. credit cards are common in the US). I’m sure there are a lot of things Asians do that Americans don’t get.

Whatever the reason is, I see Americans doing the 6 things above almost every day, and I still ask myself why every time I see it.

Related: 

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22 thoughts on “6 Things Americans Do That I Don’t Get”

  • Dishwashers are definitely a convenience. My first few places in college didn’t have one, and once I moved to a place that did it was SO much better. If you cook a lot every day, even for 2 people it is essential. it’s one of the secrets to our happy marriage 😉 There’s several dishes from cooking, 2 dinner plates and glasses and silverware, and then the container or 2 from leftovers that we put in the next day. We run It, full, probably every other day. Rice pudding and radish?? I’m intrigued. If you make it do you have a recipe to share? 100% with you on 3 and 4. As for flavoring, I’d say 95% of my liquid is just water, but I do enjoy making fizzy water and adding things like Mio to it. I see it as a healthy soda alternative, the flavorings have 0 calories too but it tastes good and it bubbly like a soda. Thanks for sharing your perspective on American “things”!

  • I am 100% with you on not taking out money to go on vacation. I will never, never, ever understand in which scenario this is a wise decision. What kills me the most is that banks PROMOTE this! They’ll use a photo of a couple on a beach and talk about consumer loans “because you deserve it.” Madness.

    As for the shower thing, I can go either way. I’m typically a night shower-er, but my husband is a morning shower-er because wakes up early and likes to let the hot water wake him up. All I need is a splash of cold water to the face and some coffee 🙂 I think for us, it’s more like we shower after we workout (whether morning or evening) or if we are cleaning up to go somewhere special.

    Enjoyed your perspective!

  • Dishwashers made in ~2010 onward are extremely efficient, effective, and also lower the amount of water “just right” due to grime sensors. So you can do a partial load every couple days guilt-free if you have a pretty new model.

    For the same amount of dishes, unless literally ONLY a couple plates and spoons, a modern dishwasher uses a LOT less water and also a lot less electricity to heat the water. This has been shown in several tests, e.g. here:

    https://dishwashers.reviewed.com/features/please-stop-hand-washing-your-dishes

    Actually modern dishwashers are very energy efficient, so most of the electricity is simply for water-heating…just like hand-washing also requires!

    Many professors and experts also claim that dishwashers remove a lot more bacteria from dishes compared to handwashing. Dish sponges contain a lot of bacteria even if you routinely rinse them out. Almost no one can withstand 60 degree C water (140 F) on their hands, which is necessary to kill most bacteria. Dishwashers shoot water at a very high speed that removes biofilm much more effectively than a slow kitchen sink. Many dishwashers have a high-heat “sani-dry” setting that kills additional germs at a relatively low incremental electricity expense. Most dish-drying racks are right next to the kitchen sink, and thus often are hit with microscopic droplets from people washing their hands.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/06/its-settled-dishwashers-beat-the-lowly-hand-almost-every-time/258784/

    I totally agree with you about showering at night. It helps me relax due to some time away from all stimuli (especially TV, computer, smartphone!). It’s also been shown that warm showers cool your body temp (roughly one hour after finishing), which helps the body enter the sleep phase of the Canadian rhythm.

    Actually, depsite being American, I totally agree with you on #2-6. On #3, Latin Americans are even worse than us – I lived in LatAm for a year during high school. The DEFAULT way to buy vacations was through 6-10 month installment payments. Literally the headline of a destination’s newspaper advertisement was the installment amount per month – “go to Mar Del Plata for only $80/mo”! Lol. Even as a teenager, it made zero sense to me.

  • My family has been in the US for many generations, but I don’t understand most of these things either. I think many people just like to spend money. There can’t be any other reason. I do usually shower in the morning because I’m often too tired at night, and my hair looks better when just washed. My husband could never understand that either. He said he was dirty at night and that was the logical time to bathe. Wasting money in the ways you mentioned explains why so many people have a shortage of money.

  • On an average day my wife and I go through 6 plates, 12 utensils, 4 glasses, four pans, two pots, 2 bowls and 4 cooking spoons and spatulas. Washing those by hand uses from 3 to 5 times as much water as running them in the dishwasher, studies show. Our dishes never sit in the sink, they go straight in the dishwasher. It is much more sanitary because it heats the water past what you could stand to put your hands in which sterilizes the clean dishes. If you have a dishwasher and don’t use it you are wasting water and risking illness, and that is something I don’t understand. The rest of it I agree with except when my expense account is paying, I do eat breakfast out, because it is free to me!

  • I had an additional thought. One time someone wanted to pay me to make egg salad for sandwiches. I made it for her for nothing and told her egg salad was so simple to make that she could easily make it herself. I started to tell her how, and she stopped me and said she didn’t want to make it herself that she would rather buy it. Perhaps, some think that they are too sophisticated to resort to cooking.

    • I love cooking… I love baking.. I am really good at almost anything I do in the Kitchen.. except hardboiled eggs… No matter what I do- Fresh from my hens or older from the grocery store shelf.. I have the hardest time getting the shells off.. drives me bonkers.. and Jello.. I always have super rubbery jello.. My aunt makes great jello.. I will just wait for her ribbon salad! lol

      • I always put the eggs in cold water right after they’re boiled. And that seems to help get the shells off more easily 😀

  • I had to laugh a little because this could have been written by either set of my grandparents (all immigrants to the US). They didn’t find a need to buy a dryer either when it was perfectly easy to hand laundry outside to dry. I would characterize my generation as the “convenience” generation. If it’s there to make life easier, we’ll use it.

    I do use my dishwasher – even though I live alone. I don’t stack dishes in the sink. They go in the dishwasher and I only run it when it’s full.

    I recently lost 25 pounds, and no longer snack and only eat out as a treat maybe once a week. I drink plenty of plain water – the health benefits are huge. I wish I had kept track of what I was spending on “convenience food” and meals out. Losing weight and adopting clean eating habits has been great for my wallet as well as there are no more prepackaged items in my pantry/freezer.

  • Love this post! I agree with you on all points except dishwasher. :). I shower at night because I don’t like the thought of going to bed without one. My husband showers in the morning as he has skin and hair that has more oil.

    I am super frugal and won’t generally pay for what I can make. Why would I spend even $3 on a coffee if I can make one at home for pennies?

    We budget for vacation and would never finance one. Too much stress thinking about paying it off. How could we even enjoy vacation if we knew we were coming home to bills?

    Little fruit cups? Not me!

  • Ha ha! We laughed as we predicted what would be on YOUR list after reading the title. We were totally right about the dishwasher, meals out, and going into debt for wants vs needs. We are definitely bedtime shower-ers…lovely to go to bed together smelling fresh…keeps the sheets cleaner, rids us of allergenic pollen, and triggers drowsiness like Sean mentioned above. We would also include never wearing outdoor shoes in the house, walking to take care of errands anywhere <2 miles, hang drying most of our laundry, washing out & re-using plastic bags/zip locks (tho never ones that contained meat or cheese), and using simple ingredients to make household cleaners. Thanks, Mrs. FAF!

  • The dishwasher as a drying rack is something me and my partner go back and forth on. I think it’s essential and the more we get into eating at home the closer she gets to joining the dark side. As someone above noted, two people can easily make a full load in 2 days.

    With regards to shower, I am in the shower twice a day camp. I should mention that these are both short showers and not long 20 minutes indulgences.

  • I don’t get the dishwasher and shower thing either. Growing up, the only time we used the dishwater was whenever we had a party which resulted an enormous amount of dishes to wash. All the other times we washed them by hand and used the dishwater as a drying rack and it didn’t have to make space for an actual drying rack.
    For as long as I remembered, I’ve always showered at night unless I either forgot to take one or went out at night and had to shower the next morning. It’s less stressful to shower at night so you wouldn’t have to worry to do it as your getting ready for work/school.

  • I didn’t understand dishwashers for a long time. I literally only had like 3 dishes when I was younger and single, so I just washed them by hand. I remember a prospective roommate coming over, and asking like, three times, whether we had a dishwasher, and I didn’t understand their obsession. Now we use a dishwasher, because with 2-3 people and home-cooked meals every night, the dishes pile up like crazy. But when I was single and only cooking a few times a week it didn’t make sense.

    I WISH I could shower at night, but I get very oily, and if I did that, I’d look really messy in the morning…Some of us can’t just pop out of bed and look like a fresh daisy 🙂

  • My hair takes forever to dry and I hate to blow dry it to death so I usually do morning showers. Generally though I would prefer if I could do evening ones although I do get sweaty at night too. Re: dishwasher, we definitely wait until it’s full before running — it IS wasteful otherwise. Don’t understand vacations on credit either, because the stress of debt seems to negate the benefits of vacation relaxation. I make my food at home and bring it in to work. Don’t get dressing on fruit unless it’s a fruit salad type thing. Re: flavored water… I mean, this is why we have coffee and tea, right? Because water is boring? That said, I tend not to put sugar in either although I do use cream. And I dig the caffeine.

  • LOL I never thought about morning showers being a white thing but maybe you’re right! Yes to evening showers all the way.

    My family cannot understand why a dishwasher is key to my marriage. It is def not 2 plates/forks/glasses with us. By the end of the day it’s like 7 bowls 4 plates 4 forks a few knives about 6 spoons a million glasses/cups and who knows how many pots/pans/other utensils/blender bits etc.

    Dishes are fine when it’s just me. Not when my husband is in the picture.

  • I legit don’t get the dressing and fruit thing. Or having fruit cut up thing. It’s so expensive and because it’s expensive no one buys it…which then goes to waste because it’s already been but and therefore expires faster. Lose-lose!

  • Legit guilty here of buying a big bag or box of pre washed veggies and eating it for the whole week for lunch at work instead of washing daily. I find the prewasged one more dry and crispy than my own washing and spinning before taking to work.

    This might be one of the factors to my high food expense and going out to eat seafood regularly. What an indulgent!

  • I agree with NZ Muse, I didn’t realize taking a shower in the morning was an American thing. Lol. But my mom for sure did not utilize the dishwasher for its original purpose. I have to admit using the dishwasher as a drying rack is convenient since I don’t have a lot of counter space for dish rack. This post has got me asking Why too. Haha.

  • I love my fruit dip.. or fresh fruit alone.. but only fruit I buy and cut down myself… I am too cheap to purchase precut veggies.. plus they generally have a preservative wash on them that bothers my stomach…

    My friend and her daughter always shower in the morning because they have insanely curly hair.. it needs to be wet and conditioned completely to be styled.. so this works best for them!

  • This blog post is too funny! I completely agree with you for all of them, (especially #1!) …except for #6 . I feel like I can’t function until I take a shower in the morning! 🙂

  • Australian here, love your comments. Shower 2xday, like feelinf fresh, besides 3 minutes showers can do wonders. Hair washing day about 10minutes x once per week.
    Practice frugality generally, especially with fresh produce. Buy can foods on special only. Drink water mostly, a little cream in tea, mornings. Buy basic clothes at kmart, visit second hand shops for clothes that are newish.

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