Expat Life: 7 American Things I Don’t Do

by Miss Footloose
Dutch Girl
Strange American Habits

No, this is not really me.

Certain Americans will think it is my (and others’) misfortune not to have been born American, but what can I say? It’s not my fault I was spawned in the Netherlands. And yes, I know what they say about the Dutch: they are opinionated, judgmental, and straightforward — see the 7 American things I don’t do below.

So when I had the great luck to marry a globetrotting American, I tried to improve myself. For a time we lived in the US and I learned to make a killer apple pie, conquered inches and quarts, and tried not to cringe when total strangers called me honey and baby (sales woman at fish counter in supermarket: Hi! What can I get you today, baby?).

But after all my struggles to fit in, I still have a lot of trouble subduing my inner Dutch girl with her opinions and judgments and directness. So if you are an American, you might want to stop reading right here, because here’s my list of 7 American things I don’t do, won’t do, will never do:

1. I don’t hide my hand under the table

Growing up European I learned not to put my hand on my thigh under the table when eating. After all, what were you doing with that hand down there? Put it next to your plate so we can see it and sit up straight. Of course, unless you are eating soup or ice cream, you always need both your hands if you eat like a European. You use both your knife and fork and don’t do awkward acrobatics switching them from one side to another. As far as I am concerned, do what you like, just keep your hand to yourself there under the table and don’t put it on my lap. As for me, my way of eating is so ingrained that switching the habit would need gene replacement surgery, and I have no time. Then again, I now live in France.

2. I don’t use a single kitchen towel for both hands and dishes

Yes, that is what Americans do. Yikes! This is so not sanitary, trust me! In the Netherlands we all know that you dry your hands on one towel and the dishes on another one. That’s how it’s done. So now you know too.

Kitchen towels

Dutch kitchen towel set.

A keukendoek is a kitchen towel used for hands, and it has the same loopy texture as bath towels have. A theedoek or tea towel is for dishes and cookware. It has a flat, smooth weave. In the Netherlands you can buy them separately as well as in matching sets. So, what do I buy when I’m back in my homeland? Kitchen towel sets. I simply cannot risk dying of some horrible bacterial disease.

3. I don’t shriek when greeting friends

I was quite shocked, dear reader, when I first observed this habit of American women running screaming into each other’s arms when meeting – in public, in a restaurant, in a shopping mall. Shocked! I wondered what the crisis was. Except there was no crisis, just psychotic joy on steroids.

After witnessing this cultural phenomenon a number of times, I began to wonder if, for the sake of improving myself and integrating into American society, I should adopt this custom. Therefore, in the spirit of when in Rome do as the Romans do, I decided to give it a try. So one day I spotted a friend I had not seen for a bit, a nice surprise, really. I took a deep breath and primed myself to act American. I rushed toward her, reached out my arms, opened my mouth as wide as it would go and . . . nothing came out. Nothing. Pathetic really. I must have looked like a mute ostrich attempting a primal scream.

Primal Scream

Nothing came out!

I have therefore come to the conclusion that this shrieking thing is not for me. It is not in my Dutch DNA and I will not attempt to shriek again when meeting a friend. Ever.

So that was number three of the 7 American things I don’t do. Onward.

4. I don’t imbibe standard American coffee

In the international annals of coffee culture, much has been written about the lack of pizzazz of ordinary American coffee (not to speak of the gauche habit of walking around swilling the wimpy brew from disposable containers the size of buckets).

So I will try not to add to this, except to tell you a story of the time my (Dutch) mother came to visit us while my American mate and I lived in the US. We were invited to a  barbecue dinner in the garden of friends. It was all great – the food, the ambiance, the nice friends – and my mother enjoyed the American-ness of it all, as she should have.

Except for the coffee, which had arrived in standard American mugs. Dinner over, my mother and I wandered around the garden to admire the plants, my mother clutching her cup of coffee. She looked at me with desperation in her eyes, then glanced down at her still-full mug. “I can’t drink this,” she whispered miserably. “I just can’t.” Quickly scanning the environment like a criminal in a bad movie, she stealthily tossed the brew into the bushes.

Drinking weak American coffee - one of the 7 American things I don't do

Just have an espresso already!

Dear reader, I have not acquired the taste for this insipid beverage, often tarted up with fake non-dairy creamer flavors: pumpkin pie spice, Himalayan salted caramel, peppermint mocha. I kid you not. Supermarket shelves full of chemical flavors to choose from. Of course, with American java being so lacking in panache, it is not surprising Americans feel compelled to gussy it up.

Fortunately, I now live happily in France, where they know how to make a more vivacious coffee. At home, of course, I will brew the good strong stuff as well, and my American prince has happily taken to it.

Now that I have duly aired my Dutch judgments about American coffee, here’s another American thing I don’t do:

5. I don’t display my inner soul on bumper stickers

What is it in the America national psyche that makes so many Americans feel the compulsion to publicly expose their inner most feelings, religious beliefs, stupid opinions, and unsolicited advice on bumpers stickers on their cars? (No, not you of course!)

Bumper stickers - one of the 7 American things I don't do

I may agree with you about some things, but it creeps me out you’re such an exhibitionist

What is the psychological disorder that makes them think that any random stranger in a random car behind them on a random road at any random time has any interest in the feelings, beliefs and opinions of the random stranger in the random car in front of them on a random road? Please explain this to me. Here are some examples:

  • Proud Parent of a Highly Gifted Kid
  • My child has perfect attendance at (Very Expensive Private) Elementary School
  • If Jesus had a gun, he’d still be alive today.
  • My woman, my wife, my property
  • Freedom or socialism
  • Vegetarian is an old Indian word for bad hunter
  • My child eats bugs
  • You found God? If nobody claims him in 30 days, he’s yours
  • I don’t need sex. The government screws me every day
  • God Bless the Freaks
  • Honk if you love Jesus. Text if you want to SEE him.

Enough already. If you want to buy some bumper stickers for yourself, Google it.

6. I don’t NOT air out my bedroom daily

Many Americans may air out their souls and hearts for the world to enjoy on bumper stickers, but this airing out thing does not apply to their houses. These are often air-conditioned and centrally heated dwellings, totally insulated and closed up. With never a window open, they are full of stale air polluted with dead cooking fumes from reheating doggy-bag Chinese food, various unsavory pet odors, noxious viruses carried in by coughing and sniffling family members, and the artificial smells of chemical air fresheners to cover up this toxic soup. Ye gods.

The Dutch are addicted to fresh air. Outside, inside, everywhere. They love going out for a walk to get a frisse neus – a fresh nose. And inside the air needs freshening regularly, and the bedrooms daily. The goddess of fresh air says so. (Yes, there is such a goddess, and her name is Aurai.)

NOT airing the bedroom - one of the 7 American things I don't do

Take a deep breath. Can’t you smell the fresh air?

And that means opening the windows to get rid of smelly old air and let in the new clean air from outside – at least for some short time. Even if you’ve slept with the windows open a crack already. Even in winter. Even when the weather is awful. How clean this outside air is depends on where you are, of course, but generally speaking the Dutch are lucky in that regard. If you’re domiciling in Mumbai or Beijing you might not want to adopt this habit.

7.  I don’t have a Really Ugly Christmas Sweater

Even any old Christmas sweater. How tacky do you think Miss Footloose is? I surfed the internet about this sartorial abomination, and discovered to my horror that it’s spreading like a virus. I didn’t know! These atrocities now can be procured online the world over. And to my even greater horror I found out that there’s a National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day! I needed a beverage of alcoholic proportions after I read that. It took another one before I had enough Dutch courage to keep on clicking and clicking, mesmerized by all the ugliness I found.

And then something scary happened!

After another tonic to sooth my nerves, I began to feel mellow and asked myself: So what’s wrong with a little harmless fun? What’s wrong with a bit of creativity and make your own Really Ugly Christmas Sweater? (Check out Pinterest – OMG!) And what’s wrong in joining the Christmas Sweater Tribe and buy one of those ugly things? Maybe even go to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party! You might meet some cool people!

American thing I don't do

Cool guys, ugly sweaters.

I found my mouse hovering over one of the ‘buy’ icons and almost . . . almost bought myself one. Thankfully, my inner Dutch girl was still sober.

So there you have it: My list of 7 American Things I Don’t Do. All in good fun, so don’t write me nasty letters. And now I’m going outside to get a fresh nose and air out all the ugly Christmas sweater images from my brain.

NOTE:  This post was inspired by an American blogger married to a Frenchman and living in France. She wrote a post called: French Things I Don’t Do (one of them is drink French coffee. Really!).

* * *

So, are you an expat living in a foreign country? Do tell me what you don’t do — in the Netherlands, Italy, Swaziland. Scroll down for the comment section. Make my day.

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Mostly true, but… by now we’ve adopted an American thing or two back in the Netherlands.. to be precise! Whenever I’m at home for the day I’m very much annoyed by the shrieking going on outside my window by people encountering one another in my street. It’s a lively neighbourhood as it turns out. I find the loudness incomprehensible: if I can hear them inside my house, the sound must be unbearable within a few metres distance! So sad to announce that Ugly Christmas Sweaters are now fashionable in the Netherlands as well. In fact, we wore them at work… Read more »

I enjoyed this!

Well, the thing I do not do in France is joining their endless and -in my opinion- wrongful strikes.

Love this blog! I’m so with you on number 3 and 4 (well, on all of your points, actually, but these rang the bell most). I’m Polish living in England. One of the many things that I still have not adopted is the insane urge to climb the property ladder and own at least one property, which is what the Brits devote their life to. It is unreal how the owning of a property governs their life. You have to own a property, and when you do, you are constantly asked if this is your ‘forever place’ (so cringey in… Read more »

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