As an American, I think Americans are awesome. But that doesn't mean we don't stand to learn a thing or two from other places. After living in six countries and visiting more than 40 others, I've noticed 24 things that Americans should incorporate into their lives.
1. Don't rush in restaurants.
Americans are always on the go, and tend to get impatient if things aren't done quickly. This holds true in restaurants, where diners take up very little time at the table and are brought their bill before asking for it. But meals are meant to be enjoyed and savored – not scarfed down. The Europeans could teach Americans a lot when it comes to slow dining, as they're experts at enjoying their food, wine, and company. They'll also never be brought the bill unless they've asked for it, as such an act by a waiter is considered rude.
2. Downsize food portions.
Everything is bigger in America, including the food portions. Americans are often taught that bigger is better, so it seems natural to pay a few extra cents to 'value size' a meal or grab the venti sized cappuccino from Starbucks. Nothing good comes of this, unless you consider it a victory to add a few notches to your belt. Enjoy your food, but don't be a glutton.
3. Respect your elders.
Once upon a time, Americans did this. Some still do, of course, but today's youth aren't taught the same values of respecting older people. You'll never see a young person allow an elderly person to stand on public transportation in Tokyo, but you'll definitely see it on the New York Subway. Being nice to older people should be a no-brainer, but for some reason it's lacking in society. Just remember that you'll be old one day too...and karma might come back to bite you.
4. Kick 'kid food' to the curb.
Americans have a horrible habit of catering to children in a way which is, quite frankly, appalling. This is especially true when it comes to food, as it's perfectly normal for a family to go to an Italian restaurant and order their kid chicken nuggets off the children's menu. A lot can be learned from the British, where most families expect their children to eat what they're offered – not what they want. This is great for a number of reasons; it teaches children that they can't always get what they want, introduces healthy eating habits, and encourages them to try new things.
5. Ditch the plastic bags.
Plastic bags are horrible for the environment, but most Americans don't seem to care. Although some places like Portland and the state of California have cracked down on them, the majority of Americans acquire new ones every day, whether it's from the grocery store or the mall. In Europe, it's extremely common to see people bringing their own reusable bags to the store. It's a habit that Americans should definitely adopt.
6. Stop using the drive-thru.
Drive-thrus are extremely American, and people need to stop using them as an excuse to be lazy. Is it really that difficult to park your car and go inside McDonald's? And why are you waiting in a line for the drive-thru ATM when the one attached to the bank is available? Is it that difficult to walk your dry cleaning from the parking lot to the door? Use your feet from time to time.
7. Stop getting free refills everywhere you go.
Yes, it's nice that soda refills are free in America. But this tends to encourage people to drink glass after glass of sugary syrup in one sitting, just because they can. It's gotten so bad that people are even getting to-go cups from sit-down restaurants so they won't be without a soda on their drive home. Everything should be consumed in moderation, and five back-to-back cups of Coke definitely isn't moderation.
8. Don't wear gym attire unless you're working out.
It's become a bit of an epidemic, from college campuses to mommy groups. Yoga pants and sportswear are the new normal, even with people who have never worked out a day in their life. You wouldn't go to France and see this, and you wouldn't go back in time and see your grandmother doing it either. There's a time and place for everything, and "all day, every day" isn't the time for your yoga pants.
9. Sell your McMansion.
Real estate in America sometimes seems like a race to show off how much money someone has. We'll call it 'McMansion Mania.' It consists of ridiculously huge homes with tons of rooms that go completely unused. And don't forget the gated entrance, which turns these neighborhoods into bizarre, voluntary prisons for rich people. There's also the snobby homeowner's association that will fine you if they don't like the way your plants are looking that day.
America is pretty unique when it comes to this, mostly because its abundance of undeveloped land allows builders to come in and make it happen. People in Europe and other parts of the world know how to get by on a smaller scale, and they're probably happier for it.
10. Just say no to khakis.
Nothing says "that person is American" like a pair of khakis. The origin of the country's obsession with the off-putting trousers remains unknown, but the habit really needs to be kicked. The next time you're in GAP, be strong. Walk out of the store and buy something cool from H&M instead.
11. Stop buying items of convenience.
America has a special knack for taking things that were already easy and making them even easier for no real reason. For example, why is pancake mix even a thing? All you need is some flour and other staples that you already have in your pantry. Save the money and sift your own flour.
12. Ditch the car.
Driving is a part of daily life for most Americans, but it doesn't necessarily have to be. Why not cut down on your carbon footprint by joining a carpool? If you live in a metropolitan area, start taking advantage of public transportation. You can also take a lesson from the Dutch and cycle everywhere, or walk whenever it's possible to do so. Don't drive all the time just because you have a car and it's easy.
13. ...Or at least stop buying enormous, gas guzzling ones.
If you compare the cars driven in America to those driven in other countries, you'll notice one huge (literally) difference. Americans like gigantic vehicles that wouldn't even fit on the roads in a lot of European countries. SUVs the size of tanks aren't actually necessary, and only guzzle gas. Your kids also don't need a DVD player in the back of the mini-van. Opt for something more simple and reap the financial benefits.
14. Adopt a cleaner diet.
Unfortunately, America is more lax than a lot of other countries when it comes to GMOs and processed foods. That's why it's important to be aware of what you're eating, and pay more for organic food when necessary. Europeans worry less about this because GMOs are banned on the continent.
15. Stop putting so much emphasis on high school sports.
If you ask a high school athlete in Britain whether their games are written about in the local newspaper, they'd have an extremely confused look on their face. They'd be even more confused if you asked them whether the stands are packed every time they play a game. There's nothing wrong with supporting your local community, but when grown adults become engrossed in what a 17-year-old does on the field, it's just weird (unless that kid is their own son or daughter). ESPN even covers high school football. Why?
16. Don't cling to your college days forever.
People have pride in their alma maters, and that's a great thing. However, it's a very American thing. A 40-year-old who covers their car in bumper stickers from their college and turns up on campus to reminiscence about the "good old days" should probably start living in the present instead of the past. Embrace the memories, but realize you're not a frat boy anymore.
17. Stop sheltering kids so much.
A lot of countries have a much more lenient take on how to deal with children than the US does. Many nations believe they should be exposed to the realities of the world, rather than sheltered from them. This is particularly true with sex education – you won't find students in Europe learning that abstinence is the only way to go. As a result, they typically experience lower teen pregnancy rates because they've learned about contraception. Kids in the Netherlands even start learning about sexuality and relationships at age 4. That may sound young, but a study found that children who had completed sex education in the country grew up to be better communicators.
18. Curb the consumerism.
Everything is easy in America. Huge mega stores like Walmart are on virtually every corner, and shopping malls are a fixture in towns across the country. Add that to the fact that Americans are wealthier than people in many other nations and you'll find that there's an atmosphere of "Keeping up with the Joneses." Cars are used for a couple of years, clothes are worn a few times, and cell phones are upgraded with ridiculous regularity. In other words, Americans could benefit from enjoying the stuff that really matters, rather than material goods.
19. Be more lenient when it comes to alcohol.
In America, drinking during work hours is frowned upon, and most people would probably get fired if their boss spotted them at a bar during their lunch break. However, a trip to the UK or Ireland will quickly show you that other countries believe it's perfectly fine to have an afternoon beer with colleagues. A stroll past any pub at lunch-time will show a packed establishment full of professionals drinking beer and wine. So relax, Americans! Drinking could make work a little more enjoyable for everyone.
20. Be more aware of world affairs.
America is a huge place, and there's enough domestic news to fill the airwaves at all times. This can make it difficult to keep up with world affairs, especially since the US is considered the leader on the world stage (and news coverage reflects that). However, making an effort to do so is extremely important if you want to avoid being "that ignorant American" when you start talking politics with a French person you just met at the bar.
21. Study more than two years of a foreign language.
The American school system makes it easy to escape language learning, as most people are only required to study two years of it in high school. This puts Americans far behind people from other countries, especially Europeans. This is particularly true when it comes to the Swiss, as their country has four official languages.
22. Experience the bliss that is European chocolate.
Americans love Hershey's. And they should. It's delicious. But when it comes to pure milk chocolate, the Europeans just might win. There's something about the creamy goodness of Swiss chocolate or a fabulous truffle from Belgium that goes completely unmatched on the other side of the pond. Try it and see for yourself.
23. Travel more.
With so many incredible places to see in America, it's no wonder that many people opt to stay within their own country when they travel. After all, there's no other place in the world that offers such amazing variety, from deserts to oceans, mountains to valleys, swamps to canyons. However, many Americans could stand to get out of their comfort zone from time to time (which would be made easier if they had more vacation time...but that's another conversation altogether).
24. Just park already.
It's often referred to as "princess parking." It's the mentality that you have to drive around a parking lot 20 times before you snag a space up front. This is seen as a bit ludicrous to people from other countries who aren't as dependent on cars and walk everywhere anyway. What's really going to happen if you park at the back of the parking lot? You'll burn a calorie or two. Just park and get on with your life.
So there you have it. A list of 24 things that Americans could learn from other countries. But don't get me wrong – Americans are great. Despite everything mentioned above, this born-and-bred Georgia girl wouldn't want to be from anywhere else.