Late last week, the internet went into a semi-meltdown when non-Americans discovered something baffling about people in the United States: they don’t have kettles. If they want boiling water for a cup of tea, they boil it on the stove or (THE HORROR) they microwave it.

America flag

Obviously, a blanket caveat of #NotAllAmericans needs to be applied. I know, because some Americans do, indeed, own kettles. It seems more common to have the old-fashioned stove-top kettles over there, but still, it’s a kettle, right? However, discussing this with Americans has lead to some startling discoveries (for me, anyway) about small differences between America and Australia that I had no idea about. Here’s some of what I’ve learned, in no particular order:


Buttering your bread for a sandwich? Nope. It’s not the done thing in America, because you’re either using a spread like peanut butter, jelly (jam) or something OR you’re having meat/cheese/salad and therefore you need a condiment. Most commonly it’s mayonnaise or a mayo-like product called “miracle whip”. Or maybe mustard. Unless, of course, you’re making grilled cheese. Then you butter the outside, to cook the sandwich in a fry pan. There’s a good chance that mayo or mustard have been applied to the inside, with the cheese.

Also, fairy bread is not really a thing, probably in part due to the lack of buttered-bread culture over there. There is also the high sugar content in American bread that might make the addition of sweet rainbow bits a little excessive.

Power Points.

They don’t call them power points. They call them “outlets”, which is totally fine. The bit I found shocking (pardon the pun) was that they don’t have switches on their outlets. The power is just on, constantly. So they plug stuff in to use and then unplug it.

america outlet

Nursery Water.

In stores like Wal-Mart, bottle-feeding families can buy bottled water specifically labelled as “nursery water” which they can use to make up formula. This one really threw me because surely that’s just an additional expense? What even is it? It turns out, it is distilled water with or without added fluoride. I wondered why anyone would buy it. Then I remembered that they don’t have kettles, so boiling water to cool for a bottle might not be that convenient. Fascinating, right? Apparently it isn’t expensive and sold in gallons, because America isn’t metric yet.


Speaking of Wal-Mart…

Wal-Mart is a big department store selling all manner of things. Depending on state laws, you can buy guns there. If you have a caravan or camping trailer, you are allowed to stay overnight in Wal-Mart parking lots. You could literally drive around the country, staying in a new Wal-Mart lot every day. Fascinating!

shopping in america


Biscuits ain’t biscuits.

When I think of biscuits, I think of packets of Tim Tams, Milk Arrowroots, Monte Carlos or Scotch Fingers. In America, “biscuits” can refer to something else entirely. There are apparently sweet cracker type things that people call biscuits. The other definition is often served with gravy or buttered and drizzled with honey or syrup. From what I can gather, this type of thick, soft “biscuit” is what we’d call a scone, or something very similar. What we think of as biscuits would be cookies in the United States.

america- biscuit

They look like scones to me!

Home Set Up.

Three-car garages are quite normal and common. These are used to store multiple cars and stuff but also as a venue for parties.

Apparently, big bathtubs are uncommon. Everything is super-sized in America, except those.


A typical bath in America. I think.

Washing lines are kind of unusual, too. Most people have a dryer. There are homeowner associations that sound a bit like what we might call the body corporate here. These associations often don’t allow people to have washing lines due to concerns over appearance and property value. I have heard of similar things here, when I lived in flats, but we always had a washing line in the back yard that anyone could use. In America, even people living in houses will frequently rely on a dryer year-round.

Stuff in a can.

You can get lots of stuff in a can, including macaroni and cheese. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) it’s not great. It’s also how one buys ready-made biscuit dough (for the scone type biscuits).

Canned cranberry sauce. Hmmm.


They call them a grill and usually cook meat patties to have on buns with pickles and cheese and salad. If they do have sausages, it’s often bratwurst or Italian sausage, served with peppers (capsicum) and onion. They don’t have sausage sizzles at every opportunity, like we do. No fundraising sausages like we have at Bunnings and certainly no democracy sausages.

Burgers and beer.

Tea and Coffee.

All agree that coffee is pretty different in America. From percolator style brewers to what they call a “french press”, which is what we’d call a plunger. They also used a product called a creamer in their coffee. This is a powdered milk or cream substitute and is available in loads of flavours. I’m told it’s pretty great!

Iced tea is a very common beverage and there are special jugs available to make it. It has a part where you steep tea leaves or bags in boiling water and then a jug where you pour the tea over ice and seal the lid to combine and make an instant cold drink. Another version of iced tea, especially in the South, is “sweet tea”. I looked up a recipe and found that it involves four cups of water to 12 (12!!!) teabags and a whole cup of sugar! You can even, I’m given to understand, serve it over a shot of bourbon, for the adults.

And shitloads of sugar. Also, possibly booze.

Public Bathrooms.

We all probably know about American toilets having a higher water level. I didn’t know, though, that it’s very common for bathroom stalls to have significant gaps around the doors. I even found a Buzzfeed article on it after I’d been told. You could be doing your business and glance out the gap, making accidental eye contact with a stranger!

Also, there are public toilets in some areas, like parks, that have no stall doors. Apparently this is for crime prevention. I think I’d just hang on, thanks.

Words for Vagina.

There are loads of words to mean vagina (or, technically, mons pubis, labia etc- the whole group of biologically female sexual organs). These include: hoo haa, coochie, cooter, pocketbook and more. But never fanny, because that means arse. People talk about “busting someone’s fanny” and no one bats an eye, unless there is an Aussie or English person in the room!

Seriously, though. Pocketbook? What are you reading in there?!


Have you been to America? What other small differences did you notice?


#IBOT @ Capturing Life.

Cover image originally sourced via Pixabay, gifs via Giphy.


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  • Amanda

    Being American and living in Aus for so long, many of these do stand out as differences…but I think of biscuits firstly as a dog thing even more than the buttermilk biscuits. So, depending on where you go, you’ll get some looks about giving your kid biscuits 😂
    There are probably a lot more, such as they have Drive-thru and many 24-hour pharmacies (which are amazing when you have a sick kid in need of a prescription.) A fair few stores are 24 hour, even grocery stores, and most stores are open until 9pm or later every day. 🙂

  • Ooooh Yep. I went to Pennsylvania on exchange for a month when I was 11. It was a real eye opener. You think you’ll be fine because we both speak English but… I knew all of these except for the power point thing! Oh and even their baked beans have brown sugar in it. For some reason that disturbed me more than anything!

    • I have made home made beans and they have a little molasses in them but I hear “sweet beans” are a common side at BBQs (or “patio parties” if you prefer!)

  • Helen King

    This might have been my (limited) experience but – shopping precincts open until late (after 9) every night of the week, drug stores everywhere, in New York, trash collection every day (so the streets were always filled with bins), massive servings (ie. sandwiches enough for two – great for travelling and cutting costs), depending where you were, hard to get salads and other healthy food (unless you stumbled on a Wholefoods store), mega Margaritas (big memories of this), very greasy pizzas, and visiting the gym our friends went to – not like any I’d been to before (you pay an annual fee, and almost make half a day of it, once you’ve worked out, then had a massage and maybe facial / manicure / pedicure, showered, had your lunch or dinner there – I think you could also have hair cut / styled, etc). Also included instructors in all sports, etc. This was in Chicago – too cold in winter to stay out long, so they had these all in one packages).

  • My dad lives in the states and I met him in NY for the first time when I was 18 and do you know what we did? Spent the whole day looking for an electric tea kettle as if it was the holy grail of kitchen appliances, which back then it was. That says a lot about my dicksplat of a dad and the low kitchen to kettle ratio in the states. The tiny toilet doors really freak me out, why people need to see the lower part of my body when I’m doing my business, I have no idea! The other weird thing I noted when we were there last year, is that even the mineral water has additives. One brand proudly claimed, “only 3 added ingredients”! We were incredulous, it’s water, it doesn’t need any additives. It tasted gross too!

  • It was spring time when we went to America and everyone was talking about patio parties with a grill. Love it. Mmm that canned cranberry looks appetising doesn’t it?!

  • As someone who travels to the USA a lot, and who drinks tea rather than coffee, I’ve always found it frustrating to not have a kettle in the hotel rooms. They have those drip coffee machines and the only way for me to get water for tea is to drip water through without any coffee so I can get hot water for my tea bag.

    • LydiaCLee

      I noticed that but thought itwas because they thought the drip thru thing was fancier….

    • Ewww, percolater coffee isn’t good- let alone perc’d water!

  • LydiaCLee

    I did not know about the kettles. That’s so weird….

  • America is a crazy place. I have been there quite a few times and yes, this stuff is strange.
    I am personally fascinated with the amount of water in their toilets – all the way up to the rim. Pretty wasteful by our standards. I do enjoy watching the flushed water circle the opposite way during a flush. (I think I need a hobby!)

    • I’d be worried about, ermm, “splashing”!! LOL

      • jess

        Sometimes there would be splashing, but the big benefit is there are never any ‘streaks’!

  • Lol I am American so can comment- the pocketbook reference (which I have never heard) is likening it to a handbag as pocketbook is another name for that… (Shall we call you the vagina mafia now!)

    The biscuit even varies. In nyc I grew up with them as “tea biscuits” with butter and honey. Very similar tp scones and always as a sweet. In the south they go with meals like how a Brit might use Yorkshire puddings.

    Totally forgot about those gaps in public toilet doors!!! So spoiled here in australia xx

    So many differences though. My family laugh every time they visit and learn more Aussie things. Two very big ones were when I asked my sister to pass me the bin as I was cleaning up kid messes. She did not understand and I could not figure out why- hello- trash can please!!! And they die laughing and put on fancy accents every time I refer to the trolley for shopping!! (It is a cart there) I could go on… So many!

    • Hahaha trolley vs. “cart! I didn’t think of that one!

  • jess

    They don’t have plugs in kitchen sink, because they don’t fill up the sink to do their dishes! We stayed at an air bnb in NYC and called the owner to ask where the plug was. He was so confused, wondering why we needed one. I asked my American friend, and she said that they soap up dishes and rinse them off one-by-one.

  • What I enjoy about visiting the US is taking vegemite and making people try it 🙂 Classic.

  • I had no idea about half of these. I don’t own a kettle myself because I have instant hot water from the tap in my sink.

  • I knew about the cans. But not about the kettle. That is weird.

  • We’ve been to the good ol’ US of A three times. It’s such a fascinating place. You’d think it wouldn’t be much different from us here, but it is! Walmart is crazy huge, you can buy everything there including the kitchen sink. We actually contemplated staying at a Walmart one night when we had our RV, but found a nicer place 😉 And biscuits! Biscuits are my absolute favourite! They are similar to a scone, but much, much saltier. Hot and smothered with butter they are the bees knees! Another thing we noticed is that you can’t really buy bacon as we know it. It’s really weird. And sweet. Not the best.

  • sydneyshopgirl

    I travel to the US a bit but miss out on a lot of the everyday stuff because I’m always a tourist. Thanks for the crib sheet!

    SSG xxx

  • Oh My Gosh yes to everything in this post! I was considering writing about the microwaved water phenomenon but you just blew anything I could have written out of the water. However, I have written about that toilet situation before. W.T.F. guys? Really?!? I don’t want to be able to glance up and see someone looking at me through the gap in the door. #lovinlife

  • Kathy Marris

    America is crazy. They do a lot of stuff differently to us and also have some weird food combinations. We saw people drinking soda (soft drink) from post-mix machines in large cardboard cups at breakfast. No wonder they have an obesity problem! They also eat bagels as opposed to bread rolls. 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

  • I found this really fascinating. I’ve never been to the US but I’d love to go one day … must remember to bring my own kettle though 😉 #teamIBOT

  • writeofthemiddle

    I’ve never been to America but I have some American friends so knew a few of these differences. They abbreviate things like us a bit but differently – like taters (for potatoes). They eat out a lot and it’s not healthy eating either. So many different ‘take out’ (rather than ‘take away’) places over there – dang it! haha #TeamLovinLife

  • No kettle!!!! I’m not a huge fan of coffee, prefer tea … when I was in Manila I had traveller’s tummy, as I started to recover I ordered just plain white bread and butter from room service, thinking that would be nice and bland for my tummy. But it was America style bread, really sweet, and just WEIRD! I’ve never been to the US so found this fascinating.

  • It’s interesting to see how many differences there are between our countries. It’s been many years since I visited the US, but we did notice the food was mostly fried and quite rich compared to the food we were used to eating here. #TeamLovinLife

  • Hehe…I’ve been to the US once and I must say, they drive and walk on the wrong side of the road! I kept bumping into people because obviously, I was walking on the right side of the footpath {yes, footpath…not sidewalk!}. Also, their coffee was shit. Couldn’t find one place with good coffee in the US and Canada was similar until I hit Vancouver. Oh and also, their toilets are weird. The water comes up instead of going down and lots of toilets flushed automatically. It made sense to me then why an American roommate when I was at uni would forget to flush after doing a shit in the toilet! I guess he always expected it to flush itself. Not so much fun for the rest of us…