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20 American Summer Traditions That Foreigners Will Never Understand

When the mercury ticks up, Americans get weird.

Fact: Americans love summer. (If you need convincing, here are 30 definitive reasons why it truly is the best season.) Whether we're heading to the beach, the pool, and just kicking back with a chilled beverage in hand, summer is the time of year where we let our down, ditch a few layers of clothing, and just enjoy ourselves. But, for the millions of foreign tourists who visit our country every summer, the season can reveal some seemingly baffling behavior.

For instance: summer camp, super soakers, and s'mores? Yeah, those don't really exist in Europe. And if you think baseball is the biggest summer sport in the world, well, you've clearly never paid attention to the FIFA World Cup. Herein, we've rounded up the 20 strangest, oddest, most downright confounding traditions and practices our country abides by. Read on, and see how many you'll be partaking in over the coming months. And for more on the strangeness of Americans, don't miss The 30 Things You Do That Foreigners Find Super Weird.

Shipping kids off to summer camp

Kids at camp summer camp lessons American Summer Traditions

Summer camp is a rite of passage for kids in the United States, whether it's through their school, religious organization, or some other community group. It's here when many are away from their parents for the first time and where they try out everything from canoeing to canoodling with other hormone-fueled campers. But while summer camp is the subject of so many movies, it's not something that people abroad have much experience with. And if you want to see how truly wacky our camping traditions can get, check out the 20 Crazy Summer Camps That Actually Exist.

Going to fairs

Summer Fair American Summer Traditions

Livestock competitions, butter sculptures, deep-fried everything; there are few things more American than county or state fairs. Every place gives its own specific twists to this time-honored summer tradition—maybe their specialty is jumbo turkey legs or an especially delicious funnel cake—but you can count on the essentials being there and seeming totally bizarre to foreign visitors. And if you find yourself at a carnival this summer, brush up on the 20 Things You Should Never, Ever Do At A Summer Fair.

Playing with Frisbees

bad puns American Summer Traditions

At the beach, in the park, in the middle of suburban streets. Yes, it's tough to avoid Frisbee players during the summer. Invented in New England or Southern California (depending on whom you believe), these flying discs are ubiquitous during warm weather, and might cause confusion in visitors who aren't used to seeing them everywhere.

Playing Frisbee Golf

frisbee golf
Jari Hindstroem/Shutterstock

This activity is even more American than a simple Frisbee toss. Though technically invented in Canada, this combination of golf and Frisbee is a distinctly American pastime. You know: coming up with silly, rule-heavy ways to experience the outdoors, rather than just taking in the flora and fauna, like those from other countries might. And for more on what outsiders think of Americans, check out these 20 Countries That Hate Tourists from the United States.

Playing Capture the Flag

kids playing tag

Another outdoor pastime that you're not likely to see many people playing outside of the United States, this competition to outsmart and outmaneuver the other team—sneaking through trees and across hills and fields—is militaristic in the way only an American game can be.

Playing with extreme water guns

water gun American Summer Traditions

Speaking of militaristic, we've turned the simple water pistol collection into a full-on H2O arsenal, with Super Soakers that shoot water hundreds of feet, attach to hovercrafts, strap on to our backs, and cause all kinds of poolside mayhem. Why settle for a water pistol when you can have a water cannon?

Baseball, and everything related

bad puns American Summer Traditions

Few summer traditions are as emotional and nostalgic for Americans than heading out to the ball game. And of all the particularly American sports, baseball strikes outsiders as especially strange, with its complex statistics, slow-moving game play, and odd souvenirs. While the rest of the world obsesses over the FIFA World Cup (y'know: "soccer"), it's hard for them to understand how Americans can be so captivated by baseball.

Eating hot dogs

secretly hilarious things American Summer Traditions

Germans have their bratwurst. Italians have their sweet sausage. But the humble hot dog is uniquely American, with its pillow-soft bun, bevy of suitable condiments, and armada of wacky iterations—from the chili dog to the bacon-wrapped, pineapple-covered teriyaki dog. Oh, and don't forget the "mysterious" ingredients. It's at once simpler than traditional European sausages and more over-the-top.

Putting ketchup on basically everything

ketchup American Summer Traditions

Speaking of hot dogs, the tradition of putting ketchup on them—and hamburgers and, for at least one prominent American (we're talking about the president), steak—is especially confusing to foreigners. They rarely share Americans' love affair with the sugary, tomato-based topping will never make sense. Sure, every country has its quirky condiments, but few sauces have the ubiquity as ketchup in the states during summertime.

Putting Cool Whip on everything else

cool whip American Summer Traditions

From all variety of desserts to fresh fruit salad, Americans break out the Cool Whip when the mercury rises, and are sure to find all kinds of ways to incorporate it into picnics and barbecues. Not quite whipped cream, not quite heavy cream, its patently strange consistency is unlike anything many foreigners have encountered—and that's exactly what makes it special.

Going to the drive-in

50s slang no one uses American Summer Traditions

Sure, there aren't as many drive-in theaters as there once were, but you can still come across screen-adorned parking lots outside of many major cities. It's a fun, throwback way to catch a movie when the weather's nice, but something totally strange to those from other cultures, where cars are not as central to the national identity.

Singing the national anthem

American Flag American Summer Traditions

Whether heard at Independence Day events or summer baseball games, foreigners are more likely to encounter "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the summer than at any other time during the year. And the full-throated, unpredictably key-changing, almost-impossible-to-sing tune sounds very weird to unaccustomed ears, and isn't nearly as catchy as the number one foreign "National Anthem"—sung by none other than Radiohead, off of their legendary Kid A LP.

Watching giant fireworks displays

new year's resolutions American Summer Traditions

The crown jewel of every 4th of July celebration is the extravagant fireworks display. While plenty of other countries love fireworks shows, you can count on the U.S. to go bigger, louder, and more bombastic—and more hoo-rah patriotic—than any other countries.

Talking about freedom

American Flags in CrowdAmerican Summer Traditions

Celebrating Independence Day also leads to a lot of Americans talking about our "freedom," not just from our British overlords 242 years ago, but the hard-won freedoms we enjoy today—as if the populations of every other country remain under intolerable restrictions.

Blowing the ice-to-beverage ratio out of the water

Man Pouring Ice Cubes in Glass Foods Doctors Avoid While Traveling

Everyone loves a cold drink in the summer. But it's really only people in the U.S. who seem to prefer their drinks more "ice with a little margarita" than "margarita with a little ice." Venture anywhere abroad, for example, and you'll be hard-pressed to find restaurants doling out ice water.

Turning the AC to the max

air conditioning American Summer Traditions
Kwangmoozaa / Shutterstock

Like ice, air conditioning is not a foreign concept to foreigners visiting the U.S. Rather, it's just how much air conditioning we seem to like. From stores to movie theaters to subway cars, Americans crank up the AC so high that you often need an extra layer to be indoors. It's almost as if we don't just want to be comfortable—we want to overpower the climate.


lantern, over 40 American Summer Traditions

It's not that other cultures are more rugged than Americans, but they don't quite see the appeal of heading into the great outdoors with every possible convenience and amenity of the indoors in tow. Similar to our love of air conditioning, our approach to camping usually involves overcompensating, with fancy cooking equipment, comfy furniture, and a tent that looks more like a luxury hotel—aiming to not just be comfortable, but to mock the very idea of discomfort.

Eating s'mores

s'mores American Summer Traditions

As Jimmy Shive-Overly, a British character from FXX's You're The Worst put it, "I thought they were called 'fluffer grahams.'" Yeah. That's how rare s'mores are outside of the states.

Drinking giant Slurpees

Slurpees machine American Summer Traditions

Ah, the sweet, frosty goodness of a 7-Eleven Slurpee. Whether your flavor is Cherry, Coke, or one of the weird rotating options the convenience store introduces each season, you're bound to buy one that's much larger than you'll ever actually finish. It's likely physically impossible to finish a 32-ounce bucket of this drink before it's melted and liquefied, but we like our beverages big.

Lounging on porch swings

woman porch swing

Nothing says summer like a leisurely hang on the front porch, swaying back and forth lazily on a wooden porch swing. Though the U.S. is not the only place you're likely to find these swings, they proliferate here like nowhere else—and more than any other country, we may spend the most time per capita hanging on our porches. For more on summer, check out these 20 Tips for a Less Sweaty Summer.

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Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more