What foreign ways of doing things would Americans embrace?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 09, 2023, 10:10 PM GMT+0

Who wants to keep having to tip, fill in tax returns, or make eye contact with people in toilet stalls?

American exceptionalism is a famous concept, but America’s own way of doing things doesn’t always work out to Americans’ benefit.

That’s why a new YouGov survey pitched a series of potential quality of life improvements from other countries to see which Americans would embrace.

Topping the list, at 70%, is having ‘all areas in a town or city accessible by sidewalks, making it easier to walk anywhere’.

Cities in the US lag behind their international rivals in terms of walkability. According to the organization Walk Score, out of the 130 American cities with populations of 200,000 or more, 90 are branded ‘car dependent’, with most daily errands requiring a car to complete.

In a close second, at 68%, is including sales tax in the price of items on store shelves, so the price displayed is the same as you pay at the checkout. Only 15% of Americans like to save the surprise of finding out how much you actually have to pay for the end of their shop.

Most Americans also appear to be tired of tipping, with 56% wanting a higher minimum wage for wait staff that means you are not expected to tip them. Unlike in the US, other countries do not have a separate, lower, minimum wage for waitstaff, meaning tips act as a supplement to pay rather than being integral.

While culture around tipping varies from country to country, in many places it is replaced by a ‘service charge’ automatically added to the bill that gets distributed to staff, and in some places like Japan, South Korea and China tipping is actively considered rude.

Americans also seem to be wearied by the constant bombardment of pharma commercials: 53% say they would back ‘not having prescription-drug advertisements on TV’.

The public also seem to want to replicate aspects of the British banking system (53%), which allow account holders to send money online directly between different banks, bypassing the need for third party cash apps like Venmo.

The above are all lifestyle changes that half of Americans or more seem happy to embrace. But not everything we asked about was so popular – in some cases, perhaps surprisingly so…

Everybody poops, but not everybody likes having to share that experience with spectators

Many American toilet stalls are characterised by unusually wide gaps – by international standards –between the door and frame, which mean that occupants can be seen from outside. Half of Americans (49%) say they’d rather not be potentially visible as they go about their business. Nevertheless, a potentially voyeuristic 30% of Americans want to retain the inadvertent viewing portals.

Americans want more paid vacation, but many are reluctant to give up their tax return tasks

The byzantine functioning of America’s tax return system – whereby people must submit tax returns estimating how much they owe, despite the IRS already being aware of the figure – has often been ridiculed. In many other countries this annual homework for employees is taken care of by the government directly, with the required tax being deducted from every paycheck.

Yet Americans are divided on whether or not to keep their annual tax busy work. While four in ten would prefer to have the whole process managed on their behalf (40%), almost as many are opposed (37%).

The issue is an ideological one: while Democrats prefer to let the government manage their taxes by 51% to 28%, Republicans are opposed by 48% to 32%.

This is not the issue that divides Republicans and Democrats the most, however. That honour goes to the idea of having a national minimum paid vacation allowance, on top of federal holidays. America is alone in the industrialised world in not having such an allowance – in Europe workers can expect 16 to 28 paid days off a year, depending on the country.

While both Democrats and Republicans tend to support the introduction of such an allowance, the latter are far more keen (71%) than the former (43%, with 36% opposed).

Support for introducing such an allowance is higher among working Americans (60%), while retirees are less likely to want to see their fellow citizens get extra time off (47%).

Keep the drinking age at 21, but let us drink outside

America’s legal drinking age of 21 is unusually high in global terms. In most countries the age limit is set at 18, but Americans are opposed to lowering the requirement. Only three in ten (30%) support shifting the legal drinking age to 18, while 53% are opposed.

Younger people are more keen to see the drinking age lowered, but even the under-30s are more likely to want to keep the limit where it is (43%) than reduce it to 18 (36%). Among those aged 65 and above just 23% support lowering the drinking age, while 69% are opposed.

Americans are more well disposed toward ending prohibition on public drinking. Drinking in public is generally tolerated in other western nations, so long as drinkers do not behave in a disorderly way, and by 46% to 35% people would like this to be the culture in America too.

Age is again a factor, with those under 65 generally supporting such a change, while those over 65 tend to be opposed.

Many Americans seek a swifter and easier way to heat water without using a stove

Every now and again, the American media rediscovers the existence of electric kettles, much to the amusement of tea fetishists the British, for whom electric kettles are a common item. The difference between the two countries boils down to electrical current: the more powerful currents in British (and European) homes facilitate a much faster heating experience, making them more convenient than their American counterparts.

Nevertheless, there is clearly an appetite in the US for electric kettles – 47% say they desire quick-boiling electric kettles instead of having to use the stove or a microwave. One in four (27%) prefer to stick with their trusted current heating techniques, however.

Blasting butts with water divides a nation

Bidets are common in the Arab world, south eastern Europe, parts of South America, and are even mandatory in Italy and Portugal. But there’s nothing like spraying water up your posterior to divide Americans.

Whether or not it would be better to use a bidet to clean yourself after having used the toilet proves the most divisive foreign practice in the survey, with 37% saying they would prefer to do things this way but 36% saying they would not.

Roundabouts still prove unpopular, with more Americans preferring to keep traffic light intersections

Despite studies showing that average delays at roundabouts are 65% lower than at signal intersections, and that severe crashes are 80% lower, Americans tend to be opposed to expanding their use. More than four in ten (42%) do not wish to see ‘much greater use of traffic circles or roundabouts instead of traffic-light intersections’, compared to only 34% who do.

Please sir, can I have… less? One in three Americans want to see portion sizes reduced

America is renowned worldwide for its large portions and even larger citizens. Nevertheless, Americans are slightly more likely to want to keep portion sizes in restaurants and fast food outlets the same (42%) rather than see them reduced (37%).

Men are slightly more likely still to want to keep portion sizes as they are (45% to 34%), while women are divided, with 41% in favour of reductions to 39% who prefer them to stay consistent.

Many miles to go before Americans support the metric system

America is one of just three countries that don’t use the metric system as the official system of measurement – the others being Liberia and Myanmar. If public opinion is anything to go by, that seems set to remain the case for some time: almost twice as many Americans want to stick to imperial (48%) than convert to metric (25%).

See the full results here

Photo: Getty

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