The US is fond of calling itself the home of freedom, but how free is it? Some things are forbidden in US society, and the catch is that no one ever tells you about the unwritten social rules. What are the things you should never, ever do while in the US? Let’s take a look.

Don’t Cut in Line

In many places in the world, queueing is a regular thing. In the US, because of how orderly they are, joining a line means being served in order of appearance. When you jump a line, things could get ugly.

Source: Flickr/Emma Swann

Americans are willing to let a lot of things slide, but jumping in front of them in a line is not one of them. You are very likely to get physically attacked if you try to line-jump in the US.

Drinking and Driving

Most other countries have some sort of law against drinking and driving. However, a lot of these countries don’t really enforce the law. It’s not uncommon to see people drinking and driving casually in other nations.

Source: Flickr/mdavidford

In the US, drinking and driving is a serious offense. If you’re found over the legal limit while driving, you could face imprisonment, lose your license, and be ineligible to hold a new one for several years.

Driving Without a License

In the same vein, if you’ve lost your license or had it suspended for some reason, you should never get behind the wheel of a car. Many other places treat a license as a suggestion, but in the US, getting one is a privilege.

Source: Flickr/Ken Hawkins

If you’re driving without a license, you’ll be arrested and face severe fines. You may even be disqualified from holding a license again. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to play fast and loose with.

Ignoring the No Trespassing Signs

The US is a massive country, several times larger than many countries in Europe. Naturally, land ownership in such a vast country is a big issue. It’s not uncommon to see No-trespassing signs all over the place.

Source: Flickr/Ann Douglas

Whatever you do, don’t ignore those signs. The US has this law in a few states called “Stand Your Ground.” If someone walks onto a property you own, you can shoot them. How coincidental is it that the US has such a high gun ownership percentage compared to its population?

Think You Pay The Exact Price At the Grocery

In most places, when you put something in your grocery cart, you check the price to ensure it fits what you can afford. In the US, you may need to do a bit of math afterward to make sure you really can afford it.

Source: Flickr/Kai Hendry

Groceries in the US give you a price that doesn’t include taxes. Next time you’re doing groceries there, keep an eye on the final price you pay. It’ll differ from the sum of all the prices on the shelves.

Drinking Below the Age of 21

In a lot of places in the world, the legal drinking age hovers between 16 and 18. Some places allow drinking at 16, but you can’t buy alcohol until you’re 18. The US is a bit different.

Source: Flickr/Rock and Robin Photography

In the US, you can’t buy or consume alcohol if you’re below the age of 21. Bars and other places won’t sell you alcohol without an ID check. If you’re below the legal age, then they’ll refuse you. They have to, or else they may lose their liquor license.

Not Tip After a Dine-In Service

Some parts of the world don’t have tips as part of their service culture. Their tips are included in a service charge. However, in the US, tips are sometimes how people who work service jobs make ends meet.

Source: Flickr/Global Panorama

If you dine in at a place and you don’t leave a tip, it’s not just bad form. You could be depriving someone of a way to pay their rent. The amount you leave is also significant, and people try their best to give you good service so you’ll tip them well.

Take a Selfie at a War Memorial

The US has a lot of war memorials because it’s been at war for most of the time it’s been a country. Naturally, these monuments are designed to be stunning statements and architectural centerpieces.

Source: Flickr/Mr.TinMD

Because of their striking nature, you might be tempted to take a selfie while at one of these memorials. You should fight the urge because many Americans see doing this as distasteful. Some will even tell you it’s offensive.

Carry Firearms Without a Permit

The US has the dubious pleasure of being the country with the second-highest ownership of firearms per capita. However, all of these firearm owners carry the documentation for the guns and a permit to carry them.

Source: Flickr/James Jones

Each state has its own laws about what you can do with your firearm and what you can’t. The permit also defines whether you can carry the gun openly or if it can be concealed. You can be sent to jail for a very long time without a permit.

Joke About Airport Security

Almost anywhere else in the world, it’s standard fare to joke about anyone in authority. It’s also easy in airports to crack a few jokes with the airport security while you wait. In the US, this could be a bad idea.

Source: Flickr/Josh Hallett

Because of the nation’s fixation with hijackings, airport security takes their job very seriously. They don’t appreciate jokes, and if you decide to try their patience, you might find yourself delayed for a long time.

Get Out Of the Car If A Cop Pulls You Over

The cops in the US have a hazardous job, especially with the amount of guns in circulation. When they pull you over, you should roll down your window and just sit tight till the officer talks to you.

Source: Flickr/Ruin Raider

In other places, it might be common form to get out of the car and present your documents to the officer. In the US, police officers are very alert to actions like this, and they might pull their weapons and cover you since they’d see it as a potential threat.

Take a Selfie With the Natural Wildlife

Many people see grizzly bears in photographs and think that they’re such amazing animals with cute faces and funny ears. American wildlife will kill you if you try to take a selfie with them.

Source: Flickr/Eric Begin

The predators aren’t the only things that could kill you, either. If you try to take a selfie with a buffalo or even a Gila monster, it could end badly for you. Any of those animals could lead to a trip to the ER or even death.


Road signs in many countries are done as an afterthought, with traffic laws being more of a suggestion. However, the US takes those traffic signals seriously, and jaywalking is looked down on.

Source: Flickr/Richard Drdul

Make sure you look down for the zebra crossing or crosswalk before you try crossing. If you just dash across the street, you could get injured or killed because a driver isn’t expecting you to be there.

Go To The Dangerous Places You See on TV

Some American TV shows spend a lot of time exploring the seedier side of living in the US. Gangs, drug deals, and low-income neighborhoods form a core part of this type of entertainment.

Source: Flickr/BBC World Service

The downside is that some people want to see those neighborhoods for themselves. Going there for the purpose of seeing it for yourself is a bad idea since these neighborhoods may get violent at a moment’s notice. They also aren’t too fond of strangers in their neighborhood.

Forget to Recycle Your Stuff

Some Americans don’t take kindly to tossing out stuff that could be recycled. With a culture that’s now moving towards being sustainable, recyclable materials are in almost everything.

Source: Flickr/Virginia State Parks

Since those materials make up so many of the products and packaging, Americans expect everyone to recycle and put the trash in the right sorted bins. Failure to do so will get you some frowns.

Point While Speaking About Someone

Many cultures have gestures that are typical when talking about someone or something. Raising your hand to point at what you’re talking about is second nature to most of us. Americans think about this gesture differently.

Source:Flickr/Helmuts Rudzitis

If you’re pointing at someone while you talk to them, people will tell you to stop doing it. Americans consider this sort of behavior impolite, even if you’re not saying anything bad about the person.

Hang Around a Restaurant After Eating

Some places in the world have a laid-back etiquette for being in a restaurant. If you’re done eating, you can relax for a bit or hang out with your friends, ordering drinks over the time you’re there.

Source: Flickr/Hereward L

In America, if you’re not eating, you’re taking up space for customers who could be eating. If you stick around the restaurant after you’re done eating, you’ll make the wait staff antsy, but they won’t kick you out.

Throwing Your Litter All Over

In keeping with the recycling theme, Americans have attained a deep appreciation for their surroundings. Aside from recycling everything, they’re also against anyone littering, and throwing stuff out without thinking about it is bad form.

Source: Flickr/Henry Soderlund

As some Americans will point out, if no one sees you littering, you can do it. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Many Americans are likely to stop talking to someone they see littering.

Standing Too Close

Americans have a deep appreciation for personal space. They’re like Scandinavians in this way, except they’re more vocal if you stand too close to them. If you know someone, you can get a little closer.

Source: Flickr/a and m

Generally, for a stranger, you should be standing around an arm’s length away. Even if you know someone, you shouldn’t just reach out and touch them without asking permission first.

Think That Cross-Country Trips Can Be Done In a Day

Many European countries are small enough that a cross-country trip takes a few hours and can usually be done in a day. However, the sense of scale in the US differs significantly from any other country.

Source: Flickr/William

Driving from one side of the country to the other could take weeks. Even going between states could take days, depending on how far away the next state is. Road trips are a lot more challenging as a result.

Open A Beer In a Public Place

As mentioned before, you have to be over the age of 21 to buy a beer. If you are over the legal drinking age, you can buy your beer anywhere, but you can’t drink it anywhere.

Source: Flickr/Landon Fraley

You have to drink your alcohol in your own home. Drinking in public is not just socially unacceptable either. The police can and will hold it against you if you try consuming your beer in a park in front of kids.

Use Slurs and Offensive Language

Different cultures treat offensive language differently. Some words might be permitted, and some words might be off-limits. In the US, anything that can be considered offensive might not get you arrested, but people will be angry if you use it.

Source: Flickr/eltpics

The US has a massive history of overt and hidden racism. Anything that could be considered offensive can rub people the wrong way and will get you thrown out of most establishments.

Urinate in Public

Urinating in public is unsanitary, but in a few places, it’s not really so taboo. Depending on where you do it, if there’s no one around, you could easily get away with it. In the US, it’s a different story.

Source: Flickr/Rusty Clark

Most people in America think that public urination is disgusting. Doing it is likely to cause you to lose a few friends. If the police catch wind of what you’re doing, you could get arrested for public exposure and even be slapped with a conviction for a sex crime.

Drive Under the Speed Limit In The Leftmost Lane

In the US, the leftmost lane is the lane for the fastest-moving traffic. That means if you’re on that lane, you should be driving at the maximum allowable speed on that portion of the road. If you’re going below that speed, you could face problems.

Source: Flickr/Thank You

While there’s no law stating that you can’t drive below the speed limit on the leftmost lane, doing so endangers everyone in the lane behind you. Be a courteous driver and speed up if you’re using that lane.

Be Late for Appointments and Meetings

Americans value punctuality. If they tell you that they expect you to be available for an appointment or a meeting at a particular time, they will be there and waiting when the time rolls around.

Source: Flickr/Anthony Kelly

Other cultures are more lax with their time awareness. If you’re from a place where a meeting time is more a suggestion than a hard limit, Americans will think you’re being disrespectful if you get there late.

A Unique Culture

The problem with many things that look at US culture is that it tends to generalize. The US has an overarching culture with its sensitivities, opinions, and prohibitions, but each individual state has its own uniqueness.

Source: Flickr/Beverly and Pack

If you’re coming to the US from somewhere else, you might not know some of these cultural nuances. However, if you plan to stay here for any length of time, learning a few of them is a good idea.