Avoid These Common Faux Pas in American Cities

Embarrassment. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Matthew Loberg
Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Matthew Loberg

Want to avoid embarrassment when visiting U.S. cities? There’s a great series of posts on Q+A site Quora (a social question and answer site similar to Yahoo! Answers) discussing cultural faux pas to avoid in various cities.

Some of the tips are serious (pretty please, don’t stand on the left side of an escalator in Washington!) and some are just funny riffs on the stereotypes of the city. Either way, they’re lots of fun and a good way to end the week. Here are some of my favorites.

Quora asks: What are some cultural faux pas in…

Washington, D.C.

Tour buses. Yes, in general.

Although this person also adds the very nice caveat…

I don’t want to give you the wrong opinion, area residents generally like tourists or at the very least understand that they are a vital part of what makes D.C. cool. Just don’t be that tourist, you know?

San Francisco, C.A.

Complaining about the fog. It has been here longer than you. It will be here when you are gone. San Francisco has been called the “Cool Gray City of Love”. Just dying to complain? You may mention parking – briefly.

Hot dog. Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Robyn Lee
Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Robyn Lee

Detroit, M.I.

Don’t put ketchup on a hot dog. Chili, onions, mustard, maybe even cheese, but never ketchup.

Alabama (the whole state, but Birmingham specifically)

Don’t ask someone to “say something”. I receive this request every time I travel abroad. We as Southerners know our accents can amuse non-Southerners, but remember that 1) not all of us have accents, and 2) we don’t exist for your amusement.

Bonus: One thing that’s surprisingly NOT a faux pas…

New York

Feel free to interrupt someone who is speaking to agree with them. This is considered polite, if occasionally annoying. Don’t be frightened.

You can also take a look at answers for:

San Diego
Los Angeles
New Jersey
and several global cities as well!


  1. I read your report and i like it especially this opinion………”pretty please, don’t stand on the left side of an escalator in Washington!!!but tell me please why i shouldn’t stand on the left side of an escalator in washington???!!” is there any problem if i stand on the left side ………………………by the way , i’ll take my attention when i visit USA ^_^

    1. 🙂 It’s to help control the congestion. If you’re standing still you stay on the right side, and if you’re walking down you go on the left side. That way people who want to walk and get down faster don’t get held up by people who aren’t moving. The metro gets very crowded during rush hour, and lots of people are in a big hurry, so this keeps everyone happy. And residents of Washington, DC take it very seriously!

      1. I’m a D.C. native and although it is common courtesy to stand on the right and walk on the left, most people aren’t too touchy on it. Sure, you may have some sticklers that bitc–complain about you while you’re standing there in not-so-hushed tones, but most of them us will either say excuse me or just shove our way past (mainly if we’re in a hurry to catch the metro).

  2. I’m an American and if I want sliced black olives on my hot dog and they are available, I’ll have sliced black olives!

    Why can’t have black olives in my martini?
    I dislike green olives!

    By the way, I also dislike Mayo. I want Kraft Miracle Whip on my hamburger and ground horseradish on ham.

    1. I think it’s (mostly) a joke. But different areas of the US definitely use different condiments and consider the preferences of other areas weird. For example, in some places it’s common to put mayonnaise on a hamburger and in others it isn’t.

      Ketchup is a really common condiment for hot dogs, but Michigan has a particular local variant that uses chili instead. Wikipedia has a bizarrely comprehensive list of all the regional variations on hot dogs (including international ones): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_dog_variations

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