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Red Solo Cups– the hottest American Souvenir?

Could the ubiquitous red Solo cup be an American cultural icon?

Solo cups have been around for as long as I can remember. As a child, I drank cokes from glossy red cups at every family barbeque.In high school,  we used the opaque red solo cups to disguise illicit beverages. At any sign of the police (or a busybody parent), all it took was a quick flick of the wrist and the evidence was gone.

In college, we scooped up sleeves of red Solo cups for keg parties and tailgates.  At sixteen ounces and only pennies a cup, they were large enough that refills were kept to a minimum and cheap enough that clean up was a snap– we tossed ours into giant garbage bags.

red solo cups american party cups souvenir

Cheap and cheery, stackable and disposable– red Solo cups are the cup of choice for any American party.

red solo cups party beers

Photo by Nick’s Travel Bug.

Red Solo Cups: Representing American “Party” Culture?

To Americans who have grown up with red Solo cups, they are just party accessories, mundane objects that are no more interesting than a paper plate or a napkin. So I was surprised to learn that some non-Americans (especially younger Europeans) seek out red Solo cups as an iconic American souvenir.

You may be curious, as I was, how foreigners even know about these cups?

gif via Buzzfeed.com

To non-Americans who watch these Hollywood films, red Solo cups (called “American party cups” abroad) represent that crazy American party culture. The Girl Next Door / Regency Entertainment via Buzzfeed

Non-Americans watch lots of Hollywood films, and red Solo cups practically play a supporting role in any movie with a bitchin’ high school/college party scene. Just watch any of the American Pie flicks (or anything starring Jason Biggs) and check out the frat, keg, or toga party scenes– red cups are everywhere. Predictably, once those red cups make an appearance in a film, further shenanigans are sure to follow.

If you’re curious as to what foreigners do with their souvenir “American party cups” back home, you only need read the reviews of the cups on Amazon UK to get an idea (like most anything, the cups are available online for export at a huge markup):

Every time I drink any drink from it I feel like I’m in american pie! brilliant!

…having these cups [at the party] brought it to a whole new level. Gave it the ‘American Pie’ feel

I always get complimented at my parties for having the “American style cups”

Everyone loved the American cups! They really added a special something to the night!

I can’t believe that these are the REAL solo red cups from America. These will absolutely MAKE my party and I can’t wait.

American-themed parties are popular throughout Europe— along with the essential red party cups, a proper American party will have a few flags thrown up as decor and serve American treats like Reese’s pieces and Hershey’s kisses. Once the party is over though, no one would dream of tossing their red cups away– they are carefully washed and saved for reuse.

red solo american party cups souvenirFor my non-American readers who are interested in bringing home red Solo cups for a souvenir, my tips are simple: walk into any party store, big box store, drugstore or supermarket. Look for the long shelf (or even multiple shelves) of cups available– you’ll find many size, brand and even color options (while red is classic, blue is the second most popular color).

Once you bring your Solo cups home, impress your friends by setting up a classic American drinking game popular on college campuses everywhere– beer pong.

Craft beer expert Nick Huggins of Nick’s Travel Bug explains the rules of beer pong:

solo cups beer pong set up

The classic beer pong set up.  Photo courtesy Nicks Travel Bug.

  • To start, each team sets up plastic solo cups (6 or 10 depending on the style) in the shape of a triangle. The cups are then filled roughly 1/3 of the way with the beer of your choice.
  • The object of the game is to throw a ping pong ball into the other team’s cups and requires the utmost hand-eye coordination.
  • Each team gets 2 shots per turn and if both are made then the team gets the balls back to shoot again.
  • Also, 2 re-racks are permitted per game to allow each team to create an optimal formation to shoot at.
  • Note: there is a direct correlation between the number of games played and diminishing hand-eye coordination, especially if a team “runs” the table for several games.
  • There are various “house rules” depending on who you play with. For example, if a ball is bounced on the table and made into a cup, then 2 cups will be removed from the formation. However, in the event of a bounce the opposing team may swat the ball away to avoid the loss of 2 cups.
  • Beer pong can be a very competitive game, but a great way to make new friends at a party.

red solo cup martini wine glass shot glassLove your red solo cup so much that you prefer to drink from them on more formal occasions? American retailers have you covered– you can pick up your red cups mounted on faux crystal stems or molded into the shape of a martini or shot glass at select American gift shops. Photo by Beverly Sill.

red solo cups stacked pyramid party cups drinking games america united states us

Red solo cups– fun for stacking.

Souvenir Finder Tip Sheet

  • What to buy: the original red solo cup is the perfect souvenir to hold your own American themed parties back home
  • Where to buy: Any American drug store, supermarket or party store.
  • What to know: the solo cylinder cups were replaced with a new design several years ago — the newer cups have indentations (grips) to prevent slips

Non-Americans, have you ever considering buying red Solo cups as a souvenir? Or hosted an American-themed party? Share your party tips in the comments below!

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12 Responses to Red Solo Cups– the hottest American Souvenir?

  1. Beverly Sill 03/22/2014 at 11:34 am #

    This “classic” tune from a few years ago sums it all up: “Red Solo cup, you’re more than just a cup; you’re my friend.” LOL! http://youtu.be/BKZqGJONH68

    • Kristin Francis 03/22/2014 at 11:38 am #

      Ah! I heard about this song devoted to the Solo cup– forgot to research it! Thanks for the link (and your “classy” cup photos!)

  2. sueslaght 03/22/2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Well I had never thought of this as a souvenir! those red cups are synonymous with party to be sure. I’m afraid I’m past the beer pong days though. 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 03/22/2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Isn’t it funny? I read about it in a Reddit post– it seemed to be one of the most popular US souvenirs (along with Bass hats).

  3. kevintransit 03/22/2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I went to California (Berkeley), and we have to go to fairly great lengths to find Blue Solo Cups, because red is the color of our hated rival, Stanford, and we would rather die than drink from a red cup. I’m surprised Nick doesn’t have the same problem with his Michigan/Ohio St situation. Awesome article, nice job, Nick!!

    • kevintransit 03/22/2014 at 3:33 pm #

      LOL, just noticed that in Nick’s picture, the cups are blue. I guarantee it is because of Michigan!

      • Kristin Francis 03/22/2014 at 3:39 pm #

        Hi Kevin! When I put a call out for red cup photos, Nick had to search for red ones at all– as you mentioned, all he had were Michigan blue! Funny I had no idea that school colors impacted even cup choices– I went to a non-football school (Georgetown) so I’m not even sure what our colors are!

      • kevintransit | Kevin @ Ever In Transit 03/22/2014 at 4:33 pm #

        Yeah, there is nothing rational about being a college football fan! 😉

  4. Mountains and Giraffes 03/23/2014 at 1:16 am #

    Growing up and watching the American TV shows, a party would not be a party without these…i never knew they had a real name – for us they were the American party cups 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 04/03/2014 at 8:52 am #

      Ah it’s true then! That’s so funny thanks for commenting!

  5. Emily 07/25/2015 at 8:53 pm #

    Fun fact : the lines on them denote measurements for a shot, beer, or wine.

    • Kristin Francis 07/29/2015 at 10:17 pm #

      Ah who would have guessed?

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