People Share The Most Intense Culture Shock They’ve Ever Experienced
Have you ever visited an area outside of your hometown and been taken aback at a seemingly tiny detail that was different? Traveling to a new country can often be overwhelming with all of the unique sights, sounds, and smells. Every country has traditions and cultures you’ve probably never laid eyes on before, from the menu and wardrobe to overall manners and gestures you may or may not have accidentally just messed up, and now people are staring….
Whether it’s the transportation, food, or even type of eye contact, people the world over have felt out of place when visiting a new country, and they’re here to share that startling culture shock. The people of the internet have some stories to tell about the wacky, wonderful, and sometimes worrying things that took them by surprise when they traveled to a new place for the first time.
An Interesting Christmas Experience
I was visiting family in the Czech Republic around Christmastime. I went to use the washroom and was utterly astounded to see a giant carp swimming around in their bathtub. I learned that it’s customary to eat fried carp on Christmas Eve. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. That was something I never expected to see in a bathtub….
Some countries, the Czech Republic included, have very specific customs they follow for holidays, and this was completely normal for them, I guess. I just kinda didn’t say anything and went back out to join the group as if I hadn’t seen the massive fish in the tub. Reddit User: [redacted]
Convenience Store Food
I was surprised by how much quality food there is at Japanese 7-Eleven convenience stores. Yes, you heard me, quality. Obviously, here in the United States, you don’t trust gas station sushi or really any food that comes from them. Honestly, a vagabond or tourist can easily survive eating only 7-Eleven food in Japan since it’s really cheap and not as processed….
I’ve heard a lot about the food in Japan, and it seems like this is a normal occurrence. They offer a variety of healthy foods in convenience stores and from vending machines at affordable prices. It was really strange to find a convenience store that you recognize and to see how different it is compared to 7-Eleven stores in the United States. Reddit User: [redacted]
A Strange Bathroom Practice
I had an interesting experience when I visited South America for the first time. It was my first time experiencing the fact that that you throw your toilet paper in a trash bin next to the toilet. They have bins specifically for toilet paper. You use the bins rather than flush them because it messes up their sewage infrastructure. It’s so weird to me, but that’s just how things work there….
This was a strange experience for someone who’s used to flushing toilet paper. Some countries have rules against flushing paper products due to faulty plumbing. The paper causes too many clogs, so it’s just easier to place it in a trash bin instead. My only concern would be the amount of lingering germs from soiled toilet paper on and around the trash bins. Reddit User: [redacted]
Different Work Experience
My biggest culture shock was working in the public sector. I previously worked in hospitality as a restaurant manager. The change into working a 9-5 office job was extraordinarily tough. People were so awkward and shy. I used to greet every staff member with a handshake previously, but now everyone in my office can’t make eye contact….
Public sector, for me, is the most ‘be careful what you say’ environment regarding absolutely anything, even your plans for the weekend. Some people don’t like to talk or exchange pleasantries at work, as they’re there just to get their work done and go home. It’s taking some time to get used to it, and honestly I’m not sure that I really want to stay. Reddit User: [redacted]
I live in a very clean city, so I was shocked when I visited South America and saw how dirty it was. People tend to litter everywhere in South America. They literally don’t care and will just throw their trash right on the ground, even if there’s a trash can 10 feet away. I was on a bus in Colombia, and this lady was throwing trash out the window the whole bus ride….
There was a garbage bag across the aisle from her. In Brazil, I was on a boat ride on the Amazon, and our engine got clogged up. They stopped the boat, pulled the engine up, and there’s a black trash bag wrapped around the motor. The driver proceeded to take the bag off and throw it right back in the river before starting the boat and taking off. Reddit User: [redacted]
The worst experience I ever had was traffic in Vietnam. I had to cross the street by walking slowly, letting the overloaded scooters drive around me. I got used to that relatively quickly. That wasn’t the worst part, however. I rode the overnight bus from Hanoi to Danang. It was crisscrossing the highway, having near misses with incoming trailers, and honking every three seconds….
That was scary. I couldn’t believe how dangerous it was. I’m really surprised that I didn’t see any accidents. It’s like everyone was so used to it that their driving skills adapted to the craziness. I guess it’s normal for the people in these cities to drive that way. I definitely couldn’t live there and get used to driving like that. Reddit User: [redacted]
A Little Hand Holding in Japan
My first time in Japan was an interesting experience. The first interaction with anyone outside of the airport was strange. I got there early in the morning. It was a long flight, and I had a meeting in an hour. I needed coffee and decided to go to 7-Eleven before heading to the hotel. The guy at the counter greeted me as I’m looking around for the coffee….
He ran around the counter, eager to help me in any way. He takes me to the coffee, points to the different types, gets a cup for me, and shows me how to use the machine, practically holding my hand through the process. He got me all set up with a fresh coffee. He even helped me count my money and opened the door for me as I left. Reddit User: [redacted]
I grew up in a working-class city where passive-aggressiveness wasn’t a thing. If people didn’t like you, they made it obvious. Shouting matches and fist-fights were pretty common. Then I get a job at a snooty Ivy League university, and nobody expresses what they actually think or feel. Snide remarks have replaced insults, people quietly conspire against you while pretending to be your friend, and you can’t call people out on their bad behavior without getting socially shunned….
I’ve never understood why people have to be so rude. There’s absolutely no reason to sabotage coworkers and conspire against them while pretending they’re your friend. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind to those around you. I mean I guess I don’t miss the fist-fights, but still, I miss the ability to be direct, I guess. Reddit User: [redacted]
Picture this: I’m the only American working at a company in rural Japan. It may be surprising to hear, but sexism is a problem here. Women are required to wear skirts, while men wear uniforms. Women aren’t allowed to stay past 5:30 pm or get overtime. Our company also has a directory that shows special symbols for every woman working here….
Women are very unlikely to be promoted. There’s only one female manager in the entire company. When a woman gets married, 90% of the time, they quit the company. If a married woman’s husband’s parents die, the company sends a card and money. If her own parents die, they send nothing. We must also serve tea to the men and clean all of the offices. Reddit User: [redacted]
I spent 12 weeks backpacking in India. The most intense culture shock was when I returned to the US. There were no people outside! The streets felt deserted. In India, every city street is just packed with people. I had a second wave of a culture shock when I went to the grocery store for bread and the aisle was 25 feet long and had dozens of varieties….
There are lots of things I used to take for granted that suddenly felt like such a blessing. It’s strange to get used to a certain place and then return home. Twelve weeks doesn’t seem like a very long time, but it definitely opened my eyes to the differences in cultures around the world. I definitely won’t be complaining anymore. Reddit User: [redacted]
An Egyptian Experience
When I went to Egypt, everything was written in Arabic script. It made me realize what it would be like to be completely illiterate. They also eat some strange things over there. Stuffed pigeon is a delicacy. I couldn’t imagine eating those birds, as they’re everywhere in the United States. They also eat every part of a cow, including the stomach and intestines….
I met up with an old friend when I was there, and he ended up being a few hours late. I asked him what happened, thinking the worst, and he basically told me it’s normal to run late in Egypt. I guess it’s also normal for men to kiss each other on the cheek, and that’s definitely not something you’d see in the United States. Reddit User: [redacted]
I Just Want to Be Warm
The lack of central heat in Japan was a rude wakeup call for me in my first Kansai winter. They use something called a kotatsu, which is basically a table, blanket, and heater. No one has furnaces in their homes. They get warm by setting up a kotatsu. I froze throughout that entire first winter in Kansai. Who knew they didn’t have central heating….
It was certainly interesting. A kotatsu is a piece of furniture that allows you to snuggle up with a blanket and get warm. The heater is set up underneath a table with a blanket over the top. The heat radiates throughout the open space between the table and blanket, allowing you to get warm. It’s like a great way to warm up quickly, but I didn’t have one. Reddit User: [redacted]
Moving to the United States
I recently moved to the United States nine months ago. I’m still not used to everyone asking me how I’m doing. I’m from Norway, and this is something we don’t do in my home country. Now, if the cashier asks how I’m doing, I get embarrassed and don’t know how to answer. It’s a strange concept to me even though I assume the cashiers are just trying to be nice….
This is normal in the United States. It’s just common courtesy to ask others how they’re doing in customer service positions. It would be considered rude not to ask. I’ve heard that this practice is uncommon in other countries around the world and leaves foreigners confused. The people who work in customer service are required to ask in most places. Reddit User: [redacted]
A Strange Experience in Sweden
I went on a backpacking trip to Sweden a few years ago and got lost. I decided to hitchhike to the nearest city to figure out where I went wrong. When I was hitchhiking, everyone was smiling, waving, honking, and at gas stations asking what I was doing. Everyone was admiring the idea and what I was up to. I was surprised to find out no one ever wanted to give me a ride….
Everyone who drove past was giving me a thumbs up and cheering but never stopped. It was so strange to me that no one would offer me a ride. I felt strange asking after a while and decided to walk to the town on my own. If I see anyone hitchhiking at home, I always stop to see if I can help. Reddit User: PUAskandi
Don’t Bother Me
I’m from Boston, and the foreign city I’ve felt most at home at was Stockholm. There’s no small talk, and people will be helpful if you ask but won’t be interfering. Honestly, visiting rural West Virginia was more of a culture change than Sweden. The gas station cashier wanted to know where I was from, where I was going, and how my day was so far….
It makes me feel fidgety just thinking about it. Take my money and leave me alone. I’m just not comfortable with small talk. People are only asking to be nice, but I know they don’t really care how I’m doing. In all my travels, this was the trip that shocked me the most and left me feeling extremely uncomfortable in my own country. Reddit User: abhikavi
I’ve been to Iran twice, and they have this very elaborate and convoluted culture of hospitality. They say in Iran hospitality is an extreme sport. When you’re at someone’s house, you have to eat whatever they give you. They will not stop offering, so you will be force-fed until you’re sick. I found the only way to avoid this is to hold a full plate of food and pretend to be eating it….
If you compliment them on something, like a pretty painting on the wall, they will take the thing off the wall and give it to you to take home. Now, this is where it gets convoluted, because they don’t really want you to take it. Yet if you refuse, they’ll still act insulted. It’s all part of the show. Reddit User: mostlyemptyspace
Iranian Taxi Rides
The most intense culture shock I ever experienced was in Iran. Say, for example, you take a taxi. When you arrive at your destination and ask what the fare is, the driver will say, “Nothing, of course! You’re my guest! I hope you love Iran!” The natural response is, “Come on, seriously, what’s the fare?” This goes on and on for several minutes until finally, he gives in….
He gives you a price, but it’s way too much. Now the negotiation goes the other way when you’re saying that it was only a five-minute drive and he complains that he gave you a tour of the area. Eventually, you come to some agreement where you’re both equally grumpy and exhausted. Then he gives you the warmest goodbye and wishes you well. Reddit User: mostlyemptyspace
Confused in Germany
Let me start off by saying I’m a fairly simple man. I took a trip to Germany a few years ago and stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. I had asked the hotel concierge for a good place to eat. She told me about this great restaurant where I had to try the French fries. French fries actually sounded good, so I decided to give the place a shot….
The restaurant was nice, and the staff was friendly, so I decided to try the fries and a cheeseburger. The shock came when the waiter brought out my food and proceeded to dump a ton of mayonnaise on top of my French fries. It changed my world. I couldn’t understand how mayonnaise worked with French fries. I tried to eat them but couldn’t get over the amount of mayonnaise. Reddit User: Moots_point
Spending Time in China
The only culture shock I’ve ever experienced was while vacationing in China. I was waiting in line for a train and kept getting shoved by everyone around me. I got really angry after a few minutes and not receiving an apology from anyone. They wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. It took everything I had not to chew anyone out….
I was so offended at first, but I quickly realized it was happening to everyone. I later found out that shoving and cutting in line is a normal practice in China. They tend to do this when waiting in lines for the subway and trains. I never found out why they do this, but I’m assuming it’s because of the large population. Reddit User: GingerArtMagic
Line Cutters in China
This was the worst experience I’ve ever had. I went on a vacation to China a few years ago. There was one day where I needed to take the subway to get where I wanted to go. I noticed a large line waiting for the subway and decided to just get in line and wait. You have to be practically touching the person in front of you while waiting or someone will cut in….
Then, just being bumped into, yelled at, and prices jacked up because you’re foreign. It was hard to enjoy China without patience and perspective. It also didn’t help that I went from Tokyo to Shenzhen. That’s like cultural whiplash. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever go back. There are plenty of other places around the world to check out that won’t involve this kind of behavior. Reddit User: Koenigseggissenisegg
This topic reminds me of me being an American visiting somewhere in Europe many years ago. We went to a McDonald’s, and I asked for some ketchup to go with my fries. The lady behind the counter asked me how many. I thought it was kind of strange, so I just said 4 or 5 would be good. Then she asked, “Well, do you want 4 or 5?”
I said yes. She said 4 or 5 again. At this point, I was getting angry and just told her to give me five. I was given my food and ketchup, and as I walked to my table, I glanced at the receipt. I saw I was charged for each pack of ketchup. I didn’t know that that was a thing. Is that still a thing? Reddit User: [redacted]
I’m from Sweden and visited Vancouver a couple of years ago. The cultural difference was huge. People were chatting with me in every store, and it was great except when I visited UBC and tripped on the grass, and a maintenance guy got out of his car and came up to me to see how I was doing. I only tripped and landed on my knees….
It was no big deal. It happens all the time. Here in Sweden, if someone falls and obviously isn’t dying, you just pretend you didn’t see it. I, as a Swede, was mortified people acknowledged it. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and hide. It was so embarrassing. My trip to Vancouver helped me realize that things are different everywhere. Reddit User: Lullla
Too Many Umbrellas
Oh man, when we were in China, we had to wait in line outside to get into this one museum, and it happened to be raining that day. I’ve never wanted to rage smash umbrellas so badly in my life. I was so angry. We were quite a bit taller than the average person, so every umbrella prong was in our eyeballs….
We also caught a lot of people trying to take pictures of us while we waited in line. You’re not being sneaky, Chinese people. You’re a foot away from us with your phone in our faces. We know what you’re doing. That was something I couldn’t understand. Why would they be taking pictures of us? It makes me wonder if I had something on my face. Reddit User: austenQ
Naps Are the Best
My family and I took a trip to Spain a few years ago. The biggest culture shock was finding all the shops closed in the afternoon. We didn’t know about the siestas. They take naps every afternoon and take it very seriously. All of the shops and restaurants close for a few hours every afternoon and are opened later every night….
It’s so quiet when everything closes for the siestas. You could actually hear a pin drop. My family decided to immerse themselves in the culture and take naps in the afternoon while we were there, but I couldn’t do it. I just stayed up and watched television for two hours, waiting for everyone to wake up. I guess it’s good they stay open later every day to compensate. Reddit User: QuantumPsk
Try Speaking the Language
When I visited Paris, people would be reluctant to help if I didn’t at least try to speak some French. Once I began to start off in French with, “Hello, I’m sorry, I can’t speak French. Can you speak English?” people began to be more willing to help. I always made sure to use bonjour and merci. People were kind, in my opinion, when I started doing that….
It’s always a good idea to try learning some of the native language when visiting a new country. There are plenty of helpful phone apps available to help, and they can translate back and forth between languages and actually speak the words for you depending on which one you use. It’s a good idea to learn some common words before traveling to a new place, though. Reddit User: justinbreaux
My wife is Japanese. On my first trip over to meet her mother, she invited us out to a yakitori restaurant to meet a few of her friends. Now I don’t speak much Japanese. I can understand about 15% of what’s going on. The man next to me, her mother’s friend, spoke no English at all. He offered me a cup of sake; I gratefully accepted and emptied the cup….
He diligently refilled it. We did this quite a few more times until I turned to my wife and told her I thought he was trying to get me drunk. She said he had to refill it if I emptied the cup. It seems as though my efforts to be polite (finishing what was offered to me) were actually contrary to what was polite in Japan, leaving a little of what was offered to show that you’re satisfied. Reddit User: Dalivus
This is how I feel as an Australian living in America and going out to restaurants. Say you order a soda or something. Free refills are not the norm in Australia, and I’m used to ordering my drink, drinking it, and that’s that. If I want more, I’ll order another. In the US, before your cup is barely half empty, they just pour more into it, and you end up drinking way more than you wanted to….
I know Americans just see that as good service, but I kind of hate it. I always grew up with the rule that “leaving anything is rude,” so I will consume literally anything that’s put in front of me without thinking. Taking home leftovers from a restaurant is common in the US, whereas it would be considered a somewhat unusual request in Australia. Reddit User: Cimexus
When I was a teenager in the 1980s, my family lived in Myanmar because my father was part of the US embassy. I went to a school with 33 students from 14 different nationalities. Everyone got along because there just weren’t enough of us to bicker about things. From a teenage perspective, forget international politics. We just wanted to dance to Wham! and Duran Duran….
We moved to Connecticut right before my junior year. People in my high school there would not speak to other students due to their musical tastes. Kids who were into the Grateful Dead wouldn’t speak to kids who were into Madonna. Kids who were into Metallica wouldn’t speak to kids who were into the Grateful Dead. It seemed like the absolute pettiest amount of stuff I could possibly imagine. Reddit User: estrogyn
She Wasn’t Making It Correctly
My biggest culture shock came from a neighbor. I live in the United Kingdom and recently became friends with someone new. She was from Canada and recently moved in next door to me. I went to visit her one day and realized she was sick. We were talking in the living room, and she announced that she was going to make herself a cup of tea to get better….
She didn’t have a kettle, so she made herself tea using hot water from the tap. From the tap. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I decided to show her how to make proper tea without a kettle. When I boiled up some water in a pan, she took a sip and said it was way better than her tea. Reddit User: Portarossa
Rules Are Different Here
My grandmother was visiting the states for the first time from Guatemala. She asked to use the bathroom, and when she came out, I noticed some toilet paper in the trash. She nicely folded up her used toilet paper and put it in the trash can next to the toilet. I asked her if she was okay, as I didn’t see that to be normal….
I had to explain to her she can flush it. She was shocked that you could do such a thing in the United States. I found out that in Guatemala, everyone is asked not to flush toilet paper because it will clog their toilets. She explained that it’s a major issue with the plumbing in that country. I was surprised to hear that everyone doesn’t flush toilet paper. Reddit User: Hobbit316
Problems in South Africa
I’m a white American and once saw true racism directed toward myself. I was a sophomore in high school and went on a mission trip to South Africa. The attitude toward white people since Apartheid, even to this day, is distrust, distaste, and contempt. Being white in America, I had never experienced this. People around here (US) like to complain of reverse racism, etc….
Seriously, until you’ve experienced true racism, gotten the side-eye from everyone you meet in the country until you’re followed around a store or straight up told to go back to where you came from, it’s not possible to truly understand inherent racism. It was a huge eye-opener for me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing around me. Reddit User: cn2092
Differences in Vending Machines
On my first visit to Japan, I bought a drink from a vending machine that cost ¥100 (~$1CAD). Not quite understanding the exchange rate yet, I put a ¥5000 bill in. The machine gave me ¥4900 in change. When I realized what I did, I was blown away that this machine held that much change. There were about five more vending machines around, probably also holding just about the same and thousands all over the city….
I feel like that couldn’t happen where I’m from. The machines would get busted up, and the cash would be stolen. That’s just one example of all the nice stuff they have in Japan that’s kind of protected by the population having honor and shame as motivators not to mess it up. It was a big shock, but very refreshing! Reddit User: BIRDsnoozer
What People Notice in India
I noticed very few trash cans in India, even in people’s homes. However, unlike Japan, which I’ve heard is very clean, India is so full of litter. People just throw stuff on the ground, even when trash cans are available. In some places, you can’t see more than a dinner plate-sized section of the ground at a time because there’s so much litter peppering the ground….
It was so hard for me to fathom that people could have such disregard for the environment. My theory is that because labor is so cheap, it’s easy to view all forms of cleaning as something that’s meant for “lower caste” people to do. In the US and other more developed nations I’ve visited, nearly everyone, rich/poor, big/small, old/young, will use a trash can. Reddit User: [redacted]
A Major Adjustment
I’m American and moved to the US for the first time when I was 11. My parents worked for the federal government. We moved every 2-3 years, mostly in the Middle East. I missed a lot of pop culture and spent a lot of time “studying” after we moved here so I could talk to friends and classmates without having to say “I’ve never seen that movie/TV show/heard that band….”
I also went from a class of 8 in fifth grade at a British embassy school to a class of 400 in sixth at an American public school. Class sizes were overwhelming. I had to adjust to new spellings and styles of cursive writing. I didn’t always use the right terminology for things. I didn’t speak much during the first year we were here. Reddit User: first_oftheday
An Icelandic Vacation
I went on a trip to Iceland and couldn’t believe how hospitable everyone was. Every single person was extremely helpful, offered directions and advice on restaurants, and asked if I needed to borrow a phone. They’ve got you. We even went into businesses like whale watching, and when quoted a price we couldn’t afford, they would Google cheaper places nearby for us….
It was insane compared to competitive US businesses. Even when we went whale watching, a rival company found a blue whale and called our boat to tell us. That would never happen here in the US. The only thing I had trouble with was how expensive everything is. Seeing how expensive just one drink was ($26) made me want to throw up. Reddit User:LoverOfDogsDawg
When I first went to Japan as an exchange student, I knew I didn’t speak the language, but the full implications of that didn’t really hit me until I went to karaoke with a big group of friends. Someone was having trouble with the remote for the karaoke machine, and I thought, “I’m good at figuring tech stuff,” so I tried to do it….
Everything was in Japanese characters, and I couldn’t even begin to guess what to do. So, for the first time in my working memory, I couldn’t read. I’d been to Europe before and was able to generally figure things out since it was in Roman letters, and the words were similar to some English words, so it just hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to read at all. Reddit User: mobiuschic42
The Art of Haggling
In the US, when you go to the store, items have a price tag, and that’s the price. End of story. In fact, if there’s no price tag, they will make you wait in line until they can get someone to check to see what the price is for that item. When I was in Jamaica, vendors seldom had prices on their products….
You had to ask what the price was. The vendor would give you a price, but that’s not the actual price. That’s their opening salvo. You counter, and then the haggling begins. Now, I know in the US there are some industries where you can still haggle, but for 99% of the stuff we buy, we just pick up the product, look at the number, and decide if we want it or not. Reddit User: CarterLawler
Manners Make a Difference
A decade ago, I went to Tokyo for the first time. Everything was great, but what really stood out was the sincerity and manners that just about everyone exuded. This was particularly noticeable at Narita airport on the way out. A security guard stopped me, apologized, and said that he needed to check my passport (routine/random). I was blown away….
This guard at the airport wasn’t on a power trip, recognized he inconvenienced me, and was very professional about everything. I was truly shocked. I’ve only ever dealt with guards that were rude. I had a great time in Tokyo and definitely want to go back in the near future. Meanwhile, I got back to LAX in Los Angeles, and everything went back to normal. Reddit User: meta_perspective
It Just Took a Trip to China
I went to China for a one-semester university scholarship back in 2017. I’ve never been popular among girls, despite the fact that I’m not the ugliest guy ever. I think I’m pretty good looking and very tall. However, for most of my life, I was kind of shy and couldn’t really find any good way to get a girlfriend. It was different in China….
From the first day to the last, I felt like I was Johnny Depp. I had girls randomly asking for photos of me on the street, in cinemas, restaurants, etc. I went on quite a few dates while I was there and was able to meet the love of my life. We’re currently planning our wedding and are excited about our future together. Reddit User: AcharBronie
Just Bring the Kids
My Italian culture shock was seeing people bring their kids everywhere with them, including out to dinner at 9 pm. Kids, even small ones, were well behaved even when tired. I saw a few passed out on benches next to their parents after dinner. It was kind of nice. In the US, I think there’s a lot of pressure on parents to give up ‘having a life’ once they have kids….
It’s a huge hassle if you want to go out late. You’ve got to arrange a babysitter, etc. In Italy, you just bring the kids along. It was nice to see families spending time together and not worrying about anything involving their children. I think this is the way it should be everywhere around the world. Every child deserves to have as much family time as possible. Reddit User: abhikavi