Travelers Share The Culture Shocks That Spiced Up Their Trips

Travelers Share The Culture Shocks That Spiced Up Their Trips

If you're thrown into a new culture without knowing much about it, the result can be pretty jarring. Traveling to new locations can bring about a variety of unexpected emotional and physical reactions. Every culture, no matter how small, has its unique quirks and eccentricities, and trying to figure them out for the first time can be stressful. Whether the culture differs only somewhat from your own or makes you feel like you're on another planet entirely, adjusting to the customs of a new location can produce some intense and confusing situations. These travel tales prove that when it comes to culture shock there is not much you can do to be prepared.

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63. Look Both Ways

I’m from the US and went to Italy for my honeymoon. Not cultural, but two things really stuck out to us there. Everyone drives so crazy in Rome; literally no idea how we made it out of there without getting into an accident. Also, the showers were so small! My husband is a large muscular guy, and he had to squish his body into the stall; it was hilarious. They were even small for me and I’m not a large person (5’3” 105ish lbs).


62. Before You Cross The Street

I’m from England, spent my honeymoon in Florida (about 8 years ago). One of the things I really remember being different is being able to buy pizza by the slice. I’ve never seen that here in the UK except for when Pizza Hut had their lunch buffet offer. Always have to buy an entire pizza here.

Also the huge quantities you can buy acetaminophen and ibuprofen in. Here they are sold in packs of 16 or 32 and are limited to two packs of painkillers per transaction. I remember marvelling at (what seemed to me) to be huge bottles of pills for sale at the pharmacy.

Also the lack of provision for pedestrians (less crossings, less pedestrian walkways) and people’s complete confusion when asked for walking directions anywhere, although I accept this was probably partly regional as I’m sure places like NYC are much more pedestrianised.

street-light-sign-2334158_1920-300x250.jpgImage by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

61. Put The Phone Away

When I went to South Korea everyone was on their phone while driving! It blew my mind, I was so confused and still am. Is that legal there? In Canada if a police officer even sees you touch your phone to change your music they pull you over and you get ticketed. I still can't get over it.

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60. A More Polite Way Of Life

Visiting Japan I was amazed and impressed by the efficiency and politeness of people. Riding on trains, even during rush hour people formed perfect lineups on the platforms, let people off, and got on the train all in the span of maybe 10 seconds. Transit conductors/bus drivers would make announcements for each stop (via microphone) and thank passengers each time people got off. Entering informal type restaurants (ramen shops, cheaper sushi bars, etc) the staff would all loudly say hello and bow to every group entering. On one of our last days my friend lost his phone on a random bus in Kyoto. Within one hour he had it back in his possession having only remembered what route we took and the approximate time. Never in my life did I experience such tremendous effort put forth to make people feel appreciated and acknowledged.



59. Two Wives Are Better Than One

My cousin married a South African woman so we went there for the wedding. Man, the zulus are the chillest people on the planet. The wedding was supposed to start at nine, it started at 11.30 and nobody complained. A guy described it to me perfectly, he said: "White man says time flies, but we say time comes." Really a brilliant people.

Also we all got several marriage proposals ourselves from various women, including my dad. When he said he was married the woman asked if he needed a wife number two. Was a fun trip!

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58. The Opposite Of First World Problems

First time traveling to a third world country, Uganda. Volunteered at a orphanage and was taken to the villages in the mountains to meet families. Basically they’re not orphans, their parents just have to pick one child out of the family who would have the opportunity to make something out of themselves, and turf out the others. It’s pretty sad. The villages were the biggest culture shock of my life and seeing the conditions they lived in scarred me deeply.

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57. The Cement Jungle

My biggest culture shock was when I moved from Texas to LA. Definitely really surprising. I use to live just on the outskirts of the city, went to public school, and just surrounded by quietness and nature. Once I came to LA, I was really disappointed, I thought it would be as nice as Texas, but I was wrong. The streets are awful and dirty. And when I enrolled in school, I was so so very shocked that there wasn't a field. Nope. Just cement. Classes have bars. Classrooms were crowded. Food was in bags and not made fresh by lunch staff. I really was shocked to see milk in a bag than a carton. I expected LA to be prettier.


56. Relaxing On The Emerald Isle

I spent a few weeks in Ireland recently and rented a car. I had never driven on the left side of the road on the right side of the car before, so there was a few days of adjustment before I was really comfortable. I drove really slow down the incredibly narrow roads and not one person honked, rode my tail or screamed obscenities at me the entire time, literally a country of the most courteous drivers I’ve ever experienced.

Of course the cliched private bathroom stalls with no huge gaps in the doors. Pooping in public restrooms was completely stress free.

We packed light since we were traveling around the island and were shocked by the complete lack of self service laundromats. With the exception of a few machines at gas stations, they don’t seem to be a thing there.

I know I’ve read Europeans mention how polite Americans tend to be, but everyone we interacted with in Ireland was super polite and friendly. In two weeks we did not have a single negative interaction with anyone, anywhere. It was fantastic.

ireland-122799_1920-300x225.jpgImage by Marion Streiff from Pixabay

55. The Other 99

Sweden is weird. The lack of huge wealth disparity between front line worker and senior manager is a thing. I knew someone who was a VERY senior exec at a big company and yet he lived in a modest apartment in an average part of Stockholm. But.... Swedes have a total blind spot about the fact that there are some seriously rich people in the country. They genuinely do not think anyone has that much more money than anyone else. The 1% just stay out of the papers and no one knows they exist.

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54. Don't Hold Back

Central Mediterranean region, several decades ago: most of my time there was wonderful, but there were some crappy things to get used to:

Re-wearing of body odor-filled clothing (some did this, not all, but enough, wow, make your eyes water)

Lack of forming orderly lines in shops or at market stalls (just a push or rush forward instead), the crush for amusement rides was the worst- utter chaos and stampede

Open staring (was even worse directed at women)

Lackadaisical/unprofessional attitude of some businesses (“I don’t know when your pants will be ready, maybe Wednesday, maybe Thursday” *shrugs* and “I can’t give you change, here, take this candy instead”)

Improperly, dangerously banked road curves

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53. So Secure

The use of soldiers as police around Italy was a bit surprising for me, it's something you associate more with dictatorships, not a Western democracy. Maybe there was a specific security concern at the time that I didn't know about, but there were armed soldiers patrolling the airport, an APC parked outside the Pantheon, and I got questioned by a group of soldiers while walking alone at night near the Coliseum.

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52. Not Enough Horsepower

While I was in Rome, Naples, and Florence I was surprised by the streets. While the highways were well paved, many, if not most of the streets in the city were cobblestone and pretty narrow. Walking on them all day for a week wasn’t very fun. I also always wondered why Europeans stereotyped Americans as driving big cars, thinking they were referring to large pickup trucks or Hummers. However, when I went to Rome, I saw most of the cars there were pretty small by what you would typically see in America. It was interesting to see the occasional foreign car drive next to and dwarf the little cars in Italy. It was certainly an experience.


51. Is It Chilly In Here?

Air conditioning not being as strong or plentiful. I travel to Europe fairly regularly, and in the summer it can get really hot in the cities, with limited or spotty AC. And having grown up in a coastal Northern California town, I need it to be pretty cool to have a good nights’ sleep.

I stayed at a large, European hotel chain in Bilbao one June and the air conditioning was just a wall unit in the ceiling blowing into one corner of the room. So, when I was in that corner I was shivering, and everywhere else in the room I was sweating. Ended up coming down with a summer cold because of the cold/hot/cold/hot within the same room.

Another summer I was in Paris for several weeks for work and the AC at my office was set at 22 degrees C. Women at the office literally had scarves on because it was “so cold” compared to the temp in their flats. To me, an American, 22 degrees is not so cold when it’s close to 30 outside (22 is around 72 F and 30 is closer to 85 F), certainly not scarf temperatures.

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50. Speak Your Mind

The polite protestors.

I stopped over in London on my way to my cousin's wedding back in March, and it was my first time in Europe. There were a bunch of protestors at some government building. All of a sudden at a certain time, the protestors quietly packed up their signs and left peacefully.

When I think of protests back here in the US, I think of smashed up cars and cinderblocks through windows. It was an interesting thing to see.

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49. Police On Parade

Cameras and policemen everywhere in China. I live in Siberia where there are almost no cops on the streets. You'll hardly see a cop unless you're near a police station or a police academy. Even when I was in Moscow and in Europe there weren't too many policemen around. In China though, they are everywhere. It feels weird being watched all the time.


48. King Of The Silver Screen

They really love their king in Thailand. The weird part about how much they love him is how they express it at odd times. I went to see The Conjuring 2 in Chiang Mai. Right before the movie started, everyone had to stand up and watch a video montage of the King in his honor. It was considered really rude not to stand. As an American, it made me realize just how creepy our pledge of allegiance must seem. Super weird.




47. Parlez-vous Anglais?

When I went to France after trying to learn French, I genuinely thought that most people there did not speak English or did not want to because I was told that by my dad. I was also told that the people there were not very kind to foreigners. COMPLETELY WRONG.

I tried to speak my broken French to order food at a restaurant, and a guy sitting alone at the table next to me just said to use English. Then this guy just sat down at my table and gave me a very good lesson in French. He told me about all the best restaurants in Paris.

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46. Crazy Bus

The traffic in Vietnam took some serious getting used to. Crossing the street by walking slowly, letting the overloaded scooters drive around me -- I got used to that relatively quick. But the overnight bus from Hanoi to Danang crisscrossing the highway, having near misses with incoming trailers and honking every third second? That was bad. I don't know how more people don't perish on the road here.



45. Irishish

Going to an Irish pub in Atlanta and getting "Irish Buffalo Wings" and "Irish Tacos." Hmm...

Also not being able to buy any beverages of a certain kind because I'm 20, not 21. I think Irish pubs should obey Irish laws.

Also Bison burgers.



44. Get Outta Here!

Some people in Montreal realllllllllllllly don't like Americans. Not all of them, I had some very pleasant encounters, but one guy tried to fight a group of like 6 of us just because we asked him for a favour. Two other guys told us to "go back to America and never come back" because we stopped on the sidewalk to look up directions to Chez Paris.



43. That Would Never Fly Here

As the only American at a company in rural Japan: the sexism.

Everyone wears uniforms, women have to wear skirts.

In the company phone directory there is a special symbol to indicate if someone is a woman.

Women leave the office at 5 or 530. Men all work later.

Women are very unlikely to be promoted. There is only one female manager in the entire company.

When a women gets married 90% of the time they quit the company.

If a married woman's husband's parents pass away the company sends a card and money. If her own parents pass away they send nothing.

Women must serve tea and clean the office spaces.



42. Fast Unbroken

The most frustrating culture shock I found was when I was solo travelling around Italy.

Being from the UK, I like a good breakfast and I love popping to a cafe for one if I can. But there's no place open for breakfast ANYWHERE in Italy other than the outrageously priced hotel breakfasts.

I remember speaking to my Italian mate about it when I got back, and she was like: "Yeah, Italian breakfast is basically coffee and a banana most of the time."




41. Chicken Soup Isn't For Chickens

When in India I had a few major culture shocks that kinda bothered me.

At the place we were staying they served us a chicken soup. (It was a christian area, meat was available on the menu.) The problem was that all the bones were still in the soup, meaning that you had to spend half the time removing bones from the soup in order not to choke on them.

Nearing Madurai, I noticed a strange flag being waved around all over the place, it was black at the top and red at the bottom. I jokingly said that the only people who would use that color template are rebels and Disney villains. Our guide told me that I should be a bit more careful saying such things. He explained that said flag just happened to belong to a local Dravidian political party. If I had said that in public, I would've likely been beaten up.

No toilet paper. Although some hotels had it, many did not. All that they had was a high pressure hose. Uncomfortable would be an understatement.

Everyone wanted a picture of me. I have the most stereotypically Scandinavian features imaginable. So when Indians see a blond, blue-eyed, two meter tall westerner with a funny accent walking around the streets of Goa, they naturally want to ask for a picture.



40. What A Sweet Guy

First time in Japan, this was my first interaction with anyone outside of the airport.

I get there early in the morning after a long flight and have a meeting in an hour. I need coffee asap. So I go to 7-11 before checking into my hotel. Guy at the counter greets me. I'm looking around for the coffee. He runs around counter, eager to help me in any way.

"Coffee," I say. He takes me to the coffee, points to the different types, gets a cup for me, shows me how to use the machine, practically holding my hand through the process. He gets me all set up with a fresh cup, runs back around counter, shows me the little tray to put my money in, helps me count my money.

Then he runs back around counter, leads me to the door, opens it for me, and bows with a traditional goodbye.

Wow, welcome to Japan!


39. Taken For Granted

I spent 12 weeks backpacking in India. The most intense culture shock was when I returned to the U.S. 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 culture shock when I went to the grocery store for bread and the aisle was 25 feet long and had dozens of varieties. Lots of stuff I used to take for granted suddenly felt like such a blessing.



38. My Way Is Right

Japan (and probably a few other Asian cultures) seem to embrace objectivism to a degree unheard of in the west.

There is "a correct way" to do things. Everything from deciding where to sit in a car, to peeling a mandarin. There is a single "correct way" to do it, and if you don't do it that way, you're doing it "wrong."



37. A River Runs Through It

DaNang, Vietnam, 1970. I wasn't thirty minutes off the plane; on the bus to the base, I saw two men meandering across a bridge and stop. They both casually started relieving themselves in the water below while continuing their conversation. They finished and went on their merry way. "Good morning, Vietnam!"



36. Getting Trashed

I live in a very clean city, so I was shocked when I visited South America and saw how dirty it was and how much people litter. People there literally do not 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 through the whole 12 hour bus ride, even though 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 proceeds to take the bag off and throw it right back in the river before starting the boat and taking off.

It's really sad because it's beautiful in South America. A lot places there just don't have the money/infrastruture to properly take care of their waste.



35. Threw It On The Ground

In some parts of Turkey, if you're the first customer of the day, you're supposed to throw your money on the floor when you make the purchase. This is for good luck, apparently. Still amazes me a week later.



34. Stack That Paper

When I visited South America, it was my first time experiencing a country where you throw your toilet paper into a trash bin next to the toilet -- which is put there specifically for that purpose -- rather than flushing it and messing up their sewage infrastructure.

It's so weird, but not weird at the same time since its just how things work there.



33. Early Independence

Holidaying in Tokyo, I was very surprised and impressed watching 5-year-old kids walk themselves home from school and catching public transport... all by themselves! Apparently this sort of thing is common in many countries, just not the U.S.



32. Personal Questions

I recently moved to the U.S. (9 months ago), and I am still not used to everyone asking me how I am doing. I am from Norway, and in my country if the cashier asks how you are, you get embarrassed and don’t know how to answer.



31. 7-11 24/7

I was shocked how much quality food there is at Japanese 7-11. Yes you heard me, quality. Obviously, here in the U.S., you don’t trust gas station sushi or really any food that comes from them. But holy moly, Japanese 7-11s are so much higher quality, like their food just tastes more natural than ours. Honestly, a vagabond or tourist can easily survive eating only gas station food in Japan, since really it’s cheap and not as processed.


30. Quit Your Carping

I was visiting family in the Czech Republic around Christmastime. When I went to use washroom, I was utterly astounded to see a giant carp swimming around in their bathtub. Apparently, it is customary to eat fried carp on Christmas Eve.


29. Trafficking

Egypt burns their refuse to the point of it becoming smog. I could see it being blown southward away from the Mediterranean on the plane ride back to England.

However I am super impressed with how they handle traffic. It's like Mario Kart on some sort of substance: Controlled Chaos.

I saw a fender bender with two cars. We were past that in less than a minute and not ONE PERSON stopped or slowed down. No traffic jam whatsoever!


28. The Exquisite Efficiency Of Japan

Japan. Oh my god, Japan.

Picture me, arriving at the Tokyo airport exactly 20 minutes before my international flight is scheduled to take off. Not board, but take off. My adrenaline is pounding, my hands are shaking, and I literally run off the bus. I'm preparing to beg strangers to cut in line, in the off-chance that my flight hasn't already finished boarding.

Then there I am, exactly seven minutes later, standing at my gate and realizing I still have time to buy a snack. Yes, that's right. I made it through customs and security and got to my gate in seven minutes. No lines, no people, just a fully-staffed airport doing things as efficiently as humanly possible.

We left the gate right on time. Right on the dot. Incredible. They run their whole country like this, guys.


27. The French Way Of Greeting

In France, we greet all women -except in a professional setting- by a light kiss on both cheeks (it's not even a kiss, your lips are not supposed to touch the cheeks, it's more a cheek on cheek movement). Everybody does it, whether it's your best friend or someone you meet for the first time, as long as one of you is a woman, you do it.

Anyway, on one of my first trips to the UK, about 15 years ago, I was invited to a party held by a friend of the kid of the family who was my age, so when I arrived I went to say hello to all the girls in the room (about 15) the French way because I didn't know it was only a French thing.

Let's just say that 2 minutes later all the girls thought I was weird and half the guys wanted to punch me for kissing their girl.

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26. Japan Is A Little Too Chill About Some Things

It took me some time to get used to Japan.

My first night, I went out with some folks and nearly tripped over a businessman passed out on the sidewalk. Someone in our group asked our Japanese guide if we should call the police and keep an eye out in case someone tried to rob him. We were met with a quizzical look and an explanation that the man would be fine, the cops would be around sooner or later to help him, and no one would rob him because that would be rude.

On the other hand, Japan has women-only train cars at rush hour because of men who cannot keep their hands to themselves when everyone gets crushed together. Which is obviously rude, to say the least.

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25. A Stark Return To The Reality Of Supermarkets

Weirdly enough, it was returning to America after spending years abroad in Albania. Albania didn't have any international food chains or restaurants, everything was local and (usually) tasted great!

I think what it was for me, was when I was going to Albania, I psyched myself up - I knew I was going to a foreign country and that things would be different; and they were. Most stores were no bigger than the size of my bedroom back home. Open air street markets were common and road-side shops were everywhere. Most people didn't own vehicles and walked or relied on public transportation.

But when I returned to America, I was just "going home" and didn't really think about it much. But after several years it was weird! The day after returning home, we went to a Costco. Walking around that place on that day was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The packages of food were HUGE and there was just so MUCH of EVERYTHING. We drove our cars everywhere and I realized my little hometown doesn't even have a proper bus system.

That was easily my biggest culture shock - and it was about my own culture.

joey-csunyo-512458-unsplash-300x200.jpgJoey Csunyo on Unsplash

24. Feeling Out Of Place In China

I had culture shock when I was in China and people would either come up to me and ask to take a picture of me, or just straight up starting taking pictures of me right infront of me.

I’m 6’2 and a woman and they thought I must be a model, or a weirdo. I mean people think it’s odd where I live but they don’t come up to me and go “you’re tall! Picture?”

One guy stopped taking pictures of animals in the zoo to take pictures of me.

I must be on so many Chinese people’s social media and family photos. People would come up with their kids and think it was great.

camera_2-300x201.jpgFunny Potato

23. From Introverted Ireland To Uber-Friendly Japan

I went from Ireland to Japan last year. Oh my gosh.

Irish people, while friendly for the most part - won't talk to you unless they know you, or if you ask a question. In Japan, I was eating in restaurants or hanging out in bars and Japanese people would ask if they could sit with me and then they just chatted and chatted. They were so friendly and outgoing. I wasn't expecting it because everyone says the Japanese are very closed minded but in my experience, they were the opposite. They were so polite too. To the point of being creepy. It was a real shock to me, but a shock in an awesome way. I love you Japan!


22. Widespread Trust Of Strangers In New Zealand

So I’m Norwegian, but I went to New Zealand for a year. The culture shock for me was how open they talk, and how there’s no such thing as stranger danger. And as a typical Norwegian introvert, it took a while to get used to. I’d meet a stranger and they’d be breaking the touching barrier right away and start talking about their cousin’s rash and all their weekend plans. It was an even bigger shock returning to silent Norway.

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21. The Wonderful Dramatics Of Italy

I'm from England and I went for a wander around Italy.

One thing is the over dramatic homeless people. It sounds bad but it's quite funny watching a man cross the road in perfect health, then put on a very dramatic limp while begging to cars at a red light. As soon as it went green, he was back to walking fine.

Also, a woman lying on the floor begging like she was about to die, then when she got a bit of cash she casually got up and walked to the bar.

I found that locals in Sardinia don't seem to like English people. Maybe it was bad luck but any time we went to a restaurant and they heard English they pulled a weird face and it seemed like they didn't want us there.

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20. The Illusion Of The American Dream

How completely different life is for most people in the U.S. to how it is portrayed in popular culture.

Popular culture would have you believe all Americans live in white picket fenced houses which are absolutely massive, located in a nice suburb of a city and with two nice cars in the driveway. They aren't extraordinarily rich but they also don't want for anything in particular.

When I lived there for a short while I was completely awed by how true the opposite is. The U.S. is a land of incredible poverty and inequality. Squalor is plentiful and obvious in every single U.S. city I went to. I had never seen so many homeless people in any wealthy Western nation. It was a real culture shock to see that the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, can actually be a horrendously bad place to live if you don't have "it."

Most of the other places I visited I always imagined as being poor and backwards, and generally those places fit my expectations. As did the wealthy Western countries I went to. Pretty much everywhere I have travelled in the world has generally met my expectations as to what to expect, but the inequality and poverty in the U.S. and the attitude toward it was absolutely appalling.

zelle-duda-373004-unsplash-300x200.jpgZelle Duda on Unsplash

19. Italy's Collection Of Casanovas

Once I got to about 15 and visited Italy I started getting asked out by guys who just wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

You reject a guy in the UK and they'll normally take it well (unless they're a bit unhinged), but in Italy I said no to strangers, friends I'd known for years, people I'd met that night- all people who were otherwise normal- who'd be so persistent that I had to either leave, or use my cousin as a fake boyfriend.


18. Mass Prayer In The Supermarket

I was in the Philippines a few years back. I was walking through a large mall down the street from my hotel, trying to find something.

So I'm walking through and I find this supermarket inside the mall, and look to my left as soon as I walk inside and see a tobacco store of sorts. I start making my way there when all of a sudden this music starts playing on the loudspeaker, and everyone just stands completely still where they are in the entire mall.

I didn't notice until I had to start walking around statues that something was happening, so then I stopped and stood there. It lasted a good 2 minutes or more I'd say. I asked back at the hotel and apparently, it was a prayer/remembrance of some sort.

cris-tagupa-557055-unsplash-300x225.jpgCris Tagupa on Unsplash

17. Ethiopia's Fun-Driven Homeless Kids

In Ethiopia, I would often see a group of kids aged 7-12 who would beg for money all day and in the evenings, instead of buying food, they would rent bicycles and race up and down the neighborhood streets. After this, they would all hop down into a sewer to sleep. We invited one of them into our house one time and offered him some food but he was more interested in our Xbox. He joined me in a few games of FIFA and then left without finishing the bowl of cereal my mother gave him.


16. Obscure Pricing System In Europe

In India, we have a system of printing prices for each and everything on the box/packet of that thing. This includes everything from a tiny pack of gum to a giant refrigerator. Vendors can not charge more than the MRP, they can charge less than that. Most of the big supermarkets and malls usually charge less than the MRP. However, in Europe, I’ve never seen this. Anyone can charge any price for anything. I’ve seen a gallon of milk can be sold at four different prices in my nearby stores. In India, if the owner charges more than the MRP, a consumer can lodge a complaint against them, and they can face serious consequences.

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15. Reverse Culture Shock Is A Thing, Too

Coming home, actually. I live in the U.S. The culture shock of arriving at LAX after being in Nepal for a month was surprising. Everything is so big and shiny here and people are not happy. The culture shock of coming home after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for 3 months was even worse. Everything is so fake in the U.S. and people are not friendly.

angry-americans-1531846017544.jpgOpinionated But Right

14. Germany's Insane Obsession With Recycling

I lived in Germany for six months, and coming from South America, I couldn't believe the citizens' obsession with recycling and saving up resources. My foster family had ten different recycling bins. I was allowed to shower only four times a week, and all the paper and glass supplies in the house were made of recycled material. Also, this may seem insignificant for many, but the media. All newspapers and current events TV shows were absolutely professional and informative. I saw/read more serious female journalists and interviewers that I had ever in my life. I spent like 3 hours every day watching Deutsche Welle and marveled at the documentaries and interviews.

10-1527895518584.jpgChelsea Bessel

13. No-Shirt-No-Shoes Hawaii To Freezing Cold Canada

I was born in Hawaii and lived on the Big Island until I was six. Little me was used to wearing flip flops (or no shoes) and light weight dresses, swim suits and shorts and a tee-shirt everywhere. It was too hot for anything else, or it would just get dirty.

Cut to my family moving to Ontario, Canada about 3 hours North of Toronto. My dad was working in the vacation business so we moved to an actual ski resort for the first few months. My sister and I were enrolled in Catholic school and suddenly I had to wear clothes. But not just clothes: stockings, jumpers, shirts with too many buttons and shoes that had to shine. Coats, hats, gloves, different shoes to wear outside. Six-year-old me could not comprehend any of this. We even had to change for gym and then change back.

My mom helped me put my stockings on in the mornings, but after the gym, I would have to put them on by myself. One day my teacher called my mom to come get me because I decided to start some sort of anti-clothing revolution and was jumping around the changing room with my stockings on my head.


12. Friendly, Safe, And Polite Sides Of The U.S.

I was born and raised in Peru but left for the U.S. in my early twenties. Despite things being far from rosy at the beginning, I was pleasantly shocked: Drivers would stop for me if I was coming close to a street corner, kids 18 years old were getting their own places with a friend or girlfriend, I could make in an hour of fast food work what I would in a day back at the ol' birthplace. People were generally nice and polite, and they smile more often to strangers.

I moved down to Florida and oh man, all that open space and the beautiful houses. Everyone has a car, my family could never afford one growing up so I didn't even know how to drive. Supermarkets were fancy and no one asks you to show your receipt when you are leaving, just in case you are stealing something. I got a job at a golf resort and a busser at a nice brunch place. So. Much. Food. My typical breakfast was two pieces of bread with margarine spread and instant coffee. Scrambled eggs were like for Sundays. These rich people were having Mimosas and Eggs Benedict? Pancakes the size of dinner plates? WITH chocolate chips? Is this Narnia?

matt-alaniz-360988-unsplash-300x200.jpgMatt Alaniz on Unsplash

11. The Little Things That Define London Culture

I studied abroad in London several years ago. My grandmother is British and I grew up with British television, movies and music. It wasn't the "big picture" (buildings, government, transport) that threw me for a loop, but my every day routine changed, which was part of my many struggles there. I couldn't jaywalk (I'm from Massachusetts). I always looked too old-fashioned. I worked for Parliament and was surprised to speak to actual MP's and Lords on the phone, as opposed to when I worked in politics in the states and only got staff members. The portion sizes were small (and helped me lose 19 pounds).

People always signed their texts and emails with x's, which, let's face it, would get you slapped with a lawsuit in the US. Having to pay for a meal at the pub before eating as opposed to after eating it took a while to get used to. I never had to tip. How my boss would throw around the "C" word for MP's and Lords he didn't like. The computer keyboards had different symbols on the number keys. You could not get iced coffee anywhere. Tea breaks; loved those.

luca-micheli-422053-unsplash-300x200.jpgLuca Micheli on Unsplash

10. The Move From Small Town To Big City

I was moving from the Dakota's to Chicago. I come from a town where people don't lock their cars, hold doors open for people, or start up conversations out of no where.

I got many strange looks my first year.

Also, a lot of people don't hang out with each other outside of bars, restaurants, activities etc. Trying to make friends I would ask people to come over for dinner so I could cook for them. Yeaaaa, I haven't got a lot of interest for that.

sawyer-bengtson-256260-unsplash-300x200.jpgSawyer Bengston on Unsplash

9. Colombia's Interesting Public Restroom System

I just got back from my first trip to Colombia. The public toilets threw me off there: no seats on the toilets (I'm female- standing isn't an option), no soap or paper towels to wash with, and occasionally, no toilet paper unless you pre-purchased it from a vending machine outside your stall. You better hope you know how much you'll need, that you have correct coinage AND that the machine doesn't eat your money. The latter happened to me twice.

2-1527898084578.jpgColumbia Missourian

8. Failing To Spread Southern Hospitality

It's such a small thing, but politeness. I'm from the Deep South and since I was a kid I was taught there was a certain polite way to speak with anyone, especially servers and store clerks. I've never feared giving a smile and a wave, talking to a stranger if need be. When I was traveling throughout Europe I was always either treated like I was an idiot or a potential threat for acting that way. As soon as I stepped off my flight home I beelined to Chick-Fil-A to get my fill of overt southern hospitality and fried chicken.


7. Strictly Raised In Asian Culture

Growing up with Asian cultural roots, my parents were very hard to please. When I fell down the ranks of top students (I was still in the top 10), my father told me that he was ashamed of me. When I graduated class valedictorian, my mother complained that I did not receive any other award like 'best in science' or 'best in math.’ When my elder sister got pregnant a couple of months before graduating med school, my mom stopped talking to her for a month. They lived across the hall from each other. That was the type of parents we had. Unforgiving. When my American girlfriend took her exam to receive her accountancy license, she failed the test. I was with her when she told her parents about it. We were seated beside each other in her dorm room across from her parents and she was finding it difficult to confess. I was absolutely terrified for her. Finally, the words "I failed" came out of her mouth. To this day I still remember the shock I felt after seeing her parents reaction.

The first thing her father said were "that's ok." Then my girlfriend started crying and her parents consoled her they were hugging and giving her words of encouragement, assuring her everything will be alright and that the thing to do is to move forward and try again. I just sat there watching them and feeling envious, thinking this is what parents should be doing for their children.

It came as a total shock to me this level openness and understanding. This kind of parent-child relationship was alien to me. I promised myself that if I were to become a father I would be like her parents.


6. Crazy Economic Comparisons

When I got my first teaching job, I moved from North East Pennsylvania to southern Arizona. I rented a huge house with my husband and another couple. It was absolute insanity for what we paid for it. When my students found out I lived in a two-story house, they all were in disbelief. I was told that only rich people lived in two story houses and I would regret moving in there. I asked why and they replied “You’ll find out.” That conversation stuck with me. For a while everything was normal, until one day in the middle of the summer, when I looked in my mailbox and found out the hard way. I’m still devastated about what I found. My AC bill was crazy! Apparently only rich people lived in two story houses because no one can afford the AC bill in the summer. In my defence, I was making around $29,000 a year, and paying for a cross country move, so definitely not rich BUT it really put my student’s level of poverty smack dab in front of my face.


5. A Quite Literal Cultural Shock

I was an exchange student in Paraguay. The first thing I noticed were the stray dogs everywhere. That was a little weird, but nothing to write home about. After being unable to resist the urge to pet one, I went back host family's house needing a shower to get the stray dog scent off me. I turned on the shower and the water temperature was fine. However, I wasn’t really liking the angle of the shower head so I reached up to try to adjust it. Little did I know that this would be a terrible - almost deadly mistake. BZZZZZZZ I get a shock of electricity like I've never felt before. Apparently they use electric water heaters that are right in the shower head.


4. Japan's Super Organized Rock Concerts

Rock concerts in Japan:

You have a number on your ticket and everyone queues according to that number. Yes, they manage a queue of hundreds of people in front of a venue according to the order in which they bought their ticket. It's fair, if you buy your ticket early you can get the chance for a better spot and you have a chance to buy limited merchandise that is usually sold out after minutes.

When the venue opens, they call out every number and as soon as yours is called out you can go in. They do that every time. They do that at small venues with 20 people waiting and they do that at festivals.

Another thing, even after 2 days of the festival, the venue is clean AS HECK. There is not one water bottle, not one wrapping paper or anything. I was at Summer Sonic, Fuji Rock and Osaka Met Rock... and it was clean everywhere.


3. Lost In Translation

Story time! I was at the shuk (open-air market) in Israel. This was my first visit, so I spoke very little Hebrew, and even less Arabic (only some swear words). And because I spoke so little of both, I couldn't easily tell the difference.

At one point, I had to pee, so my friend (who's 6'2" and 300 lbs.) and I stopped by the bathroom. The Arab guy outside the bathroom says "one shekel (approx. 25¢ U.S.)." I hand him a 20-shekel note, and he starts rummaging for change. I really couldn't hold it, so I went inside, expecting to get the balance on my way out. I come out, and put my hand out in the universal sign for "hand me my change." He starts speaking rapidly in what I thought was Hebrew, so I said in Hebrew "I don't understand." Then he starts yelling in what I now realize is probably Arabic. Then he starts raising his arms and flexing and I think, "holy shit, I'm about to get my butt kicked." And my friend is nowhere to be found. Then he says one of the few Arabic words I do understand, "sharmota," and I'm trying to get out of here; it's not worth getting stabbed over five bucks. Sensing my distress, an Israeli guy nearby starts translating into rapid Hebrew, which is no help. I'm walking away, these two guys are now following me, and finally I run into another guy in my group, who speaks Hebrew. So we have an angry-Arabic to rapid-Hebrew to English train of thought going, and I get "he says that he gave your change . . . to your big friend." OH! He wasn't threatening me. He was miming. Poorly. My friend and I walk away, the Israeli good samaritan goes on his merry way, but the Arab guy follows us around for a good 20 minutes, abandoning his post outside the bathroom, because I think he assumed we were going around telling everybody he was a cheat. Finally we ran into our Israeli counselor (he spoke Arabic as well), who told the guy to back off (it probably helped that at all times our counselors had rifles—unloaded—on their person, as a deterrent). Found my "big friend" later, gave him an earful for walking away with my money. Sharmota.

group-of-people-in-a-street-market-2276796-300x199.jpgPhoto by Krisztina Papp from Pexels

2. Around The World

Disclaimer: I have loved every country I’ve been to/have lived in and would return to them all ASAP if I could. I also traveled to most of these places with someone who had impaired walking at the time and needed accessibility, so I do have some biases.

England: People assuming I was stupid (mostly men in pubs). Drinking during lunch and returning to work. Drinking on the train (these were both pluses.) People commenting on how much I smile at strangers. The weird obsession with guessing what your ethnic background is. It felt like every person I talked to had a fantastic sense of humor but I might be biased. Pregnant women smoking and drinking in public.

Iceland: no cold medicine when I had a really bad cold. I got nose spray that did nothing. Eggs costing $6. Silence in stores. The number of white blonde people. (The only people of color we saw the entire trip were other tourists). Delicious, tender meat.

Germany: everyone standing waiting for the crossing signal even when no cars were coming because it was 1 am. And then the dirty looks I got when I went for it. Everyone smoking in playgrounds. Doner places on every corner.

Czech Republic: absolutely no regard for people with disabilities. Also lack of safety features with street construction. When I was in Prague a sidewalk was being dug up, all they had was a thin wooden board to reach the shops past the street. Nothing preventing anyone from falling into the 6-foot chasm on the side of the road. Watched a biker basically almost fall right in. Everyone had a coffee recommendation and 100% of them were delicious. Everyone wanting to help us with our Czech and forgiving us and our pathetic American tongues.

Austria: smoking in every single restaurant. Some not even having smoking sections, just straight up smoking. subway stations all had working elevators that were fast. Random strangers helping us avoid scammers without asking. More smoking in playgrounds, often around very small children.

I’m sure there are others but those are the ones I’ve specifically discussed with people when they’ve asked!

travel-agencies-featured-300x150.jpgPhoto by Capturing the human heart. on Unsplash

1. More Gaelic Than Gallic

Moving from Australia to Glasgow, Scotland, and seeing the way that Celtic and Rangers football fans deal with one another.

Then seeing that every other political and social issue is also boiled down to these two opposing factions (of course, there are some outlier people, however the people making up these two sects are a huge population of the city).

For example, when Scotland had the Referendum a few years back, and we were to vote on whether or not Scotland should leave the United Kingdom, everyone who supports Celtic (again, for the most part) was for Independence, and everyone who supports Ranger wished to remain part of the UK.

On the subject of the Royal family, and whether there should actually still be a Monarchy - every celtic supporter will tell you no. Whilst every Rangers supporter will say aye there should be.

Now, these two teams were originally associated with the top two Christianity movements - Celtic was Catholic and Rangers were Protestant - so you could see how perhaps supporters in the 19th and 20th centuries might have opposing views on more than football. However, these days, the majority of fans don't even really practise religion. Sure, they'll say they're a Catholic or a Protestant, and they maybe do identify as these, but they don't go to church, or follow any of the relevant religious guidelines. It's just been drummed into them by their father (usually) from an early age and they know that they belong to Group A, and Group B is the enemy, so being part of Group A means that they need to oppose Group B in every endeavour.

It's likely true that its not as bad today as it was for previous generations, but it was still a culture shock for me coming from Australia. I heard stories growing up from my father, but to actually see somebody get stabbed because they wear a particular sport's teams colour in the wrong neighbourhood is just insanity to me!

great-britain-1327884_1920-300x202.jpgImage by Eleonora Pavlovska from Pixabay