Traveling is always an exhilarating experience. You learn about new cultures, interact with people who have no idea what you’re talking about, etc.
I like to hear people talk about their travels and learn about how extremely different things are outside of the U.S. A friend of mine told me about his trip to India, and I was blown away – and I was just listening. Take a look at these 21 stories from AskReddit users about their culture shock while traveling abroad.
I went from a dry country (Australia) to Ohio and found that everything is green. If you need water, you just dig a hole in the ground.
2. Kinda gross, but okay
Barefoot people EVERYWHERE in New Zealand. In Starbucks, in the mall, on public transit, walking down the street. No shoes, no socks.
I went to Greece this past January, and we went into this little t-shirt shop. The lady asked where we were from and we said Chicago. She then goes “I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago, I love black people!”
Had no idea how to respond to that.
Truck playing music while driving down streets of Taipei. I commented that it might be an ice cream truck. My host looked at me funny and replied “that’s the garbage truck. If we want ice cream, we go to the 7 Eleven store”.
I live in the Netherlands. Water is all around me. From the sea, to the canals, to waterways dividing the fields between different farms. The first time I visited Iowa and drove around there it took me a couple of days to realise there wasn’t any water between the fields and acres. Sure, there’s a river and what not, but essentially it’s just endless actual ground. It made me feel uneasy for a couple of minutes.
I live in the English countryside so I’m used to seeing lots of green (fields, parks, forests) no matter where I am. I don’t travel much so I’m pretty much always surrounded by nature.
When we got to Berlin it just felt weird to see grey and brown buildings or construction sites.
7. Lost in Russia
I moved from the US to Moscow. The first two weeks were an absolute nightmare since Moscow is about 18x larger than my home city. My favorite culture shock experience is on my 2nd day getting lost in the train system for hours. The train system as amazing and efficient as it is, you can get lost for days if you don’t know it.
8. Hello, stranger!
Ok so in Norway (where I’m from), social anxiety is integrated in our culture. We don’t talk to strangers unless we have to, we’re never unnecessarily polite, even the people working in stores won’t talk to you unless you ask for it/look lost.
So when I came to New York and the people working in stores asked me how I was, I was completely floored. Not only did they talk to me the second I came in the door, they actually asked me how I felt? I got so freaked out I ended up avoiding stores altogether until I built up the courage (took me like three days). Even then, going into a store was super stressful to me and I almost always ended up blushing and stuttering instead of saying “fine thanks, how are you” (to which they just didn’t reply). So weird.
9. “Becoming invisible”
Going to Egypt and becoming invisible. I read the government websites, knew how to dress respectfully/ be safe and that I could expect a certain amount of verbal harassment for being a western woman. What didn’t occur to me was that I would only exist in conversation for as long as it took local men to say hello, after which they only spoke to my (male) partner. Even if they asked a question that I could answer and he couldn’t, I was still ignored.
10. “I was gonna love America”
Back when me and my family flew to America (my first time), we landed in Houston to switch planes and went to a fast-food diner in the airport.
I ordered a milkshake and not only was it served in a cup that was like twice my size, they also gave me the shaker in which it was made so no ice-cream is left behind.
At that moment I was assured I was gonna love America.
11. Deep in the heart of Texas
Texas is the only place in the US I’ve visited and this happened to me too. Everything is so oversized! We went to Sonic and got a Medium sized drink and it was HUGE. Next time I ordered a Small one and it was still bigger than I expected. Spent a single weekend there and gained like 3kg.
12. Chinese Toilets
The Chinese toilets that are just holes in the ground. It is even worse in the countryside, where there are no walls and you just don’t look at each other when squatting, and everything falls in this smelly ditch underneath where you can actually see all the poop.
13. “A terrifying experience”
Went to Shanghai for 10 days (with my Shanghai-born wife), went out of the city one day, her uncle said that “these will be the best toilets for a while,” at a gas station…so I thought I’d better give it a go. It was an unattached building, no ventilation except some gaps around the ceiling. Walk in and you can literally taste the poop baking in the sun. Flies. I attempted to pop a squat over cleanest trough (one that had the least amount of stuff in and around it). Couldn’t do it.
Got to a nearby town where there was a public restroom. The handicap stall had a western toilet, but no toilet seat on top (and it’s design wasn’t to accommodate no toilet seat, it was just as if you went to sit on a normal toilet without a seat). I wiped the seat with toilet paper and tried to hover but couldn’t really do that, ended up just sitting on it. Luckily this toilet seemed to have been used infrequently since the locals used the troughs in the other stalls.
For a guy with poop anxiety and possibly undiagnosed IBS, and eating a lot of food and a lot of food I’m not used to processing, this was a terrifying experience.
14. Japanese salespeople
I’m currently living in Japan, originally from the U.S.
The store employees. I knew that they’re known for being very polite and following specific, set codes of conduct, but honestly I was so shocked at first. When I arrived I had to wait in the airport mall for my bus, and I just sat there for over an hour watching them.
One saleslady was passing out food samples. She stood outside the store and called out a scripted sales pitch, gestured, smiled, and bowed. Exactly the same words. Exactly the same intonation. Exactly the same pattern of gesture, smile, bow. Over and over and over. It was like watching a robot. Even her eye movements and the way she moved were very stiff and machine-like. People completely ignored her, making it seem even more like she was just an object. Eventually I went over to get a sample from her and she was quite nice and talkative, just a regular lady doing her job, but until she snapped out of the “saleslady script” it was almost terrifying.
Not all salespeople are so extreme but they do follow specific, set scripts and they basically expect customers to either completely ignore them or give short, almost curt-sounding replies. When I spoke to them using polite-level speech, bowed back, etc. they would get pretty upset. They started using extremely polite speech and bowing really low, like they were horrified that I wasn’t “talking down to them.” Eventually I figured out that it was actually rude of me to be too polite (or at least my idea of “polite.”) It was embarrassing to them. It really drove home to me that sometimes your gut reaction of what’s “the right thing to do” can be completely wrong.
In many places in Korea, the plumbing can’t handle toilet paper. So they wad it up and throw it in a waste basket. The smell was overwhelming in some areas.
Traveling outside of Indiana and being able to buy cold beer from a grocery store on a Sunday.
17. That’s polite
In Norway people actually stop for you at crosswalks, even without lights.
Living in a country where a woman (me) driving a car or riding a motorcycle was a complete and utter novelty.
Went to Egypt last summer. We had hired a personal tour guide because there was no way we would be walking around by ourselves in Egypt. The service came with an Egyptian government security guard to protect us, and at one point my mother asked our tour guide (not the guard) what he thought of the government right then, and he said it was great. Later when the guard was getting us into a site, the tour guide told my mom not to ask questions like that in front of the guard because he (the tour guide) could be punished for talking negatively about the government. Really scared me.
Being treated like a minor celebrity for being white in some parts of Asia, having random strangers come up to me to tell me that I am “so handsome” (both men and women), having nearly everyone I interact with try to set me up with their daughters/friends/themselves.
On my first day in Tokyo:
- Spending an entire train journey with two small girls (probably 4 or 5 years old) staring at me inches from my face like they had never seen a white guy before. The mother looked terribly embarrassed but didn’t try to stop them.
- Queuing up in a shop and being asked to stand in a different line where there was a white guy that spoke English at the counter for that line.
- Discovering that Japanese pavements get dangerously slippery when it’s been raining because of how clean the pavements are – There’s no friction at all.
- Going into a trendy cafe in Shibuya that was blasting out incredibly vulgar gangster rap music during the middle of the day. The lyrics were in English, so I guess that the owners of the cafe didn’t know how inappropriate it was.