70 People Reveal The Biggest Culture Shock They’ve Ever Encountered


Bulk shopping, endless drive-thrus, and red solo cups are all part of the all-American lifestyle. But hey, in other parts of the world, none of those exist. Because a thing that’s totally normal somewhere is, in fact, very abnormal elsewhere. Just like birds flying indoors in New Zealand, or the Australian love for one of the world’s most controversial delicacies known as Vegemite.


So, when one Reddit user posted the question “What was your biggest culture shock?” on r/AskReddit, it seriously resonated with people who flooded the thread with 3499 comments. We picked the most interesting examples of the cultural cold showers that will surely make us think twice about the things we take for granted.


And after you’re done reading this one, be sure to check out our previous post on rumors-turned-facts that non-Americans didn’t believe actually existed in the US.


#1

I moved from Europe to USA. How Americans idolize their politicians. These are public servants, YOU PAY THEM! your taxes pay them, THEY WORK FOR YOU!

Image credits: zlta


#2

I'm Canadian, and I was working in New Zealand. Birds indoors. This may seem minor, but it was so weird to see. When I got off the plane in Auckland, there were birds flying around inside the airport.

#3

Grocery stores in the US, the amount of food getting wasted has to be insane. And then the reverse culture shock moving back to Europe; [come on] people, talking and being nice to strangers doesn't cost anything.

Image credits: ItsNotBinary


The term “culture shock" refers to the impact of moving from a familiar culture to an unfamiliar one, and is a common experience among exchange students, expats, and travelers.


Sometimes it comes with separation anxiety when parting with your country and the surroundings you know so very well creates a sense of loss. Many people who start living abroad experience heightened feelings of nostalgia and longing, similar to that when you break up with a loved one.


Many things can stir up culture shock, from food, dress, and weather to language, behavior, and cultural values. If you’re tired and under stress, even little differences can become truly nerve-wracking. But these inconveniences should not be confused with culture shock, which usually takes time to develop.


#4


The only thing that really shocked me in France was how casually people talked about taboo subjects. I mostly had a huge culture shock when I came back from France. Caused me to be pretty depressed for a year.


Image credits: Macbee1046


#5

Moving back to the USA I had reverse culture shock. How large our portions are, how fat we are, how high our standard of living is with such an incredibly low quality of life, the massive income inequality, the amount of homeless, the magnitude of our selfishness, how little we discuss art and science, and how we discuss things in a very competitive way so that there needs to be a winner or a loser in every discussion instead of finding common ground.

#6

When a large Maori man asked to touch noses with me in greeting. The dude looked pissed until I manned up and was the first to touch noses. Then he had one of the best smiles I've ever seen on a mountain of a man. It lit up the entire cultural center.

There are four main stages of culture shock that are known as honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. The honeymoon refers to an initial reaction which can be overwhelmingly positive. The journey may feel like the best decision of your life, but it usually doesn’t last long.


The second stage is frustration, which comes from not understanding the culture you've put yourself in. This is when homesickness and longing for home emerge, and sometimes these feelings can cause great anxiety, depression, and mood swings. So they should be taken seriously.


#7


Dutch here. When we went to Canada, everything was HUGE. Big cars on big roads, big streets and restaurants and malls. I remember driving for what seemed like hours through suburbs, and I just kept thinking, 'surely after the next turn we’re out of the city', but the city just seemed to be endless.


Image credits: yehboyjj


#8


Not mine but in college I had a roommate from Australia who was studying abroad in America. We went out to dinner one night and I got mozzarella sticks. He could not believe we just deep fried cheese and then ate it


Image credits: Sarnick18


#9

America has drive-thru everything! Drive-thru coffee, drive-thru ATM, drive-thru liquor store!

Image credits: ExampleOtherwise


The third stage is known as adjustment, and it’s a gradual step towards getting finally used to your new surroundings. This is when you start getting more comfortable with your new culture and everything feels a tiny bit easier.


The acceptance stage is the last one, but it takes months, and sometimes years, to come to. After initial cultural challenges, you get some peace of mind and can truly enjoy your new life abroad.


#10

I lived in Tokyo my whole life before this. First day going to college in the States, I went to the gas station to buy something. I had a lot of $100 bills with me because I didn't have a card yet. The cashier literally told me, 'You shouldn't carry that many bills around. If I saw you with that on the street, I would rob you.' I was like, 'OK, thanks for letting me know?' This was six years ago. In Japan, people normally carry/use cash for a lot of things.

#11

Witnessing PDA everywhere and frequently in France. I'm from a little conservative Asian country. Here couples rarely do it and when it happens it's just hand holding

Image credits: HitherFriendly


#12

I'm American and I had never left the country. When I traveled to Japan, I was seeing kids so often travel by themselves and leave their bags in places like at seats when they went to go order food, etc., without a worry of anyone stealing it. It was very surprising but also gave me a sense of safety I have never felt in the US.

#13

American here and I lived in the Netherlands for a bit. The first time I went to the doctor and he had actually read my entire chart beforehand.

Oh, and then the total for my visit was a few euro. That was a pretty big shock too.

#14

The sheer amount of nonchalant waste that Americans do took me off guard. They just... leave the faucet running or throw away food if it doesn't look perfect.

#15


Recently moved to the US (9 months ago), and I am still not used to everyone asking me how I am doing. I am from Norway, and if the cashier asked how you are, you'd get embarrassed and wouldn't know how to answer.


#16

The mid day siesta in Italy where everything is closed for 2 hours. The entire culture is so much different than America's, it was great

Image credits: matsklein


#17


Barefoot people EVERYWHERE in New Zealand. In Starbucks, in the mall, on public transit, walking down the street. No shoes, no socks, no [damns] to give.


Image credits: skyfelldown


#18

I know it sounds ridiculous, but my biggest culture shock is 'hugs and kisses.' I grew up in a family that doesn't show love through such means.

Image credits: Ok_Worldliness1818


#19

My cousin visited me from Nigeria and couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that we have entire stores here just for pets and pet products. In Nigeria most of the dogs are allowed to just run wild.

Image credits: SheepherderUseful241


#20

When I went to Dominican Republic, my family and I saw a guy literally go behind a bush, put his pants down and take a dump. One of the locals told us that this was a common thing there.

#21

How queueing works in China. I’m from the UK, where standing too close to someone or pushing in front of them is basically akin to criminal behaviour.

Image credits: glavet


#22


That nudity was such a big issue in the US coming from Europe. I undressed to get into my swim trunks, all a matter of a few seconds, in the changing room and everyone looked at me like I had just murdered a kitten.


#23

What is with American toilet stalls having the doors end like two feet away from the ground? Every time I took a [crap] I was half expecting to see someone poke their head under because of how much space there is

Image credits: trainer-yellow


#24

My dad was a US diplomat so we moved to a new country every three years or so. I had never lived in the states (born in Portugal) and 4 countries later when my dad decided to retire, we moved to the US (Maryland). Being in America was the biggest shock. From the “safeness” I felt, to the way people were. Yellow school busses. Everyone sort of being the same. It was a shock, among many other things.


I felt American my whole life living abroad, being associated with the American embassy, hanging out at the marine club houses. And when I moved to the US, I did not feel very American at all

#25

I spent a month living in Thailand when I was 15. The first hour broke me.


The trip there had taken an absurdly long time and long story short I had been awake for about 38 hours by that point. I did not have an ounce of mental fortitude, which I also did not know I would need.


We (group of us) met up with the families we were staying with, introductions, all that jazz. Nice folks. We decided to go home, get a nap (it was 7am local) and meet up for dinner. I say decided but that was the plan all along.


I got into the car in the backseat- no seatbelts. Okay, cool, that's different but whatever.


We pulled out onto the very busy road- on the left side. A bit of a surprise but hey, that's neat.


The city (Bangkok) was wildly different from any place I had ever been. But that was expected, it's the other side of the world, right?


Nearly there, we stopped at a stop light. There was an elephant standing beside me, 10 feet from my window.


That was it. That elephant broke me. It was too much. There were no elephants outside car windows anywhere I had been before. I closed my eyes and curled up into a ball until we arrived.


Lovely country. Wonderful people.

#26

People can marry whoever they like regardless of family, creed, religion. Like white people can just fall in love with another person and just marry them without any issue. I'm beyond amazed.

#27

When I was 20 I moved to Newcastle, Australia to study (Spoiler alert I didn't study. At all). But before I went there I was told that in Australia they spoke English (Spoiler alert they didn't. At all). Every single word is abbreviated, everything is different, everything has its own vernacular. Example:


Me, "Hey Shane, I'm going to McDonald's, you want me to get you a breakfast burrito?"


Shane, "Oi Maccas Fair Dinkum mate! Had to ruck up early for the physio and me ute was out of petrol so stopped at the servo and asked the Sheila if they had brekky but noooouaahho just lollies so ive been getting aggro"


Me:...


Dude, none of the sounds that just fell out of your head were words. Do you want a breakfast burrito or not?

#28

Just how late the Spanish eat dinner. Totally respect it, but I was hungry at 6pm and was shocked no restaurant was open to serve at that time.

#29

I grew up in a Southeast Asian country, and moving to a Western country, I realized the stark difference on parenting. It's much more individualistic in Western countries, rather than community-based.

#30

I'm from the Philippines and I've lived for at least a year in the USA and I was so shocked people in the US would... just greet and help strangers out if they needed help? Here in the Philippines if someone you didn’t know greeted you and talked to you out of nowhere, we’d be weirded out.

#31

I'm a black South African, in my culture a woman doesn't leave the house for about a month after she has a baby. This is to avoid things like infections, bad spirits and so forth for both mother and baby. Also for the first month she doesn't do housework and must focus on the baby so usually family members come to live with them to help out. I was shocked when my English friend's aunt was cleaning the house and going out to shop for groceries a week after she had the baby and she took the baby with her. Not to mention she allowed a stranger to touch the baby which is a big no no in my culture.

#32

Concerts in Japan: you have a number on your ticket and everyone queues according to that number. Yes, they manage to 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 merch that is usually sold out after minutes.

#33

Watching children in Mexico happily eating crickets like they were popcorn.

Also, 4 or 5 year old kids out at 10pm to sell gum.

#34

Holidaying in Tokyo and watching 5 year old kids walk themselves home from school and catching public transport...all by themselves.

#35

So I’m norwegian, but I went to New Zealand for a year. The culture shock for me was how open kiwis 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. Even bigger shock returning to silent Norway.

#36

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 bf.

#37

I am Thai, my collgueas are from Argentina and Spain. I eat lunch at 12.30hrs and they are shocked.


And the fact that for them lunch is at 16.00 is too crazy for me.

#38


Coming from Europe, the public transportation in USA is absolutely rubbish.


#39

I went to south Korea for a year when I was in the U.S. Army, and they refused to let us tip after a meal at any restaurant.

#40

Dropped my wallet in the subway in Japan... called the Lost and Found office several hours later and someone turned it in with all the money there. I was dumbfounded.

#41

So in Italy, being a server at a restaurant is a respectable carreer, and they are paid pretty well. It took me way longer than I would've liked to, to figure out why all the wait staff I came across was very grateful for my 15% tips...

#42

India was my biggest culture shock. Poverty and extreme riches next to each other.

#43

I live in the US and visited my friend in South Africa (his family is Indian). They had a maid but it really weirded me out when his dad randomly remarked "I could use some dessert" and my friend's brother's girlfriend immediately stood up, walked to the kitchen, and made a full dessert right then and there.

#44

That Americans don’t have electric kettles. Or that I need to say electric kettle because if I didn’t people would say they have stovetop kettles.


In the Commonwealth countries a kettle is just a standard item for the house. I don’t drink coffee or tea and still own a kettle. You can get that for like $10 and they’ll still be decent.

#45

That Europeans dont use ice as much as Americans, and some beers are supposed to be consumed warm

#46

Had a business trip to rural Alabama as a fresh college grad. I’m Canadian and had never left Canada at that point.


The blatant, overt racism I found there was absolutely shocking. This was like 20 years ago, no idea if things have changed since... I remember thinking that if I wasn’t white I would be in legit danger most of the time I was there. We took our client out to dinner and he asked the host to make sure we weren’t gonna be served by a black person, like it was a casual request no different from asking to sit by a window.

#47

Turkish person who lived in Germany for 5 years. Germany gives immense importance to order and being precise. If you follow the rules, you'll live in harmony. When I came back to Turkey, that wasn't the case. Everything was chaotic and you needed luck and acquaintices to survive.

#48

In California, we have squirrels everywhere. Running around, climbing trees, getting run over.


We went to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon, where literal IGUANAS serve the same role. I've always been into reptiles and that was really cool.

#49

I was messing with friends in Africa. Every time I told a joke, I'd get a response: 'kk.' I'm here thinking I'm not funny for literal months. Then one time, one of them says, 'Kk. You're so funny!' I ask them what 'kk' means, and they say it's 'laughing.'

#50

At 21 I encountered people who took the bible as a history book. Including the creation in six days.


Blew my mind.


I was raised a catholic and we always were told that the bible contained moral stories, passed over through time.

#51

Drinking alcohol during lunch in the UK.

#52

When I went to Germany and they all called their local German shepherd dogs shepherds. Just shepherds. As if the fact that they came from Germany meant diddly-squat to them!

#53

Having no trash cans in Japan. Because of the sarin gas attack, they pretty much don’t have any trash cans. I felt so awkward asking store owners to take my trash. And no, I didn’t thrust it upon them. I asked where a trashcan was and they offered to take it. That was weird.

#54

India, when visiting a family on a business trip the head of the household interrogated me at length on why my parents hadn’t found a mate for my then-28-year-old self.


I’m gay. It was very awkward.

#55

Drink sizes in Korea. I went to McDonald's or some other American fast food restaurant and order a meal with the regular medium drink size and out comes an American small cup. Cursed the small drink sizes as I would finish my drink before the food. Canned sodas at convenience stores were also smaller. Felt like I was getting ripped off.

#56

Friend in China nonchalantly put some brains on my plate to share. I don’t remember which animal. But this was not unusual for him. They eat organs often.

#57

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.

#58

It's probably a stupid thing but being from Australia and visiting Europe I was shocked that to use public toilets you have to pay. I'd agree with it in principle that it helps with upkeep, cleaning etc however almost every one we used were filthy and definitely not looked after. Even worse I found were the ones with the old women sitting at the entrance who'd yell at you if you couldn't find enough coins to appease her.

#59

When I was six we moved to America for a year so every morning we head to do the pledge of alliance and because I was from Germany I had no idea what it was so I acted like I knew what I was doing

#60

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.

#61

As someone who has lived in the Philippines for most of his life, I am considered quite chubby or overweight here. When I travelled to the USA a few years ago to study, I was shocked when people over there looked at me and said I was quite fit. Huge culture shock in terms of body image, and an even bigger culture shock at the portions of food in the USA.

#62

I moved to Canada from South Africa for 2 years and its amazing how much cheaper stuff like vehicles and electronics is without the endless amount of taxes and inflation South Africa has. I can buy a good car for 10k in dollars in Canada, but if you convert that to South Africa you are getting a rusty old ford ranger with more than 400k km on it.

#63

How big people from Europe are, especially Dutch and Danes, I remember growing up with the 'big bad Americans' belief

#64

When my mother moved to America from South Africa, she asked the taxi driver taking her to where she way staying what information he had about the area. She tells me that she'll always remember how he pointed out an area and said it was the poorest in the city, super dangerous. It made her realize that America has a very different perception of poverty than SA. Here, the poor have 4 solid walls, HVAC, and probably phones. In SA, the poor have small sheet metal sheds, no water, no plumbing, no internet, and no electricity.

#65

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.


So when you’re at someone’s house, you have to eat whatever they give you, and 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 will still act insulted. It’s all part of the show.

#66

I'm a fairly simple man. But when I ordered some French fries in Germany, and the guy drowned them in mayonnaise before serving them to me, it changed my world.

#67

Grandmother visiting the states for the first time from Guatemala, she nicely folded up her used toilet paper and put it in the trash can next to the toilet. Had to explain to her she can flush it, never asked why she would have done that.

#68

In China, lanes and traffic lights don't matter to taxi and bus drivers.

#69

I'm from the south and when I went up north and someone said "pop" rather than soda, my brain had a small error message.

#70

I was in an airport in Europe and saw two guys walking around with huge automatic weapons and I seriously thought we were all gonna die...


Turned out they were military security.