People Share The Harshest Culture Shock Experiences They've Ever Had
We find our comfort zone where things are familiar and predictable. Placed outside of our environment, things can be a bit unsettling.
Reddit user stobzeeey asked "What's the biggest culture shock you ever experienced?"
Whether at home or abroad, here are the experiences people shared.
Stiff Upper Lip
Came to NYC and located a good British chippy in lower Manhattan. Bought sausage chips and gravy, would be about 3-4 quid back home.
The British guy behind the till managed to keep a straight face as he charged me $20.
When I was a little kid in New York my elementary school took an overnight field trip to Washington D.C. As we were waiting in traffic to enter the White House there was a burn barrel across the street with several homeless people huddled around it. RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET.
I was about 9 and this was the late 1980's. I lived on Long Island. I had seen homeless on trips into the city but it was the juxtaposition of the poverty contrasted by the White House that was such a culture shock to me.
I set up a nice candle lit dinner at home for my girlfriend once. In the middle of dinner she drops that candles remind her of her extremely poor family who had to ration their candles into minutes and they had to multitask to conserve light. You had to do your homework all at the same time 'cuz the candles only lasted so long.
Still tears me up.
I am Thai, my colleagues 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 (4pm) is too crazy for me.
Not sure if it counts as a shock as much as a slow realisation because I've been going there all my life, but once I got to 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.
Reminds me of the photograph "An American Girl in Italy" by Ruth Orkin (1951), depicting a young woman walking the streets of Florence getting leered at by every guy on the street.
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.
Every Little Bit Helps
When I was a kid one of my mother's friends was a woman from a very tough background who had left her husband because he used to hit her and her children. She had three kids and was living in a two-bedroom council flat in a tough part of Glasgow. My mum met her because they were both doing part-time university degrees as mature students. She was studying to get a teaching qualification.
I became friends with one of this woman's kids when I was about 6 or 7. I'd go over to his house for the night sometimes and we'd generally wander around the local neighbourhood just doing what kids do. He always carried a rucksack and was always on the lookout for empty glass soda/alcohol bottles. If he saw one, he'd grab it and stick it in the rucksack. After a while I started bringing a rucksack along when I visited so we could double up on glass-bottle-carrying-capacity.
The reason he did this was that, in Glasgow back then, a sort of proto-recycling scheme meant that every one of those bottles was redeemable for 5p at any shop that sold them. They'd collect them, give out 5p per bottle, send them off to be recycled, and be reimbursed for their time by the local government.
We'd collect a bunch of these then, when we went back to the flat in the afternoon, my friend would proudly hand over a few quid in coins to his mother. He used to do this constantly and it meant - this being the 1980s - a decent little earner to help pay for a bit of the household expenses and so on.
I came from a family with a detached house in the suburbs that had two cars, two parents, two nice holidays a year, and no real worries when it came to money. Not rich, just lucky to be standard middle class. Meanwhile this woman was raising 3 children by herself while studying to become a teacher, in a tiny little damp flat in a bad part of town. She never asked her son to do what he did, he just took it upon himself aged 7 or whatever to go out and do it. It took me a while to understand what was happening but, once I did, I can honestly say it was one of the defining events of my life.
Sunday Drivers 7 Days a Week
I'm from NJ and now live in North Dakota.
First of all, it seems like everyone who lives here is out for a Sunday afternoon drive when they are on the road. If you're going the speed limit, fine, but when you have NO sense of urgency and I have to go to work, you bet your ass I'll honk at you when you haven't moved from the green light in 5 seconds.
Which brings me to honking. I probably honk once every 30 mins worth of driving. I know that's probably too much but that's how I learned to drive. The people here look like I murdered their grandmother right before their eyes when I honk.
Also, I find it insane there are 14 y/o kids driving on the road here. Simply terrifying.
Going to the USA. NYC taxis will blare their horns at f'ing anything. Pedestrian still on the crosswalk 2 seconds after the light goes green? Honk. Car in front of you gently brakes? Honk. Bird in the road? Honk. Bee in the car? Honk. The streetlights turn on? Honk.
They're super aggressive drivers.
Holidaying in Tokyo and watching 5 year old kids walk themselves home from school and catching public transport...all by themselves.
Behind the Iron Curtain
I was in Prague in 1984. There was only Pepsi. Beer was like 5 cents a liter at the official exchange rate and basically free if you traded currency in the alley. Would walk down almost empty streets and a window would open up in a building. Everyone got in line, so I did too. Sometimes you got a slice of pizza, sometimes an ice cream, sometimes toilet paper. My bags got searched whenever I left the hotel. Went to a department store that had pretty much nothing but one kind of dress and a slew of tires. Two kinds of car, almost all in black, with little identifying flags/stickers so that you could tell which was yours. Went to a workers cafe' on Wenceslas Square and ate whatever was being served at steel stand-up tables for like 12 cents. Otherworldly back then...
Watching children in Mexico happily eating crickets like they were popcorn.
World Health Organization thinks insects can be a major source of solving world wide hunger crises. It makes sense to be fair, they have no bones, need little prep (apparently roasting locusts and adding honey is amazing?), and breed based on degree days. So they grow quickly, a lot, and potentially year round. I had a French friend who told me chocolate covered ants are a tasty treat, I was never sure how serious they were.
Cola Cold Wars
I moved to Poland in 1989 (as communism was failing) for six months.
Coke was sold on one side of the city and Pepsi had the other side. 95% of the cars were two models, all painted in the exact same colors for the past 40 years. None of the buildings were painted. You could get anywhere on public transportation, for almost free (bus ticket was $0.0001 each). Not one McDonalds or franchise store in the whole country. Almost every basic commodity like soap, cheese there was only one choice.
I literally felt like I had entered the twilight zone.. best trip ever.
Coming back from serving in the military, and listening to people in line complain about how their fancy coffee was prepared. Suffering from PTSD and had the culture shock of people being bent out of shape over the temp of a latte.
Small town Oklahoma as a black man by myself. I was in a bar and was actually told "you know, you just changed my opinion about black people". It was by an older white guy who hadn't seen a black person in person since Vietnam.
Home Sweet Home
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. 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.
25 year old kid met a gay person for the first time and he said 'I didn't know gay people are like normal people'.
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.
"Through the exchange of this greeting, one is no longer considered Manuhiri, a visitor, but rather Tangata whenua, one of the people of the land. For the remainder of the stay, one is obliged to share in all the duties and responsibilities of the home people. In earlier times, that may have meant bearing arms in times of war or tending crops, such as kumara."
I grew up in a relatively poor neighborhood. Lotta rough stuff going on there. I was pretty sure I'd seen it all.
In middle school I made friends with a kid that lived in the trailer park across town. The trailer park kids are a whole different type of poor. I remember the kid I was friends with as soon as I got there goes "let's go to the creek, Darius got his fishing pole back."
Ok... whatever that means.
So we go down to the creek and there's this kid Darius and he's fishing in a creek and there's about 12 kids standing around watching him. Every so often he's catching a fish and handing it to one of the kids and the kid is taking the fish and running off giddy as heck.
He finally catches one and hands it to my friend, he and I skip off back to his trailer. My friend takes the fish... as is... puts it in the microwave, and then when the microwave beeps he takes it out and starts eating it with a fork.
I almost vomited.
Rock 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.
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 festival, the venue is clean AF. 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.
I was at a Tricot concert in Osaka. I was really far back, behind a guard rail. A girl next to me went to the toilet after the first supporting act finished. She left her towel and her smartphone behind and nobody dared to take her spot. 10 minutes later she was back. She was alone there.