Americans Recount Their Experiences Of Culture Shock Abroad

Kasia Mikolajczak
travel accessories against a map
Unsplash | Annie Spratt

Guys, who's getting the travel bug, huh? I know it's been a while for many of us, but now that things are starting to get back to normal, travel plans are back. So if you're looking to visit a new country you've never been to before, listen up.

A recent Reddit thread asked users, "What is the thing that surprised you the most when you traveled to a country you had never been to before?" and I bet you're eager to hear some interesting stories. I am too, so let's go.

This Reassuring Fact

Unsplash | Hamed Taha

"I lived in South Korea for about 3 years. You'd be amazed how long you could leave your phone/wallet/keys on an unattended table in a crowded bar and it not be stolen. In the US, you bet your sweet ass it's getting taken as soon as you look away."

Wow, that's nice.

And This One Too

man playing a piano in a park
Unsplash | Josh Appel

"When I was in Montreal, I stayed near a small park, and there was a piano right in the middle of it — just sitting there for anyone to play. My companion and I agreed that the instrument wouldn't last five minutes back home in Baltimore. I was quite impressed by Canadians and their apparent lack of criminality."

Oh, yeah. I've seen pianos in places like that, and nobody tried to steal any of them. We Canadians are polite like that.

This Driving Lesson

Woman saying "Please. No traffic."
Giphy | The Hills

"That it's possible to weave through Cairo traffic with the skill of a seasoned rally driver, while driving a manual transmission car, frequently using the horn and sipping tea (by holding the saucer, not the cup) at the same time. Shout out to our taxi driver in Cairo."

Oh my goodness, ha, ha!

This Scene In Argentina

Argentinian flag
Unsplash | Angelica Reyes

"Everyone always carries a Mate cup and Thermos in Argentina. Even Cops drive around drinking from their little cups with the metal straws. It is totally normal, that you can buy a matching cup and flask with your handbag/dress etc."

My only question is, why?

This Natural Phenomenon

Unsplash | Jonathan Borba

"From a tropical country near the equator, I was surprised to know that the sun would set completely before 4 pm during winter or having the sun still up at 10 pm during summer."

Oh, that must be so nice in the summer. I love that.

This Eye Contact

woman's eyes
Unsplash | Ismail Hadine

"The amount of eye contact and observation. When I went to Morocco, in the evening the streets would be packed full of families sitting and talking. These people would watch each other, in fact, even the way I’m describing it with ‘watch’ shows how unwelcome and uncomfortable it would be in England. People would also make eye contact and keep it frequently on the street, just with ease. It felt so strange for me at first."

Hmm, I wonder how I would feel about that.

This Strange Behavior

woman taking a picture with a camera
Unsplash | Christian Wiediger

"In Prague, when you open a camera in the street, it's like a force field! People automatically move aside to not stand in the way."

What? That would be so nice, right? Over here, nobody gives a crap. And some people are so oblivious they move into your shot and just stand there until you point it out. It's so annoying.

This Sense Of Security

street at night
Unsplash | Ciaran O'Brien

"The incredible security in Seoul. I'm from Latin America, so I'm used to being very alert at everything, everywhere. I forgot my backpack in a small cafeteria and after 25 minutes it was completely untouched in the same spot. You could walk at 3 a.m. with your cellphone in your hands and there'll be no fear about anything."

I have to admit I'm pleasantly surprised by that.

This Sidewalk Idea

cat on icy street

"Heated sidewalks in Finland! Absolutely lifesavers for me who had no idea how to walk on ice."

OMG, what? Why don't we have that in Canada? I mean, seriously. Lately, when it's icy here, I literally don't even leave my house. Come on! Let's bring this technology to Canada, stat!

This Patient Nation

people waiting in line
Pexels | Pexels

"When I was in Sweden, I was surprised by how patient most people were. No one honked while stuck in traffic, and when people wait in line, they give one another plenty of space, never breathing down your neck. My country only learned that behavior due to COVID!"

I guess it's true what they say that "patience is a virtue," eh?

This Fact Of Life

Egyptian Sphynx
Unsplash | Adrian Dascal

"In Egypt, Cairo, there are times when the electricity goes out every hour. Also, there’s KFC in front of the Sphinx."

Wow, I didn't know about the electricity issue in Cairo, but I can't say I'm surprised about the location of KFC though. Isn't there anything sacred anymore? Come on!

This Annual Tradition

woman pigging out
Giphy | Laff

"I moved to Denmark a couple of years ago and the biggest culture shock for me was Julefrokost. Julefrokost translates to "Christmas lunch" which sounds like a nice, wholesome lunch to celebrate the holidays. The first time I went to one, my husband warned me not to eat anything beforehand because there is a lot of food. I didn't think much of it, I mean we have Thanksgiving in the U.S. so I just assumed it was a big lunch. No. We have nothing like this in the U.S. Julefrokost is on an entirely different level. What it really is, is sitting down at about noon, and not getting up from your seat again until midnight or later. The food never stops coming."

Holy moly!

This Life In London

London's Westminster Station sign near Big Ben
Pexels | Pexels

"London streets having HUGE differences from block to block. Like, my daughter moved there and so we spent a weekend helping her apartment/roommate hunt, and so ended up walking around London a lot. We'd be in some beautiful living area with little dog parks and nice playgrounds, round a corner, and hit what was obviously 'buy all the drugs' street. Walk a bit more and you're in a business area with super clean streets and well-manicured grass areas. Hit the next street and get ready for the smell of piss and beer."

This is another shocker here for me.

This Neat Freak Heaven

Merlion, Singapore
Pexels | Pexels

"Singapore is unbelievably clean! As soon as I stepped out of the plane, I swear I did not see a single speck of dust at their airport, even the toilets were squeaky clean and completely dry. Every day I go out to explore the city by foot and come back to the hotel with almost no dirt on the soles of my shoes."

How amazing is that?

This Italian Life

People walking on the street in Italy
Pexels | Pexels

"A few years ago we went to Italy and I made my wife go on a side trip to Herculaneum and Pompeii for a couple of days. In Herculaneum, we were wandering around in town when 5:00 p.m. rolled around, and within 15 minutes the streets were filled with people, not hurrying past one another, but just standing around talking, having ice cream, drinking a beer or whatever."

Ah, I can't wait to go back to Italy.

This German Hospitality

people cheering with beer glasses
Giphy | Two Lane Brewing

"Probably in Germany when I bought a beer in a convenience store and they offered to open it for me so I could enjoy it on my walk."

Ha, ha, imagine that? I don't think we can get away with that here in North America. What do you think of that idea?

This Biker's Dream

multi-level bike parking lot
reddit | Reddit | u/Alaska_McDumbledor

"Amsterdam. Knew they biked, but didn’t expect multi-level bike parking lots every mile... I loved it there."

I have to admit I never noticed that when I visited Amsterdam, but that was over 15 years ago, so perhaps things have changed since then.

This Experience In India

Man cooking food in the street in India
Pexels | Pexels

"For me, it was my first breath off the plane in Mumbai, India. It felt like the heaviest breath I've ever taken. The air was humid, hot, and dense. Before this, I'd never really been conscious of my breathing, and it took me a while to get used to it."

Wow, that must've been quite the shock to the system, huh?

Wasn't this such a great culture lesson?

different cities as seen through glasses

I love reading everyone's travel stories. For a moment there, I felt like I was there with them. How about you? Did you feel the same? This is what I find so fascinating about going somewhere you have never been. You never know what you will end up experiencing. Am I right? Have you ever encountered culture shock while traveling?