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15 of the Biggest Culture Shocks Travelers Have Ever Experienced

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Traveling is an exciting opportunity that everyone should get the chance to experience. It puts you outside of your comfort zone and pushes you to try new things.

It’s one thing to go to England or Germany, but quite another to go to places like India or China.

Here, 15 travelers share their stories of when they experienced major culture shock.

1. Time to eat!

“Visiting family in the Czech Republic around Christmastime. Went to use washroom and was utterly astounded to see a giant carp swimming around in their bathtub. Learned it is customary to eat fried carp on Christmas Eve.”

2. It’s all about the quality

“How much quality food there is at Japanese 7-11. Yes you heard me, QUALITY. Obviously here in the US you don’t trust gas station sushi or really any food that comes from them. Honestly a vagabond or tourist can easily survive eating only 7-11 food in Japan, since really it’s cheap and not as processed.”

3. Gross

“When I visited South America it was my first time experiencing that you throw your toilet paper in a trash bin next to the toilet specifically for that rather than flush it and mess up their sewage infrastructure

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

4. Boston!

“I went into an an ice cream shop in Boston that was staffed by an older lady, we’ll call er her OL, the exchange went like this:

OL: Hi how aw ya?

Me: I’m great, and you?

OL:<no answer>

Me: Do you have blueberry cheesecake ice cream?

OL: Do you see it on the board? If it’s not on the board then we don’t f*cking have it”

5. Different culture

“I grew up in a working class city where passive-aggression wasn’t a thing. If people didn’t like you they made it obvious. Shouting matches and fist-fights were pretty common. Then I get a job at a snooty ivy league university and nobody expresses what they actually think or feel, snide remarks replaced insults, people quietly conspire against you while pretending to be your friend, and you can’t call people out on their bullshit without getting socially shunned because everybody is neck deep swimming in it.”

6. Trash

“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 give a sh*t and will just throw their trash right on the ground… Even if there’s a trash can 10 ft away.

I was on a bus in Colombia and this lady was throwing trash out the window the whole 12 hr 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 stop the boat pull 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.

I also remember seeing people just chucking huge bags of trash right into the Amazon River…No sh*ts given.

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

7. Rules of the road

“Traffic in Vietnam. Crossing the street by walking slowly, letting the overloaded scooters drive around me, I got used to 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.”

8. Welcome to Japan

“First time in Japan, first interaction with anyone outside of the airport:

Get there early in the morning, LOOOONG flight and have a meeting in an hour. Need coffee asap. Go to 7-11 (awesome! they have that here!) before checking into hotel. Guy at the counter greets me. I’m looking around for the coffee. Guy runs around counter, eager to help me in any way. “Cofffee” 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. Get me all set up with a fresh coffee, runs back around counter. shows me the little tray to put my money in, helps me count my money. Runs back around counter, leads me to door, opens it for me and bows with traditional goodbye and arigatou gozaimasu.

WOW, welcome to Japan.”

9. Work experience

“Working in the public sector. I previously worked in hospitality as a restaurant manager. The change to go working into a 9-5 office job was extraordinarily tough. People were so awkward and shy, I used to greet every staff member with a handshake previously but now everyone in my office can’t make eye contact. Public Sector for me is the most ‘be careful what you say’ environment regarding absolutely anything even your plans for the weekend…”

10. Sexism

“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 die the company sends a card and money. If her own parents die they send nothing.

Women must serve tea and clean the office spaces.

Constantly being called “kawaii”, cute, beautiful, and “~chan” by male co-workers.

Etc.”

11. All grown up

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

12. People everywhere

“I spent 12 weeks backpacking in India. The most intense culture shock was when I returned to the US. 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 was 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.”

13. Can’t read

“When I went to Egypt, with everything written in Arabic script, I realized what it would be like to be completely illiterate.”

14. Freezing

“The lack of central heat in Japan was a rude wakeup call for me in my first Kansai winter.”

15. What do I say?

“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 ask how you are, you get embarrassed and don’t know how to answer.”