World Travelers Share The Things That Shocked Them Most About Other Countries

World Travelers Share The Things That Shocked Them Most About Other Countries

In a way, culture shock is the whole reason we travel. If you flew 3,000 miles only to find that everyone and everything was exactly the same as it was back home, you would be sorely disappointed. But sometimes the shock is so, well, shocking that it takes you a while to adjust. And sometimes the differences are so complete that you can never truly wrap your head around them.

These world travelers recently went online to share the things that shocked them most about other countries. Enjoy!

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30. Discovering Yourself

I took a picture of an older indigenous man while in Nicaragua. When I showed him the picture on the LCD, he began to cry.

Puzzled, I asked the translator why he was crying.

Her response? "He's never seen himself before."

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29. It's So Relaxed There

Went to Italy in 2011 and had no idea that some people just took an hour or two off of work in the afternoon. It dawned on me that those people were living the life.

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28. Surprisingly A Lot In Common

I thought moving from Glasgow to Miami would be it, but everyone here's angry, nobody speaks much English and the Cubans love deep fried everything and tons of sugar, so outside of the weather there's not much difference.

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27. Lost In Translation

I was pretty shocked at not being allowed in Japanese bars because I am white.

I once walked to a semi-classy bar in Nagoya. The place was completely empty so I asked the waiter for a seat at a table.

Without batting an eye he replies: 恐れ入りますが只今、満席になっております

That is, "Sorry, but all our seats are full at the moment."

Also, there usually is a reception desk or information counter in pretty much any building in Tokyo.

Several times I've walked up to information with my girlfriend to ask how to get to Shoe Palace or wherever:

シューパラスという靴屋はどちらの方向ですか? ("Which way is it to Shoe Palace?")

Invariably they will avoid all eye contact with me and answer directly to my girlfriend who has been completely silent the whole time but has the virtue of being Japanese.

Sigh. It's not 差別 it's 区別 they always claim: It's not discrimination; it's discerning differences.

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26. Anything To Help

I was backpacking through Portugal with a friend. I think we were somewhere near Coimbra -- I could be wrong, this was about twenty years ago--at the time and it had been a good long while between showers.

So, we were on a bus fairly late at night with a random hostel plucked from a guide book as our goal but we had no real idea how to get there. I tried to make myself understood to an elderly lady sitting near us, but she didn't speak any English, and my pronunciation of the very little Portuguese I could speak was so bad that both she and I knew immediately that the situation was hopeless. I showed her the scrap of directions I had copied (in English), but she shook her head. She showed her gentleman companion and another elderly couple nearby the scrap: no luck.

Pretty soon, however, most of the passengers were trying to help us, and eventually the note made its way to the driver. The driver pulled the bus over and gave us what I assumed were instructions but of course we couldn't understand. He proceeded to park the bus, and then he took us by foot to our destination, maybe five minutes away.

Summary: random non-English speakers gathered together to help two stinky self-absorbed Americans who hadn't bothered to learn enough Portuguese to get around competently. A bus with passengers was temporarily abandoned late at night so that the driver could guide two strangers to a somewhat sketchy location.

We were humbled for quite a long time.

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25. A Stranger's Just A Friend You Haven't Met

I went to Tanzania alone for a couple months to do research. People on the street would just strike up conversations. It took me a few awkward interactions to realize that if someone you just meets says "we should do something," or "you should come visit my house," these aren't empty words, and agreeing means you're probably going right now. I didn't know a soul when I arrived, and by the time I left, I couldn't walk across town (Arusha, a relatively large city) without stopping to chat with a dozen friends.

Also, complete strangers can ask your marital status within ten seconds of meeting you.

I went into it figuring I'll never get another chance, so if I got invited to do something or eat something, I did it. I ended up at a Maasai cattle market where several Maasai men tried to get me to trade my pocket knife for a cattle stick, I ate roast goat with my hands (amazing!), sugar cane (amazing!) and unwashed cow stomach (not my thing!).

Best of all, I was invited to people's homes to learn how to cook chapati and pumpkin leaves and stew. I was invited to meet people's families and children, to drink tea and eat cold yams. If someone invited me to hold a chicken, I held the chicken. I was invited to visit a teacher's class, so I spent a day at the school. If someone wanted to pose for me, I took their picture (but never without being invited). If the bar owner invited me to have a drink, I had a drink. The only thing I turned down was marriage proposals.

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24. Icelandic Warmth

When partying in Reykjavik in a ground-level apartment, the police came around midnight and told us to be quiet. Being a tourist I was so scared we would end up in some sort of ice dungeon (or whatever they do for jail) until the cop politely suggested we take a couple of beverages for the road and head to the bar.

They proceeded to joke around with us and offered some directions to their favorite watering holes.

Coming from a city where I've had a boot on the back of my neck for way less than a noise complaint, I was truly in shock.

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23. Size Matters

Everything really is bigger in America. At Walmart, I saw the largest pack of M&Ms I've ever seen in my life and it said "medium" on it.

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22. America Is A Very Diverse Place...

My biggest culture shock was when I went on holiday with my girlfriend (I'm a woman too) from London to rural Georgia in the U.S. to stay with friends I had met at school here in the UK.

The family we were staying with gently suggested it may be better to pretend we weren't dating as locals "aren't great with the whole 'same-sex' thing."

A waitress showed me a picture of Jesus and told me he was her boyfriend.

On Sunday literally every person I met asked me what church I belonged to and seemed scandalized when I said I didn't. Some also quite rudely demanded to know why I hadn't gone to church that morning.

Someone asked if African-American people were allowed at my university.

It just went on like that.

I've been to a fair few countries that could be considered the stuff of 'culture shock' to Westeners, but I can honestly say I've never encountered anything as alarming as that holiday.

I've been to America a few times since and most places aren't like that at all. But the realization that some states really are "like that" was shocking to me.

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21. Stateless Persons

I was talking to a cab driver in Dubai (UAE). He said he was born and raised in Dubai but he wasn't a citizen; he had to get a new visa every time his expired. I was shocked that you can be born in a country and not be a citizen. I found that this was the case for a lot of the cab drivers. Just seems insane to me.

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20. Home Is Away

I'm a second generation Asian-American, so some people still think of me as a foreigner in the U.S.

When I went to Asia to visit family, I realized that no matter where I go in life I will always be treated as a foreigner.

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19. Can You Spare A Square?

I moved to China last month so I’m still knee-deep in the culture shock process.

These are the most difficult things to get used to:

Everything involving going to the bathroom.

The first thing you notice are the toilets, which are not western toilets but squatty potties.

Okay fine, you get used to that. After dropping a deuce, you need to use toilet paper. This is when you realize that public restrooms don’t carry toilet paper for you to use, you should’ve brought your own. Now you have to beg a stranger to give you some tissue to use.

Okay, now that you’ve got that whole debacle out of the way, you also have to get accustomed to not flushing your toilet paper. That’s right, there’s a little receptacle next to the toilet for you to put your used toilet paper in.


I eat out nearly every day and rarely spend more than $3. It’s amazing. Other than at sit-down restaurants, you only spend more than $4 on a meal if you get American fast food i.e. KFC, Burger King.

The smoke/smog!

Smoke is ubiquitous. Everywhere you go there are people doing it.

It’s ironic after the last one, but air masks.

The smog is pretty bad on some days in Shanghai, so some people try hard to wreck their lungs (see point 3) while some are extremely concerned about preserving theirs.

The efficiency.

There are 25 million people who live in Shanghai alone, so thank goodness the government has done a good job with public transportation. The city is larger than the size of the state of Delaware in area but it rarely costs more than $1 USD to travel anywhere on the subway. However, the metro can get pretty crazy at times.

The sheer size of China.

I’m from America, so I should be accustomed to it, but I’m taking a trip to do some hiking later and it’s a 24 hour train ride! It’s ridiculous. And want to know the crazy part? The standing tickets are sold out. That’s because it is the Chinese New Year and it’s the biggest mass migration event in history, every single year, because people all go home to their families.

Lance C. Anderson

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18. Thanks, Gov'nah!

Moved from Romania to the UK, and while I was familiar with British culture and had no problem integrating, I was really shocked when people were thanking the bus driver when getting off at their stop. Soon enough I started doing the same and once I moved back to Romania and kept doing that people gave me the oddest looks.

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17. Nothing But Extremes

I had the greatest culture shock of my life as a Canadian visiting Rio De Janeiro. Don't get me wrong, I love the city, one of the most beautiful in the world. I'm married to a girl from there so it's like my second home now, but holy cannoli, the social and economic divide is staggering to see first hand.

Favelas are everywhere. Over 600 I believe. Some with a many as 300,000 people living in them. They dot the hills in almost every direction you look. I personally toured the largest of them (Rocinha) and it was incredible to see the way people live inside of a favela.

Someone once said that Rio De Janeiro has the greatest social divide amongst its people in the entire world. The rich are as rich as the richest Americans, while the poor are as poor as the poorest people in Africa. That's a pretty incredible statistic.

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16. Certainly A Fascinating Country

Turkmenistan is the most shocking country I have ever visited. Below are some of the things I noticed.

The country in itself was a shock with the amount of dictatorship it has. From the Airport to the hotel, you will find pictures of the president everywhere.

The President of Turkmenistan built a whole city white, just because he liked it that way.

There are no taxis, but in a way every car is a taxi. You can simply stop any car and they will drop you and charge you some money.

Surveillance is normal. People know it’s there and they are okay with it. No one will say anything against the government.

Men pay a huge dowry to the woman's family at the time of marriage.

Even with all the dictatorship, I found citizens to be happier than many other countries.

Priyank Tiwari

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15. Big In Japan

The biggest culture shock was moving from the USA to Japan. Some examples I can think of that blew my mind:

The trains are so quiet! Other than the occasional quiet conversation, everyone is either on their phones or just minding their own business. This is in huge contrast to the NYC subway where you have people having loud conversations, talking on their cell phones, playing instruments, and being as loud as Americans are. Now that I’ve been in Japan a few months, I can even tell who’s new to Japan based on how loud they are on the train.

Kids commute by themselves! I see 4-year-olds riding the train to and from school every day, crossing the street with their hand held high so drivers can see them. People would call you crazy if you let your 4-year-old loose on the streets of LA even for 5 minutes.

I pay my electric bill, my phone bill, and my water bill at 7–11. That just sounds so weird when I did all that online back in the States.

Biking and walking. The transportation system is so efficient here that I barely drive. I have a small car and in the 6 months that I’ve been here, I've filled up the gas tank twice.

Orderly lines for everything. At the bus stop, train station, in the convenience stores, at concerts etc. Japanese are experts at forming orderly lines/queues. If you put markers in the States at bus stops where people are supposed to stand and form a line when waiting for the bus, people will stand all over the place, will stand everywhere BUT those markers, and will cut you off even though you were the first one at the bus stop just to get a good seat on the bus.

Masks! People wear facial masks when they are sick to protect others from getting sick or to protect themselves when others are sick! In the U.S. we walk around coughing on everyone when we’re sick (not literally of course).

There’s a lot of things the world can learn from Japan.

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14. The Old World And The New

I visited Morocco once and saw the walled city of Tetouan (part of the Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed there). It was a bit freaky to step back in time by about 2000 years. Only part of a desert was visible from where we were but we saw a Bedouin riding a camel like they had for thousands of years. Then I noticed he was wearing a Sony Walkman and was singing Queen loudly.

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13. Danger Zone

I'm 100% Hispanic but an extremely Americanized one, so visiting my family's tiny hometown in Mexico and noticing how little regard they have for health and safety was quite off putting for a "guerita" like me. I'm talking mold on restaurant walls, waterfalls with sharp rocks being a great place for the kids to play, a bridge above the river that is missing some planks, and seat belts being a suggestion.

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12. They Tuck You In?!

I'm a current Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia and am having a hard time pin-pointing the biggest culture shock I've experienced. However one of the first memories that comes to mind is the first night I spent sleeping in my host family's home. They made me a dinner of white rice with an overwhelming amount of salt (they heard Americans like salt) and then all six of them tucked me into bed at 7pm telling me they loved me and were so happy I was there.

That was when I first realized how close families are there and the importance of family time.

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11. Never Swim In France

I went to a public indoor swimming pool in the south of France. I walked into the locker room and a security guard confronted me. My first thought was "Why is there a security guard in the locker room?" Turns out it is to enforce their strict "must be wearing a speedo" policy. I kid you not. I was in swimming trunks, and refused entry because I did not have a speedo.

The security guard escorted me outside to a vending machine where you could buy speedos and swim caps. I had to purchase one of each. As we walked back inside the facility (that's the only word I can think to describe this Big Brother-esque "pool"), my feet left dirty footprints along the immaculately white and clean locker room floor (I had left my flip flops in the locker room, not anticipating going outside). When the security guard saw the path I was leaving, he flipped his lid. He commanded me to stop, fetched a bucket and some soap, and I had to sit on the floor and scrub my feet until this man deemed them clean enough.

At this point I was ready to say screw it and leave but I had a female friend already in the pool who knew nothing of the difficulties I was having thus far. Eventually made it back to all my stuff, started to get changed, and realized with horror I'd purchased a speedo for boys ages 6-8. And I had no coins left to get a new one.

I squeezed in it somehow (which doesn't speak highly of my anatomy), put on the stupid swim cap, and gathered all my stuff up. I had used all my coins buying the speedo, and the lockers needed coins to lock, so I was just forced to take all my stuff out to the pool deck. My friend had been waiting for like 15-20 minutes at this point so I ignored the signs that said,  "shower mandatory" and just pressed onwards for the pool deck. I finally saw her, and the pool. It looked glorious. I was about 5 feet away from the pool deck, almost out of the accursed locker room....

And all of sudden the heavens opened up. I had tripped an invisible sensor that was their last precaution to make sure that showers really were mandatory. Water came pouring at me from every direction. I stood there getting soaked, mouth agape in horror, little kid's speedo crushing my junk, swim cap pulling my forehead skin back, and holding my now-drenched iPod, cellphone, wallet, and towel.

I had thought I'd done a pretty good job up to this point embracing french culture and adapting to the European lifestyle, but in this moment, soaked and wondering if all my electronics were broken, I was ready to tell the entire country, and everyone in it, to go burn in a fire.

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10. That's So Creepy

Being a young woman in Egypt.

There were celebrations taking place at the Al-Hussein Mosque, in Cairo. Thousands of men showed up to pray. My family and I were trying to navigate our way through the crowds. My father told me to go in front of him, but I didn't understand why. I initially said no because I didn't know the direction.

Soon I realized, when countless hands were reaching to grab every part of my body, that my father was trying to protect me. I went in front of him, and he had to bodyguard me through this crowd of men. His arms were covering my body, but hands still went there. I pushed one of the men and yelled in Arabic for them to get off me. There was a scene.

Later, my dad felt really guilty and upset about what had happened, and tried to make me feel better by saying he's proud of how tough I am, how I nearly knocked a guy over. It was pretty wild.

Also, during that trip, a group of boys were very eager to make friends with my family, asking if they could have pictures of us. It was bizarre. I said to my dad, "Aw, they are being so friendly." My dad chuckled, "It's only because they think you are beautiful; they want your picture."

Another shock to my system was when I was sitting in Starbucks in Cairo. Two young boys reached through the railings and begged me to pass them the spare food and drink left by the previous customers. In Arabic they cried, "Anything, please, give me anything." I handed him a drink, "This?" and he snatched it from me like he was famished.

It really, really opened my eyes. I looked around at the Starbucks customers, many of them rich I am sure, and felt this profound sadness. I thought about the gap between the rich and the poor and thought about how we were all drinking and laughing without a care in the world, when beneath us starving displaced children were begging for some sustenance. Thinking about it still saddens and almost disgusts me. No one should live like that.

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9. Much Like Trolls

Went to the Philippines.

On the trip from the airport a group of displaced children took control of a bridge and demanded payment for people crossing it. People actually paid too.

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8. Super Convenience

The sheer awesomeness of Japanese convenience stores. My local 7-11 has sticky floors and doubtful looking packaged sandwiches. The 7-11s in Japan are clean, well-lit, have a great selection of lunch/dinner prepackaged meals, and not only do they have a cold drink section, they have a special heated unit for hot drinks. When I saw all the technological innovations in Japan, I felt like I came from a third world country.

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7. Are You A Ghost?

In Thailand, a little kid had never seen a caucasian person as pale as I was so he put his little hand on my knee to see if it was real. Culture shock for both of us I guess.

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6. If You Can Make It Here...

I landed in Juba, South Sudan. There were anti-aircraft weapons on the roof of the airport, underage soldiers in the tiny arrivals hall. The airport gift shop was selling loose raw eggs and salt. There were no roads, no electricity, no bank system, no running water and no garbage collection.

I'm a journalist. I was covering independence celebrations there in 2011. I'll say one thing for South Sudan. After you've been there, you're ready for anything.

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5. Not A Long Way From The Top To The Bottom

I'm from one of the most unequal countries in the world, but going to India still blew my mind. Delhi is a heaving, throbbing city, people sleeping in literal dirt next to mansions. Perhaps the pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal was the most eye-opening. By far the most beautiful, perhaps most opulent, man-made structure I've seen on earth, but its mired in the most saddening poverty imaginable.

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4. Richer Than You Thought

I paid $20 to my taxi driver for a ride in Honduras, and I thought it was for the twenty minute ride to the beach, but it was actually for her to be my personal driver for the day.

She asked me if I was rich, and I was forced to say, "Si, muy rico."

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3. That's Too Trusting For Me

My friend and I were walking around Reykjavik, Iceland and we came across a stroller next to a small shop with a baby in it all bundled up. It was a bit brisk but otherwise not too cold. The issue was that there was no one near this seemingly abandoned child. We walked about 50 feet up and down the road looking for the parent of this child.

Turns out the mother was just in the store across the street. It is perfectly acceptable to leave your unattended infant on the sidewalk apparently. Crime rates are so low in Iceland that the people there are much more trusting of each other I suppose.

In addition, during out stay there, we saw only one cop...and he was guarding a U.S. Navy vessel at the port.

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2. Pop A Squat

In South Korea nobody sits on the bare ground ever... Certainly not outside in the street and not even on trains, even though the trains are squeaky clean.

I was in Seoul on a hiking trip back in 2013 and to get to my hiking destinations I had to travel for about 1 hour on the subway.

Korean subways only have seats along the side, so if you are a male like me, it’s very hard to get a seat and even if you do you will always have to give it up for a Halmoni (Korean granny) because there are grannies everywhere.

Anyways, one day I decided that I would be polite and instead of taking up a seat on the subway I bought myself a small folding stool so I could sit down on the train without taking up a seat whenever the trains aren’t crowded. Makes sense doesn’t it?

So I was coming home after just finishing a 35 KM hike through the mountains and I decided, screw it, I’ll just whip out my seat and sit on the train. Not bothering anyone.

So there I was sitting in the middle of the train just minding my own business and soon after that, I noticed something was wrong. Nobody said anything but I could feel that I had broken some kind of taboo. In South Korea you can feel the social pressure even if nobody says anything to you. It’s very strange feeling.

After a few minutes a guy got on the train and started speaking to me. I couldn't make out what he was saying because my Korean was not very good, but he then offered me the groceries he was carrying. I politely refused, but he insisted that I take his groceries. When I refused again the entire train carriage started clapping.

I thought this was the strangest thing I had ever seen but then it suddenly dawned on me. You see in Korean culture, it is extremely impolite to ask people for money so the beggar's don’t ask for donations. Instead what beggars do is they sit down in front of people and look poor and ragged hoping that the people will give them some money.

Since I had been hiking all day I looked dirty and worn out. Since I had sat down in the middle of the carriage people thought I was drawing attention to myself and begging for donations.

When they saw the guy offering me his food, they thought he was being kind but also telling me off for begging on the train.

It was certainly one of the most memorable culture shocks I have ever had and I will certainly never ever bring my stool onto the trains in South Korea again, even if my legs are about to fall off from hiking for 9 hours.

Incidentally, this is how some people beg in Korea so you can see how they would have mistaken a hiker sitting on his stool in the middle of a train for a beggar.

Evar Dion

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1. Beware The Taxi Drivers

Worst culture shock for me was going to India. By far. Let me preface this by saying that I'm a pretty accomplished traveler. I was born in the Caribbean to an American and a Brit who both felt that travel was very important to them in raising their kids. I'm 25 and I've been to all 7 continents and some pretty "random" travel destinations.

The first thing I noticed getting off the plane in India was all the people lacking certain limbs EVERYWHERE. I mean you walk out of the airport in New Delhi, and there are people missing limbs, eyes, etc. literally lining the streets. I was told that they often congregate at the airport to catch the visitors coming out of the arrivals section.

On the drive from the airport to our hotel, we got stuck in the most crazy traffic I've ever experienced. From what I can tell there are no road rules in India. You drive where you have to in order to get where you're going. Left side of the road, right side of the road, middle of the road, doesn't matter. Huge traffic jam? Could be because someone flipped a truck, but it's more likely because a cow is crossing the highway and everyone has to wait for it to leave. Cows are sacred to the Hindu people, so you can't do anything to them and they can literally walk right onto the highway during rush hour.

When we hired a taxi to give us a tour of the city, I thought we were going to get taken. Every time the car stopped, children would come up to the window and show us their maimed limbs or their scarred faces and try to sell trinkets and things of that sort. The taxi driver took us down an alley and tried to make us go into a sketchy looking shopping mall area, which was not on the list of the three things we told him to take us to. I've never felt more afraid in a foreign location than I did outside this creepy alley in a taxi in New Delhi. After about 10 minutes of shouting, the driver left without making us go inside.

It's just a totally crazy place and the culture is unlike anything I'd experienced anywhere else. The amount of people, and the crazy gap between the poor and the wealthy is also astounding and very much in your face the moment you enter the country. At least that was my experience! India's a wild place, I'd definitely recommend going but it's not for the weak of heart. Or bowels.

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