"I was 15 in 1985 when our family went to live in India for 3 months. Being middle class Americans, we were accustomed to certain things we take for granted that are considered luxuries by the rest of the world.
In our first week there, the temperature soared to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. No homes had air conditioning, only ceiling fans. It appeared that at least half the population was homeless and had no relief from the heat. Thousands of people died and locals told us it was a typical occurrence. Days later, an outbreak of cholera killed thousands more, again referred to as a typical occurrence. This would have been an epidemic in the U.S. There were no lanes painted on the roads and buses, old cars, mopeds, carts, hand-pulled rickshaws, bicycles, and cows just picked whichever side of the road they wanted. When a city bus had no more seats available, people clung to the outside of the bus as it drove down the street, adding so much weight that every bus in town leaned dramatically to one side. One even toppled over that week, killing everyone on the exterior. It was chaos!
We continued to our final destination of Bangalore, a city with the population of Chicago but with mostly dirt roads and only one stoplight. We were given a very nice house by Indian standards, but it was very modest from an American perspective. We were told that it was the only house in the entire city with all three Western amenities of running water, flushing toilets, and a refrigerator. No one else in a city of millions had all three! We visited several wealthy Indian families, living in what we would consider a middle class home, and sure enough they did not have all three amenities.
Drinking the tap water could be fatal, so every day my mother had to fill a pot, add a drop of bleach, stir it to kill any deadly bacteria, then boil it on the stove to remove the bleach and other impurities. It was served warm with sweltering temperatures outside. What we would have given for a glass of ice water!
I vividly remember huge rainstorms that would saturate the ground. Afterward, the grass would be littered with massive rats the size of house cats, having drowned in underground holes filling with rain. Milk was not refrigerated at the grocery stores, and sometimes it had dirt or cow feces floating in the liquid, so we didn't dare buy it. There didn't seem to be any rules of sanitation. If you didn't put the mosquito net down over your bed before dusk, you would be attacked by hundreds of relentless mosquitoes at night. They kill far more humans each year than any other animal. Fortunately, we had been vaccinated to protect against malaria. I have many more stories.
Despite our trials, the Indian people were so friendly and welcoming and it was a fascinating experience! With over 70 countries under my belt now, I can say that traveling makes you truly appreciate this world and what you have. It was all a wonderful and eye-opening experience for an American teenager. It allowed me to understand other cultures, to become very open-minded, and to appreciate that even poor families in America have so much more than many other people in this world. And I must say, I love Indian food to this day."
"I was in Seoul on a hiking trip back in 2013, and to get to my hiking destinations I had to travel for about an hour on the subway. Korean subways only have seats along the side, so if you are a male like me, you will always have to give it up for a Halmoni (Korean granny) because there are grannies everywhere. 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?
I was coming home after just finishing a 35 KM hike through the mountains and I decided 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. He then offered me the groceries he was carrying. I politely refused, but he insisted that I take his groceries. I refused again, and then the entire train carriage started clapping. I thought this was the strangest thing I had ever seen, but then it suddenly dawned on me. In Korean culture, it is extremely impolite to ask people for money, so the beggar's don’t ask for donations. Instead, 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 nine hours.
Incidentally, this is exactly 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.
Ah South Korea, fun times, fun times indeed."
"The biggest culture shock I ever faced was when I went to Germany for a summer internship in 2010. I landed at Munich Airport. I was having a lot of anxiety, since I was travelling for the first time in a flight, first time to a new country, and I didn't know anyone there or even the language. So I was scared beyond belief.
My German professor was a very nice person. He arranged everything for me, such as accommodation and airport pickup. 15 days prior to my departure to Germany, he shared the details of the person who was coming to pick me up. After I landed and got my belongings, my host accompanied me to my hostel room, gave the room key, and explained to me the route from my accommodations to the University. With that, she left. I felt beyond lonely after she left.
My room was on the 17th floor in that building. Then I did a thing which every Indian does whenever he or she adjusts to a new place. I came out of my room just to check my neighbors. I saw the list of the people living on that floor so that I can get some idea about my neighbors, their nationality, or if I might find some Indian student living there. I did not take my keys with me and when I came out of the room. I had no idea that the room gets locked automatically, as my old college dorm would get locked when we lock them. I felt helpless. I just landed here few hours back. I did not know anyone. Also, I didn’t have the phone number of the girl who dropped me off. Even if I had the contact, I couldn’t even call her, since I didn’t have an international sim card. So I knocked on the door of the room opposite to mine for help. I explained my situation to a woman who had clearly been sleeping beforehand. She started laughing on hearing my story. She told me that this already happened to her several times since she too moved to Germany to study abroad. She knew some trick to open a locked door. She brought an old bank card with her which she inserted on the side of my main door and tried to open the lock. She tried many times, but it did not work.
She invited me to her room and offered some cookies and cola.Then she called 1-2 key makers to open the door lock. When I inquired about the price, I found out that it was way more expensive than I had been prepared for. She told me that I could spend the night in her room, as I had to wait till morning to get my room unlocked, but since I never shared a room with a girl I told her I wouldn’t be comfortable in doing so. So she told me that once she had seen an Indian guy on the 9th floor and we went to that floor in search of the guy to find him. We explained to him the situation, and he let me stay with him for that night.
To summarize what about this whole evening shocked me:
In my country, nobody will come and try to open your door if you get locked. She was putting in so much effort, as if it was her room that had got locked. In my country, the maximum they will give you is the key-maker’s number or make a few calls for you. She had a genuine concern for a complete stranger she just met. I was very tense at that time and was feeling hungry as well. After eating those delicious cookies, I felt good. For once, I even forgot that my room got locked. That same situation looked less horrifying after eating those cookies. She trusted me though we just met a couple of minutes ago. She let me inside her room, offered me food, and helped me without even thinking about anything. In my country, most people don’t trust strangers so easily. They don’t talk to them. If some guy approaches a girl for help, they usually doubt that guy’s intention. Just have faith in the saying 'Do good and good will come back to you'.
"There was not a single event where I didn't get cultural shock in Saudi Arabia. There were so many, every other day I would to see something new. Every woman has to wear the Abaya (black robe). This was the first thing to welcome me in Saudi Arabia. Despite not being Muslim, I was supposed to wear this outfit every day. Women in Saudi Arabia can't go out in public without covering themselves with the Abaya. In offices, banks, hospitals, universities, and restaurants everywhere, there are separate sections for men and women. Even in weddings, there are separate halls are booked for males and females.
Young boys drive frequently. Although the legal age of driving in Saudi is 18 years, it is very common to see 9–10 year old boys driving cars. As driving was banned for females, parents allowed boys to drive, in order to help women in their families to go out. Most of the time, it is overlooked by traffic police.
Eating with hands, without using a spoon, is common in India, but eating without using spoons and plates was a bit new for me. In parties, they prefer to eat together in groups. Food is served in a big plate, they make a circle around it and enjoy their food. French fries and chips were served for breakfast, along with a soft drink. I could never think of that. Whatever food you buy, with everything there will be french fries and a soft drink. They like a lot of sugar in everything. If you order tea, you have to ask for less sugar. Otherwise, you won't be able to finish it.
All shops, offices and businesses close during the day for prayers. Five times in a day all shops, and offices would close during prayer hours. So we have to plan accordingly while going shopping or doing any official work. That is why most of the people go out after the last prayer around 9 p.m. Malls and shops remain open till 2:00 a.m. There were no movie theaters. Recently, the ban was lifted from movie theaters, but none have opened yet. There are parks, malls, and beautiful beaches for entertainment at least.
The weekend off is only on Friday and Saturday. I find it difficult to go to work on Sunday, as I can't get over that 'Sunday' feeling."
"Decades ago, I moved from New Zealand to North Queensland in an area called Currimundi. The mental shift that I needed to make between countries was pretty big. At the time, the only poisonous creature we had in New Zealand was the katipo spider. It was pathetic. And then I shifted to Australia. Suddenly, I was afraid of everything. Stuff I’d never thought twice about in New Zealand was deadly in Australia. I could die, just leaving the house. (In hindsight, maybe I overreacted). But I wouldn’t sit down on an outside chair until I’d inspected it from top to bottom. I was always coated in bug spray or wearing a hat outside. Barefoot? Forget it. We had the house sprayed for pests every three months without fail and had screens on every window and door.
A couple of weeks into the shift, I went outside for a smoke in the evening. I inspected the chair and the table before sitting down. I’d lit up when I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye on the wall, about two feet from my face. I assumed it was one of the little black lizards. It wasn’t. It was a giant huntsman spider. In Wile. E Coyote fashion, I levitated straight up, hit the ground running, and fled inside. I slammed the insect door behind me and then I locked it. I locked the door against a spider. I’m pleased to say that it didn’t try to pick the lock. Do you know what’s worse than a spider that you can see? One you can’t see. It vanished, so I refused to sit out there for weeks.
One morning when I was leaving the house, I wasn’t looking up and walked face-first into a spider's web that stretched from one side of the wide entry to the other. That stuff was like fishing line. I assume that my wild flailing afforded some amusement to the neighbors.
One other time, I put my hand into the mailbox without checking. Yeah. there was a Huntsman in there that ran up my arm. That reached a ‘screaming, flailing and frantic tearing off then hurling of my jacket onto the lawn’ level of panic.
After all my stressing about spiders, it was actually an ant that got me. I sat down on a carefully inspected seat. About five minutes later, I thought someone had shot the back of my thigh. It was like being stabbed. It was one tiny ant. A vicious bruise the size of my fist showed up at the site of the bite. Uncool. You can’t even brag about surviving a fight with an ant. So the biggest culture shock for me was having to actually be aware of dangerous creatures."
"I went to China for an internship. Being an Indian, I was really excited to see their culture, food, and traditions. I spent two months there, which ended up being really beautiful and memorable.
Indians are given a lot of attention in China. We used to go to different places on weekends, and Chinese people used to ask for a photograph together, as if we were celebrities. And every photograph was followed by a wide smile and 'xie xie', which meant 'thank you'. They don't get to see a lot of Indians in China. That might be the major reason for why we get such attention. They find Indians really beautiful. I know how much Indians admire Chinese, Korean and Japanese beauty. I don't remember being called beautiful as a compliment in India all these years. But many Chinese people thought I was beautiful. The original Chinese food is way tastier than what we eat as Chinese food in India. They have very subtle but beautiful flavors. Also, they don't waste any part of chicken or any animal. We were actually served chicken heads and claws. But once they know about your preferences, they respect them to the fullest.
People don't deck themselves up like crazy in Chinese weddings. Only the bride and the groom are dressed like celebrities. Also, the marriage typically happens in a temple, where food and other things are prepared. It's a grand meal.
People working in international companies have special English names, to make it easy for the non-Chinese people to pronounce them.
Parents encourage their kids to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend after an appropriate age and get married later on. You will see a lot of couples everywhere you go. Most of them are dressed alike, and I found it super cute.
Chinese people don't eat with their hands. They basically don't like to dirty their hands while eating. So you can find them eating a big chicken drumstick or rice with chopsticks. We Indians used to watch them in awe. We tried learning to eat with chopsticks. But we ended up dropping our food all around and then picking up again and eating. But we never gave up on trying. On the last day, our HR arranged Indian food especially for us. Rotis, butter chicken, and dal rice. We Indians were wondering how would the Chinese eat rotis and gravy with chopsticks. But they pleasantly surprised us by eating Indian food with their hands and occasionally licking their fingers too. They loved the food. Especially the daal. We respected their traditions by using chopsticks, and they respected ours by using hands.
China gave us a lot of love. They are very different from what we perceive them as. I am planning one more trip soon."
"When I was in the U.S., many things shocked me. There were free refills in restaurants. That’s not a usual thing in Turkey. They had drinks with ice. You need to tell the waiter or waitress not to put ice in your drink. Otherwise, they would put ice in your drink no matter what weather is like. There are drive-thru windows everywhere. For restaurants, pharmacies, and even banks. Giving a tip is part of American custom. I wasn’t aware about the custom before arriving at the United States until my friend mentioned it. I was pretty shocked honestly. They always served very well though. We tip only at fancy restaurants in Turkey.
In the U.S., it’s very common to talk to strangers, and it does not matter if that stranger is female or male. They can smile and say, 'How is it going?' and it does not indicate flirting. It’s not a good thing to talk to strangers in Turkey. Especially for young ladies. They could be interpreted the wrong way.
There are huge vehicles. Americans love trucks, especially in rural areas! You pump the gas yourself without any assistance of an attendant, which is very strange for Turkish people. Prices differ by each gas station.
There is drinkable water from tap. It is very unusual here, I never drink from tap. It might harm my body in Turkey, but that's not the case in America.
We would see black bears on the roads. When I was in Minnesota, I encountered a black bear five different times. I even saw it once from my window when I woke up. They are not so mean though."
"The biggest culture shock I had was when I came to Australia. As an Afghan Muslim kid who was born in Pakistan, with no knowledge of the cultures outside her own, I was baffled at the amount of freedom this land possessed
The women here in Australia wore whatever they wanted. Skirts, dresses, loose hair, crop tops, and shorts. I used to be so embarrassed when I looked at the women here. I always covered my eyes when one of them came near me. Most women in Pakistan where I lived wore a long scarf over their heads and covered most of their body. I am not saying that all women were unhappy about this. Many women loved wearing their hijab because it represented their faith. Girls were generally expected to be quiet, modest and traditional. We were supposed to stay at home, study well (if you actually were given the chance to attend school), look like proper Muslim girl, and to never raise your voice. It wasn’t uncommon for men on the side of the street to yell at some ten-year-old girl for not wearing the hijab. Not all of Pakistan was like this, just where I lived and some other places I visited. Now, I don’t cower away from other women anymore, but accept it and support them wholeheartedly. I like wearing the hijab but I don’t support violence against women who don’t wear it.
My suburb in Pakistan was dirty as a gutter compared to Australia. It wasn’t uncommon for children and even adults to throw rubbish on the streets, and no one batted an eyelid. The streets were covered with trash and human feces most of the time. Of course, I saw many clean sites in Pakistan too. Pakistan had amazing sceneries, both natural and human, that took my breath away. In Australia, no one threw rubbish on the ground. The streets were spotless and the roads didn’t even have dirt on them. Everyone kept the streets and parks clean, and I am sure if you threw something on the ground, you would get a lot of criticism. The ground is not a trash can or a toilet. Both countries have amazing landscapes, but the people of Australia are just more aware of the effects pollution has on the planet.
I was shocked at the amount of waste here in Australia. Kids in my school threw away their half-eaten lunch and their barely used sheets of paper in the bin. I was baffled that children were even allowed to use lots of paper here! I remember once in Pakistan, I had to pay 50 rupee (50 cents, I think) to have my report card printed off. These Australian students also got printed worksheets for every activity and for free! We had to buy used textbooks and we got it taken off of us at the end of the year, so other students could use it. Students here got free notebooks and equipment and the end of the year, I could see some children throwing them away in the bin.
Once, when I was in first grade, I saw this plastic Ziploc bag in the bin. Some child probably had his sandwich in it and threw the plastic away. I was amazed to see such a wonderful, beautiful, artificially made substance (in my hungry eyes) thrown carelessly in the bin. I took it home and reused it for all of my lunches for days! Very unhygienic now that I think of it. In Pakistan, I think that people appreciated what they had more than people here in Australia. School children never threw leftover food away, never wasted paper and never wasted their education. For this, Pakistan made me proud. Sometimes when I see my high school mates destroying perfectly good equipment or disrespecting their teachers, I like to tell them my plastic Ziploc bag story so they can understand how lucky they are.
The food here is completely different to what we ate in Pakistan. We usually have spicy hot biryani or some food with an excessive amount of oil. The best thing about the food in Pakistan is the biryani. My family once went to this Australian family’s house and they served us rice. Plain rice. When I tasted it, I thought my taste buds had stopped working. There no salt and barely any oil in it! I had been so used to eating spicy food that Australian-style food became practically tasteless to me. To be honest, I prefer Afghan and Pakistani food than Australian food.
Another thing that shocked me was the distant relationships people here had with family. Most Pakistanis had packed families and they all had close relationships. My neighbors in Australia were a man and a woman (they weren't together any more) and their only daughter. I was shocked that they weren't married and they had a child. They never had any cousins over and never visited family. I remember my dad asking the woman if the house that she lived in belonged to her. She laughed and then said that she was renting it and that when her father, who was living in Adelaide, died, she would have his house. She also said something about disliking him and not wanting to go visit him.
When I was around 4 or 5, I started going to school in Pakistan. We weren’t treated like kindergarteners here. They gave us tests, slapped us, beat us with sticks and made us stand at the front and hold our ears and on one leg if we failed a test or didn’t do our homework. When I was around 5, I got called up to write the letter in the Roman alphabet that the teacher called out. I failed all of it. She sent me out with the other kids and made us line up as she got her long stick. She smacked all the kids in each hand twice. I was crying at the end of it while the boys laughed at me and the other girls. It seemed normal when I was in Pakistan, but now I feel angry that a teacher had the right to beat children.
No kid in Australia is beaten. The teachers treated us like little princes and princesses. They helped us with our homework, literally never gave us tests in year 1, and never made us copy off textbooks. In Pakistan, I probably got taught math that was what year sixes got taught here. I was amazed at the hospitality of the teachers and the lack of pressure on the kids.
The poverty, horrible treatment of kids, and the dirty environment is the reason why I have a passion for becoming a doctor and someone who helps underdeveloped countries. I am so glad that I live in a country like Australia. I have been blessed to live here and have the chance to actually pursue a career. Unlike some people, I actually appreciate the privileges that have been given to me. We have freedom of speech here, freedom of religion, freedom of living as a human. In Pakistan, someone would probably get the death penalty for insulting or speaking out against the people’s religious/ cultural beliefs. Regardless of all of these facts, I was brought up in that country and I had many wonderful memories. Every country has its pros and cons, and it just matter of preference when you decide which one is better. I miss my house in Pakistan but not more than my friends and family. Pakistan is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture. Hopefully I go there some time to visit."
"I boarded my flight from Mumbai to Berlin, my very first time visiting for what would be a two and a half year stay. I landed at Berlin airport. The chilling weather, the white faces, and the announcements in a foreign language all was injecting a feeling of homesickness into me, and it was quite a new and shocking experience. One of my friends from India, who had already been living in Berlin for six months, came to receive me at the airport. Finally, I felt relaxed and the homesickness zoomed away. Now here starts the series of cultural shocks.
My friend's apartment was super lavish inside, yet very simple from outside. The biggest cultural shock in the apartment was the absence of jet in the toilet, which took quite a while to get used to this alternative. The absence of a drain in the bathroom makes me more uncomfortable if the water comes out of the shower cabinet while taking the shower. There’s only one way to clean it, is to wipe it out with the mop and if the bathroom is flooded with water, then simply close the bathroom door and start wiping it out for hours.
I am not saying that we don’t have garbage separation in India. We do have it, but it’s more like people doing the government a favor by separating. Here in Germany, it’s a habit to separate plastic, paper, and organic waste. Even if sometimes I confuse the plastic packaging and throw it in the paper waste dustbin, my house owner would teach me a lesson every time, how the people hate it when you throw the garbage in the wrong dustbin, and I appreciate their efforts of conserving the environment.
The food was just another cultural shock for me. The percentage of consumption of red meat, or any meat in general, is significantly higher in Germany, at least as compared to India. But when it comes to fitness, Germans cleverly maintain their calories by eating the required amount of healthy vegetables in salads for lunch. If we talk about the drinking water, the Germans tend to avoid the tap water, despite it being drinkable and of excellent quality.
There’s nothing like going out shopping on a Sunday. Even the supermarkets are closed on Sunday. If you are in Berlin and in urgent need of anything like snacks or drinks, you will get it in the 24/7 convenience stores, and you'll have to pay a bit extra for the stuff. But if you are in Munich or any other big city, forget about buying stuff on Sundays. Most of the supermarkets in Berlin are opened until 11 p.m., but in Munich they all close at 8 pm.
In my Intercultural Communications course, I had learned that individualism in the culture of Germany is quite high. This trip certainly proved it. I come from India, where collectivism is pretty high in the culture. So, for me, it was another big cultural shock. Kids here have their personal opinions about their life choices and there’s almost no room for parents’ interference. People on the train also maintain a surprising pin drop silence, even if the train is crowded. In India, you won’t hear your own voice in public transport. Germans do not care, even if you are kissing your partner on the train. In India, if you just kiss your partner on the forehead on the train, people around you would literally stare right down to your soul through your eye sockets.
The Education system is way different than in India. The professors decide how they want students to take the exams e.g. You can call your professors by their names or Mr./Ms/Mrs. You can even un-register yourself from an exam, if you are unwell or not sure about taking it.
These were the cultural shocks I encountered in these two and a half years in Germany. I bet there are even more coming ahead in the future."
"It was not just a cultural shock, it was like a head-spinning cultural moment for me. I am a 25-year-old Indian guy, and my now-wife is from northeastern region of India. We met up during our engineering studies. So almost right after we finished our engineering degrees, we decided to get married. There were some issues in this decision, as both our families have different cultural traditions.My wife had told me about this particular marriage ritual I had to complete, but she never fully explained it.
They have a ritual where bride's mom accept groom as her son, and while doing this, the groom was first washed by his mother-in-law, followed by her feeding him with her hand. Simple, isn't it? Similar kind of rituals existed in almost every community in India, but most of them are just symbolic. But in my wife's family, it is observed in very strict manner and with full details.
So, this ritual was supposed to happen the next day after marriage, but due to lack of time, this was postponed. It was rescheduled a few weeks later, after we had been officially married. I only assumed it was a sort of blessing ritual. The day after my wife and I return to her home, I was given a traditional groom dress, then I had to participate in a short religious activity. After that, I was told to go to backyard. When I got there, I saw a few buckets of water that were already filled up. A wooden stool was placed there. Some lady from my wife's family gave me a towel, and she asked me to remove my clothing and put this on. I was still not aware what was going to happen. My wife was also not around at the time. Anyway, I dropped that groom dress and wrapped up that towel. But I kept on my underwear.
Numerous female family members started to gather around. The backyard was filled with 20-30 women. I was feel very nervous. Suddenly, my mother-in-law arrived with some aunts, who were carrying a bowl filled with some sort of oil and herbal paste. Then one by one, the ladies started dipping their hands in the substance and applying it to my body. It was quite awkward. As they continued, more women left until it was just my mother-in-law, a couple aunts, and my sister-in-law. I was asked to remove the towel and underpants. I sat there on a tiny stool covering my privates with my hands. The women were talking to each other, but I didn't understand their language.
The mother-in-law began to pour a few mugs of water on me, then removing the paste. Once all of that was finished, I was told I had to hug my mother-in-law tightly. I was puzzled, but I did as was told. The mother-in-law picked me up in a cradled position. It was height of my embarrassment. She carried me back into the house, where I was placed on her lap. Traditional meals were served in front of us, and my mother-in-law began feeding me with her own hands. Keep in mind, I still had no clothing on.
When we finished that stage, I was given traditional clothes. Once dressed, the front door was opened and other relatives poured in to congratulate me. It was a big embarrassing cultural shock for me. Thankfully, none of these ladies ever made fun with me about this in later days.
When I finally met with my wife after this incident, we both laughed a lot. My wife even told me that I was spared, as those ladies thought I was feeling shy. It was a very bizarre wedding season for me. I still laugh a lot as I think back on the situation now."