25 Huge Culture Shocks That People Experience When Traveling

Posted by , Updated on June 21, 2024

Exploring the world can really *widen your view* and *boost your knowledge* of different cultures. Yet, not many folks **venture out** of their hometowns, especially Americans. **Did you know** only **about 30%** of people in the U.S. have a passport? The number went up a little after **9/11** because travel between the U.S. and **Canada needed** proof of citizenship. **Surprisingly**, almost half of the trips abroad by Americans go to Canada.

In comparison, nearly 75% of British people have passports. Of course, there are good reasons for these discrepancies. The United States is significantly bigger and farther from other countries. Americans are also generally more fearful than their European counterparts, at least in terms of visiting other countries. They speak fewer languages, know fewer people who have traveled, and typically overestimate how expensive it would be. Furthermore, foreign countries typically only make it into the American news cycle when something bad happens. This contributes to a strong sense of insularity and lack of awareness regarding the outside world.

For these reasons and more, we are dedicating this list to our American friends. These are 25 huge culture shocks that people experience when traveling!


Featured Image: wikipedia



RespectImage: pixabay, Source: wikipedia

In most non-English speaking cultures, linguistic respect is a part of daily life. In almost every single other language, there are 2 forms of addressing people – formally and informally.



HumorImage: wikipedia, Source: reddit

Anyone who has traveled will tell you that every country has a different sense of humor. And it’s true. What one group of people find funny can be very un-funny to others.


Small talk

Small talkSource: reddit

This is a big thing in some places. In others (the Germanic world), it’s not. You just say what you need to say and move on.



DrivingImage: wikipedia, Source: 9gag

In much of Asia, Africa, and some parts of Europe (Rome), nobody actually follows traffic rules.



TippingImage: pixabay, Source: wikipedia

Sometimes (like in Japan), you shouldn’t do it. It can come across as condescending.


Wealth disparities

Wealth disparitiesImage: pixabay, Source: reddit

If you’re coming from the west, this will hit you most places that you go. You’ll have a mansion with guards right next to a few shanties on a hillside.



NoddingSource: wikipedia

In Bulgaria, nodding up and down means no. Left and right means yes.


Utensil usage

Utensil usageImage: pixabay, Source: reddit

In Sweden, for example, they will eat their hamburgers with a fork and knife.


Kiss greetings

Kiss greetingsSource: 9gag

This can get awkward no matter where you are, especially when you don’t know how many times to kiss (it can change considerably).


Societal trust

Societal trustImage: learningvideo.com, Source: reddit

In places like Japan, this can be overwhelming. Convenience stores will sometimes just have a box where you drop your money on the way out.



PushingImage: wikipedia, Source: reddit

In some places, like China, this is normal. Even for getting into elevators.


Thinking about international travel despite the culture shock? You might want to check out this list on 25 Quickest Ways To Get In Trouble (Or Offend People) While Travelling


Personal space

Personal spaceSource: reddit

This varies drastically between countries. If you’re from South America, you can fully expect the Swedish to keep backing away as you keep moving closer.


Table conversation

Table conversationSource: reddit

Some places do it, some places don’t. In Germany, you just eat to finish the meal, you can talk later.



ToiletsImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Many parts of the world use squat toilets. And no toilet paper. Adapting can be hard.



SiestasImage: wikipedia, Source: reddit

This is real. In southern Europe, people close their shops and go to sleep between 2 and 4. If you try that in New York, you’ll get fired.


Bathroom fees

Bathroom feesImage: wikipedia, Source: reddit

In Europe, get ready to shell out when you want to relieve yourself.


Smiling at strangers

Smiling at strangersImage: pixabay, Source: reddit

If you’re European, the rest of the world does this. And it will be weird for you.


Unlocked doors

Unlocked doorsImage: pixabay, Source: reddit

If you’re coming from a developing nation, places like Canada can be quite a shock. Especially when people just leave doors unlocked.



HeadbobbingSource: 9gag

They do this in India, and it will confuse you to no end when you can’t tell if they mean “yes” or “no”.



ConsumerismSource: 9gag

In some places this is far more rampant than others. If you’ve never been to America before, it may take a while to fully grasp drive-through pharmacies.



ColdnessSource: reddit

We mentioned smiling at strangers, now this is the inverse. If you ever visit Europe (particularly northern or eastern), prepare to feel like everybody’s face is stuck in a permanent state of apathy.


No addresses

No addressesImage: pixabay, Source: 9gag

In much of the world, you just describe where you live.

Note: This can even happen in advanced countries like the UAE


Nose touching

Nose touchingImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

This is a popular greeting in some places, notably the Maori of New Zealand.


Guys holding hands

Guys holding handsImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Even when they’re straight. This is pretty normal in many Arabic countries.


Not jay walking

Not jay walkingImage: wikipedia, Source: reddit

In some parts of northern Europe, people won’t cross the road even if there’s not a car in sight.