People Open up About the Most Intense Culture Shock They’ve Experienced

©Unsplash,Jeffrey Eisen

I’ve done my fair share of traveling, but I’ve never been anywhere where EVERYTHING felt completely foreign to me.

I guess the closest thing I’ve come to culture shock was when I visited Russia in 2003. It was pretty insane and definitely felt different, but I know there are other places on the planet that would feel wayyyyy more intense for an American.

My brother taught English in China several years back and I remember that the first time he called me from there he kept talking about how it was so completely different and it was the first time he truly felt culture shock.

Have you ever felt that way?

Here’s what AskReddit users had to say.

1. What am I supposed to do here?

“Used an airport toilet when I arrived in Japan. There are so many buttons on those things and I didn’t know the kanji for “flush”. Tried a button, it made rainforest sounds.

Imagined what would happen if I unknowingly pressed the bidet button and water splashed all over my face. After about three minutes of anxiety, I left without flushing.

I eventually learned the language comfortably enough. FYI if you’re ever in this situation, you press 小 for small flush and 大 for big flush.”

2. Crossing the border.

“I remember going across the border from Alberta to Montana and being shocked at how many fucking abortion and gun billboards there were. And Alberta is pretty conservative.

You hardly ever see billboards in rural Canada, and even in the cities they are rarely, if ever, political.

A more obvious one was Cairo, because that place is the living embodiment of ‘unsustainable’.”

3. The city by the bay.

“I’m from Salt Lake City and I recently went on a trip to San Francisco.

It’s so conservative in Utah its stifling, but walking around SF and seeing all the different people and hearing the sounds of the ocean at the pier, it was incredible.

Not to mention basically every business I went to had rainbow flags and there was actual history there and not just revisionist Mormonism.”

4. Kenya.

“I went to Kenya with my girlfriend, well off and white & stayed at her house/ her big friends houses.

All rich and white, all staffed with cooks, cleaners and chefs that are black. Her grandparents even rang a bell on the dinner table to summon the cook.

This was a couple years ago, they weren’t racist people but for me (an Englishman who never grew up with this) it was extremely unsettling.

I think about it a lot. I questioned her and she told me “they’re glad to have the jobs it’s better paying than anything else” etc, but it still didn’t sit right with me.”

5. Much different.

“In Dublin walking home very late from a night out. I guess it was graduation or something as a ton of 18 year old kids were getting drunk everywhere. I pass by a very drunk kid getting into it with two Gardia (cops) and he decides to swing on them.

Being from America this is about when police either severely injure or murder you. Being about 6 feet away I’m worried I’m going to get caught up in it.

But the Gardia very easy dodges possibly one of the worst punches I have ever seen and keep trying to talk the kid down. Color me impressed.”

6. In Japan.

“During a summer study abroad to Japan I learned #1) that Japanese people are more wary of internet viruses and as a result almost nowhere has public WiFi.

As a western person we tend to view Japan as very in tune with technology (robotics, games, high speed rail etc.) so I assumed it would be in all the malls and cafes like in America but nope. I even knew a Japanese guy that paid for and carried around a WiFi hotspot at all times.

#2) Japanese university is nowhere near the workload nightmare it is like at US colleges. We told our Japanese program buddies of late night cram sessions and how difficult courses can be, they were so shocked.

We in turn were shocked because their lives were geared towards to sole pursuit of passing university entrance exams and once they got in they coasted.”

7. Red light district.

“During one of my trips to Germany, I was experiencing Hamburg nightlife and ended up going to their red light district called Reeperbahn

It was shocking for me as I had never been to a red light district before…never seen sex shops and other things as like right in front of my eyes…..”

8. America.


When I was walking the sloping streets of San Francisco and rested for a while looking exhausted, an elderly lady passing by asked me if i was okay.

Yes, it seems USA really have a thing about minding other people, but if this trait is used positively, they could be the most caring and friendly people in the planet.

And… for the bad side, homeless people actually using drugs openly in the street.”

9. The big city.

“Going from really rural Sweden where we never really locked the doors (tbf we had dogs but still) moving to London. The message over the speakers at the train station to report suspicious behaviour and the sheer amount of CCTV was frightening.

It also took me 2 hours of waiting for a tube train that wasn’t super crowded before I realised you do have to be a bit rude and squeeze on sometimes!”

10. Vietnam.

“My first day in Saigon, Vietnam. I landed, checked in at the hotel and decided to embark on an exploratory trip on foot to see the city.

I spent literally 20 minutes trying to figure out how to cross the street. When I finally made it a kid ran up to me and grabbed some cash from my pocket before running off. Rather stressed out, I continued to buy a coconut from a street vendor for x 20 of what I should have.

So intense first 30 minutes in Vietnam for a Norwegian guy. That being said, the remaining 2 weeks in the country was fucking epic. Great country!”

11. An American in Beirut.

“I grew up in the southern United States working on a chicken farm.

Though I’m from a mixed family, the only culture I ever know was WASP. Banjos, biscuits and the blood of Jesus.

Then, my family moved to Beirut, Lebanon so my father could pursue ministry with Syrian refugees (He has helped so many, with so much).

I’ll never forget stepping out of Rafik Al Hariri airport and driving through Beirut; the city lights, the unREAL driving habits, and the overwhelming smell of petrol, cigarettes and cooked meat.

Love that place to death now.”

12. India.

“Three weeks in India.

The place is entirely different to anywhere else on the planet. The smells, the culture, the way people treat each other, the way everyday things just work differently.

All of these things I mean in both a good and a bad way.

Spending nearly a month there was incredible, but I will probably never go back.”

13. Don’t have to worry about thieves.

“Was in Norway for a short time as an exchange student, and it blew my mind, that I was the last one leaving the house, and no one gave me a key, or came back to lock the door.

Also my buddy just casually threw his backpack in the middle of a bus, and then sat down at the back row. Was amazed how much safer life is there.”

14. From India to America.

“Moved to America a decade ago from India. Married an American eventually. The culture shock never stops.

Everyone waved at me on my college campus. I wondered if i had met them and forgot because I really couldn’t tell white people apart that much. No, they were just nice.

My roommate was annoyed when my other Indian friends would just drop by. And she would make a big performance of asking my permission to have someone over and I was like “why are you asking me?”

I told this roommate girl she was free to eat my food. The first thing she does is to try my mango pickle by putting a spoonful in her mouth and chewing it. She had never eaten anything spicy ever.

She turned red and I had never seen a human being turn those colors and I didn’t know if it was normal. This was on my second day. I didn’t even know what the emergency number was to call in case she died. Heck I didn’t even have a phone yet.

As someone who nearly died at age 5 from a vaccine preventable disease, I don’t understand antivaxx.

According to doctors here, my entire diet is unhealthy. Yet somehow I’m a normal weight and don’t get sick much and have good blood reports and awesome poops.

My husband’s family barely eats any fruit. I was eating watermelon at random and someone who came over asked “is there a BBQ I missed?” Apparently watermelon is outside bbq food and is not meant to be eaten any other time.

But the biggest shock was sex. I thought Americans would be better at it as they would be doing it since they were fourteen or something. But it was all so terrible. Like they were following a script or something. There was no feeling or intuition there.

And so much jackhammering. So much. And the men were shocked, shocked when I said “I want this, not that”. Didn’t see that with men of other nationalities. I didn’t understand it and thought it had to do with circumcision. Then I started sleeping with American women and it all made sense!

They were so passive and it wasn’t unusual to use sex to negotiate for other things. It was this unspoken agreement of “I let you fuck me however you want, then you but then you do as I say and buy me things. I stopped sleeping with American women because they would never communicate what they wanted in bed but get mad about unrelated things.

It seemed like boys watch porn young and try getting girls their age to do that stuff with them, which led to this dynamic of women getting trained to do whatever men want, and men never hearing any opposition to what they wanted because the girls hadn’t yet explored their own bodies or desires.

And this early dynamic just didn’t change much as people aged. This thing is weird. I somehow trained my husband out of that, but it was a bit of an effort to have him tap into himself and understand his own desires.”

15. Coming home.

“In a really subtle way, I get shock coming home from long vacations abroad. After a long time in Europe, my brother and I were in the US airport on one of our return flights home, and we looked at each other shocked as we realized we could understand and eavesdrop on everyone around us.

We’d been surrounded by foreign language for so long it was sort of jarring to be back around English speakers, have English on the TVs, have the menus in English, etc.”

16. Welcome to the South.

“My boss tells this story:

He and his wife were originally from NYC. He took a job in “The South” and moved a couple months before her while she worked on selling their home.

She would often ask him how he spent his time down here without her to which he’d answer that he spent most of his time working and it was really kind of boring.

When she finally moves down, he picks her up from the airport mid-day or so. When they get to their neighborhood, all the neighborhood women out for a walk (stay at home moms) start waving at him as he drives by and he does a little wave back.

His wife is getting furious as she’s convinced he’s been catting around with every woman in the whole neighborhood while he’s been “working”.

It took her a while to realize that waving at complete strangers driving by is just something we do here.”

Now we’d like to hear from you.

In the comments, please tell us about the most intense culture shock that you’ve ever experienced.

We can’t wait to hear from you!