As we go about our daily lives and routines we rarely think too much about what we’re doing. We go to work, we come home, and we go out. What seems normal to us, though, may seem a bit strange to those on the outside. Of course, from our perspective the same thing can be said about people living in other countries. When we go on vacation, we’re likely to see something that may seem incredibly strange to us, yet is perfectly normal to the local residents. It’s easy for tourists to misinterpret and misunderstand local norms and traditions. Dynamic cultural differences may explain some of the strange things we experience, but some of these cultural norms are probably better left unexplained.
49. A Sombre Celebration
48. No Pickpockets
Moved to Toronto from Dublin 3 years ago. It still amazes me how open and trusting people are with their stuff in public: iPhone 7’s hanging out of back pockets, parked car windows left open etc. At home in Dublin, especially around the city centre, you just couldn’t do that! We have situations at home where people will actually ride past you on a bike and snatch your phone out of your hand while you’re talking on it.
On a slightly negative side, it’s nuts how people drive here, very rushed and angry, and the fact that cars can still turn when there’s a pedestrian light is crazy to me.
47. Friendly America
I’m from Japan, and I was shocked by how friendly most people in the U.S. are. When we were buying groceries, the cashier would make small talk with us about what we were buying. I bought KFC and was having trouble with American coins (they’re all the same color!) and the nice cashier helped me. My uncle was raised in the U.S. and knew all his neighbors. I’d walk his dog while I was there and people would just randomly stop and talk to me about the dog.
The friendliness makes my trips to the U.S. very wholesome and nice.
46. Not Candy Canes
45. Making Friends
As an American Southerner, trying to make friends traveling Europe alone was an interesting experiment. Germans and Belgians thought I was a whackjob for speaking to strangers randomly, but I had some great conversations in France and the Netherlands.
That said, in Germany at least, I found that once you infiltrate a friend group, they can be very inclusive and protective. Obviously anecdotal, but they agreed when I mentioned it. Most people I interacted with don’t do small-talk and would go straight to topics that Americans would consider rude when talking with a stranger.
44. Exit Strategy
We’re Canadian. We had this awkward conversation with a family in Venezuela who we had invited over for dinner. They just wouldn’t leave! My dad was doing the polite Canadian thing and mentioning that “we’re tired”, that “usually we would be in bed by now”, that “it’s been a long night and they probably want to get home”, walking them toward the front door. And then we were stuck just standing there staring at each other. My dad finally just blurts out: “Why won’t you leave?! We’re tired and want to go to bed!” And in frustration, they reply: “Why won’t you just let us go?!”
Turns out that in Venezuelan culture it’s rude to leave on your own as an invited guest. The polite thing to do is to wait for your host to open the door and guide you out, but in Canadian culture it’s rude to ask your invited company to leave and you wait for them to open the door and go on their own.
43. Everywhere Is A Restaurant
My parents are Chinese but I grew up in Europe, therefore I’m considered a banana.
Some years ago, I was visiting my family in China. We were in a very rural area with lots of small cottages. We saw a family eating dinner and my grandma asked them if we could join. So we paid a few bucks and ate a meal with a random family. Not really a shock but it felt really weird, this idea that you can just buy in on someone else’s family dinner and pull up a chair.
42. A Little Perspective
41. Midnight Meal
40. Siesta Fiesta
Nap-time is everything in Spain. I visited Barcelona a few months ago, and it was my first time in Spain. I couldn’t believe when my friend told me that all the shops and businesses are closed because it’s “siesta time.” I love my naps and all, but that just drove me crazy.
39. Six Hours
38. Germ-Free Germany
37. Taxi Roulette
I was in India earlier this year and their taxi drivers take you wherever they feel like before taking you to your requested destination. And they would be deeply offended if you were like “Hey, where are we going?”
So that’s how I ended up on a boat in the middle of the Arabian Sea when all I wanted to do was exchange money, and at a random zoo when I just wanted to go shopping. I eventually exchanged money and went shopping but had to go on field trips first to see the sights. Good times.
36. Take My Watch, Please
35. Armed But Affable
34. That’s Truly Awful
33. Size Matters
32. No, No, No, YES
In parts of Ireland, in my grandparents’ time, it was considered rude to accept food or beverages from a host the first time it was offered.
The exchange was supposed to go something like: “Will you have a cup of tea?” “No thank you, I won’t, I won’t trouble you.” “Ahh sure you will, go on.” “Ahh I will, if you’re making one for yourself.”
When my parents first went to America, they were shocked to find that people didn’t do this, so instead it went: “Would you like a cup of coffee?” “No, thank you, I won’t trouble you.” “Okay!” “Wait! I did actually want coffee!” “Then why did you say no?”
One of my grandmothers was like this until she died, and would get really snippy with you if you accepted a drink or a biscuit the first time she offered it.
There are virtually no driving laws in Lebanon — and if there are, nobody follows them and they aren’t enforced. Everybody drives like a total maniac. Traffic is awful, everybody speeds. When going up into the villages in the mountains, people zoom around the narrow roads like they’re on the interstate. These supposed to be two-way streets, but they literally have zero regard for any potential drivers going the opposite direction. They drive as if they have a death wish.
We were vacationing there once, and I got hit by a car when I was crossing the street from Burger King to get back to my hotel in Beirut. I was about 11 years old. The guy who hit me got out of the car and started cussing me out in Arabic. I’m like “DUDE, YOU JUST STRUCK ME WITH YOUR VEHICLE.”
Thinking about it now is hilarious.
30. A Family Country
I was surprised by the intolerance of public intoxication in America. I am British, so you get used to public merriment and drinking, but I was surprised that it was not tolerated in the U.S. After a while, I thought it was a great idea.
I once went to a restaurant, and during the order I asked what kind of beers they had. “This,” the waitress stated quite forcefully, “is a family restaurant.”
29. You Gotta Fight For Your Right
28. Straight To The Point
27. Street People
26. Chile Out
In Chile, “tomorrow” means next week. “Next week” means never. “I’m already there” means “I’m thinking about starting to prepare to go out.”
For a ten-minutes-early type of person like myself, that was jarring.
25. Cleanliness In Asia
24. No Privacy In The Netherlands
There are no laws against drinking and driving in Trinidad.
My girlfriend and I hired a taxi driver for the day to take us up to this bird sanctuary in the rainforest so we could go hiking. After about 3 hours of hiking, we get back to the lodge to find out the taxi driver had finished a number of drinks and picked one up for the road. On the way back to the hotel he was drinking adult beverages while driving down these stupid narrow, winding mountain roads that had 300-500 foot drop-offs on the side. We had a few adult beverages too so that we weren’t so nervous about our inebriated taxi driver.
20. Through Rain, Sleet, Or Snow
18. In Orderly Fashion
When I was in Taiwan waiting for the bus, I saw everyone getting in line to board. It was the strangest thing, no one was pushing or shoving to get on first. Everyone just waited for their turn, like civilized people. You don’t see groups of people taking up the whole sidewalk there, either. Now I’m back home and I feel surrounded by barbarians sometimes.