Traveling to countries you’ve never visited before is always an adventure chock full of brand new experiences. You could have studied the culture and customs of the country or countries you plan to visit for months beforehand and still be absolutely shocked at all the things you were unprepared for. From the smallest changes in seemingly familiar actions to the vast differences in good manners, so many things can be surprising. Even experienced world travelers often find themselves in a new situation they had never been in before, shocked by some new twist in local custom. Here are some of the stories from such travelers who have found themselves face to face with surprising things when visiting another country.
35. Seatbelt Laughter
In Argentinean cabs, the belt will probably be buried under the seat. If you ask for it, the driver will get it out for you all serious and everything, going all “oh, certainly sir, excuse the inconvenience sir” like the finest butler, but BE SURE he will be laughing inside, and this will be a topic of conversation with his colleagues later.
34. A Country Of Grandmothers
How nice Vietnamese people are to Americans. Even after all that we went through in the war, everyone was so nice to me when I told them I was American. I felt like all the old ladies from which I purchased street food from were my long lost grandma. I was really sad when I left because if the rolls were reversed, I doubt that Vietnamese people would have experienced what I experienced in their country.
33. Only $20 To Change A Life
In Nicaragua, even being lower-middle-class here in the states, it’s astonishing the impact you can have on peoples lives.
When I went, we were staying in our aunt’s house, who has a housekeeper.
She was the nicest lady, and when we were leaving, my mom gave her 20$ to say thanks for how nice she was and how hospitable she was while we stayed.
She started crying, saying this pays for her child’s school for years, saying this is too generous, and that she has never met anyone nicer.
Still staggering to me, 10 years later.
32. Snowy Sidewalks
Lack of sidewalk snow removal in downtown Toronto. In (larger) Midwest US cities, the shop owners and city workers clear the snow off the sidewalks and the streets. I spent a winter week in Toronto and never saw less than 12 inches (30cm) of snow just slowly turning into pedestrian-flavored slush.
Seems lots of businesses have an airlock-esque vestibule with steel grates on the floor. People entering from the street just scrape the snow off on the grate and it falls down somewhere to melt and presumably make its way to St. Louis, to be turned into Bud Light.
31. Wait Times?
While I was in Germany we got to a restaurant that was full and asked what the wait time for a table was. The server liked at us like we were crazy and said he wasn’t sure – whatever answer he would give us would be wrong. As an American, I was super surprised since sit-down restaurants here will give you an ETA for the wait and have a waitlist you can add your name to.
30. Christmas Close Down
As an American in Ireland around Christmas, I found that basically nothing is open the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after (a bank holiday apparently = everyone’s holiday).
I ate Domino’s on Christmas Eve in Dublin because it was the only place open serving food.
On Christmas, we drove around the city of Dublin and it was a ghost town (think of the empty city shot’s from 28 Days Later). We accidentally went the wrong way on a one-way street (the signs are hard to spot) and were driving on the right side of the road instead of the left. Luckily, there was no one around to see this car of dummies driving around.
29. Peaceful Drinkers
Went to Germany, they had a fish festival at this park people drinking large amounts of alcohol and not getting in a fight over little things. In my state, you can’t have a beer tent without someone getting into a fist fight over some small thing.
I was so happy to see all types of people having a good time and not fighting; you had Asians, black people (real Africans) lots of creeds and races having a good time.
I thought to myself that this is how it should be everywhere. Here we are, humans, eating, drinking, laughing and talking.
28. Proper Good Food In England
The food is good in England.
Everybody says British food is gross, but those were the tastiest meals of my life. In London, you can get food from every country on earth, and even the traditional British food tastes pretty damn good. Also, the portions are perfect. In Canada, we have started to do portions American-style: as big as possible. In England, every meal was exactly the right size so that I was full, but not uncomfortably so.
27. No Need For Water
When I was living in Spain, I couldn’t believe how much water they didn’t drink. I always need to have water with me and I hate being dehydrated, but you could easily tell I was “guiri” (a tourist) because of it. Spaniards rarely carried water bottles around or drank water. If they ordered water at a restaurant, it was in a bottle and most don’t.
26. Panic In Paris
Media always told me that Paris is a romantic, beautiful and safe place.
But when I actually went there, oh boy. I almost got mugged in front of my hotel on my first day, got a bloody nose from the mugger.
Then to cheer myself up, my friends and I visit the Eiffel Tower only to have one of us pickpocketed then the atmosphere was further damaged by the French gendarmerie’s sudden arrival complete with a column of armored vans, officers in full body armor followed by immediate round-up and detention of illegal immigrants; like there were literally hundreds of those illegal immigrants swarming past us followed by the armored officers chasing after them.
25. Guns, Guns Everywhere
Guns in New York. Cops walking around with massive handguns just dangling off their hips. Soldiers in grand central with military rifles. Security guards in the UN building. Seemed like they were just everywhere but were also no big deal. I’m from Ireland where you can easily go your whole life without ever seeing one at all and I just found it all terribly unsettling.
24. The Adaptations Of The Scottish
How well the Scottish have adapted to being wasted. When I visited Edinburgh I was happy to find that there is an entire section of the city full of bars. Vehicle traffic is restricted after a certain time in the evening, according to a local I spoke to it’s because the patrons kept leaving the bars and getting “knocked over” by the cars.
My first night I had a few drinks and was walking back to the hotel. I was approached by a policeman at the edge of the bar district. Identifying me as a tourist he offered to have a squad car give me a lift back to the hotel. I was skeptical about getting into a police car in a foreign country, so I declined. He laughed at my discomfort and walked with me a few blocks, made sure I knew my way home, and wished me a good night.
23. Too Tiny For Cars
Singapore is tiny. If everyone had a car, there would be one endless traffic jam. Public transportation is cheap and efficient. The government recognizes this. If you want a car, you must buy a Certificate of Entitlement – a license to own a car – which costs around S$60,000 (USD $43,000). Car prices are also higher. Including the cost of the COE, a 2016 Honda civic costs around S$130,000 (USD $93,000).
All cars in Singapore are new or newish. Government emissions laws require that there cannot be any cars more than 10 years old in Singapore. Cars that reach the age limit are shipped to Indonesia or Malaysia and sold at low prices.
22. Friendly To Foreigners
Positive shock in Northern Ireland: how nice everybody was!
In 2009, I went to live in Northern Ireland for a year (I’m French). In the months before going to NI, everybody I would talk to about this would tell me about how NI was really dangerous, how the tension and violence between the communities were still high and how a single word could result in big troubles.
When I arrived there, I realized that it was a country that obviously had suffered a lot and that there were still tensions, but also that as a foreigner, everybody (and I do mean everybody) was really welcoming, happy to see me and talk. I met a lot of really interesting people and they were all happy to talk about the history and politics of NI with me, and never once get offended by what I said. One time, I talked about visiting Derry and a guy I just met corrected me “the correct name is Londonderry” and that’s all.
21. Bigger Bubble
The need for personal space in England. When I was there people started to get uncomfortable around me until a local told me that I was standing too close.
I usually keep away from people I don’t know, about 2x the distance people in my home country feel comfortable with.
Apparently, that was too close for the English people.
I didn’t think I’d be surprised by anything when visiting America, what with the huge amount of American media we get and having grown up near an American military base I thought I already knew everything about American culture, but what really surprised me was these shoe-shine stalls in all the airports and shopping centres, where you sit in these tall wooden chairs and someone comes along and shines your shoes while you wear them. Do most Americans not know how to shine their own shoes? It’s not like it’s an overly time-consuming activity. It just seems a really demeaning thing to do, to make someone else shine your shoes, especially when they’re still on your feet, it’s not like taking a suit to a dry-cleaner and picking it up later.
19. Trash Goes Where?
In Japan, I could not find a single trash can anywhere. I traveled from Tokyo to Nara, and could not find a single trash can in public. The only trash bins were the tiny ones in the hotels I stayed at. And if I thought I found one, it was either a recycling bin or a dog waste bin.
18. Hard Working Americans
How insanely hardworking everyone is. There is this myth that American people are lazy, perpetuated by American people themselves. They love saying they don’t work hard, but I have lived in three different continents and I have never in my life seen people as hardworking as Americans. People tell you they have multiple jobs like it’s a good thing, rather than a tragedy!
17. Indian Drivers
In Central America, Europe, and in India – the way people drive is unbelievable. India was the worst by far, but I have never seen more crazy and dangerous driving anywhere in the US. As an example – I saw a family of four riding on a moped on the interstate. Dad driving, wife sitting side-saddle on the back with one kid in her lap, and smaller kid on dad’s lap. No helmets. On some major roads, during rush hour the traffic switches to one-way – on 8-lane highways. And it’s not planned – there are no signals, or cops, or anything – cars just start driving on the wrong side of the road and pretty soon everyone is doing it. Stoplights become optional, and remarkably, relatively few people get killed.
16. Japanese Martians
The country which I felt was the strangest and most different to the modern Western world is definitely Japan.
I had the pleasure of living there for only 4 months, but I was in the suburbs of Osaka, so far away from tourist places.
When people ask me what it was like, I always tell them, imagine if there are Martians on Mars (not Matt Damon, but aliens). And imagine if they live on Earth, that’s Japan. It’s just so profoundly different than the rest of the world! The way they think (group thinking), the way they are so modern but so backward at the same time (they are pioneers in robotics, yet they still mostly use fax machines in businesses). They have this adoration for America and its people. The USA dropped two atomic bombs on the country and installed a puppet government for a while, yet Japan LOVES everything American. Imagine how people would react if the States did that to your country?
Since Christmas is a new thing for Japan, how they celebrate is by buying and eating KFC.
They are very very very nice and polite. If you are lost in a city and ask someone for directions, they will not know English, so they will take you there. Literally, walk you to where you want to go, even if its far away. Yet they are very xenophobic and think of themselves as better than other nations. Koreans who migrated to Japan 2-3 generations ago still don’t have citizen status, and they are discriminated against.
Although they took a lot from China, the writing, religion, philosophy, they still consider then savages.
15. Pointless Spacing
How POINTLESSLY FAR APART almost EVERYTHING IS IN AMERICA.
I visited several small towns across several states in the US over my 3+ month visit, and no matter where I went, anywhere that wasn’t a populated city seemed to be spaced as far away as possible.
Why on earth does a Dunkin’ Donuts McDonalds need like 10+feet of lawn each? In the same space my town, of a similar population, has a dozen shops, the towns I saw had two or possibly three.
And even with cities, why do you build your houses literally miles away from anywhere else? You lot are far far more sociable than us, why do you want to live so far away from literally anything?
14. American Waiters
How incredibly over-the-top waiters and waitresses are in America. They will fill your glass up before it’s empty, smile constantly, keep checking if everything is okay in five-minute intervals… Of course, I learned that this is because servers in America depend on tips to supplement their horrific wages, and that is why there is a baseline expectation for how much of a tip you should leave. Servers get a fair wage in England and do not hover around your table like flies; if you’d like another drink, you generally ask. Tipping is nice but not expected, and sometimes goes to the register instead of the server anyway. This doesn’t mean servers are necessarily rude in England; they just don’t break their necks trying to please you.
13. Parties And Hotdogs
Went to Iceland from the US. I was surprised how much of a party city Reykjavik was when it came to the weekend. I got there on a Friday morning, everything was nice, quiet, quite interesting, I went to my hotel and slept come Saturday morning. beer bottles, pub glasses, and signs of an epic party EVERYWHERE.
Sidenote: if you ever go to Iceland, make it a point to have a hotdog. They are incredible.
12. Everyone’s Family
I went to the Philippines (Boracay) and I was so amazed how the people treated everyone as “family” even though the people have close to nothing they still share. We had a couple invite me and a couple mates to their house for dinner because they wanted us to experience what real Filipino food was like and when we saw their house and how little they had I was amazed. These people had nothing yet the concept of family was very important to them. On our last day there I had a $100 note left (AUD) and I had nothing to spend it on so I gave it to the family and the father literally broke down saying that he could finally treat his family. To think $100 could mean so much to them made me really think about how lucky I am.
11. Homeless Piety
When some friends and I visited Prague I was greatly humbled by the Homeless/beggars in the city. Unlike the typical beggars I encounter in the US, these people carried no signs, and never said a word, instead, they lay face down on all fours with their noses nearly touching the ground with palms up. Most of them had their shoes off so they could put them under there knees or elbows. This was in late Dec and it was cold, so hours of laying on a stone bridge face down must have been excruciating. The level of piety really humbled me, walking through the beautiful city of statues and ancient skyscrapers most people looked right past them, but it really stuck with me
10. Peace, Tranquility, And Refugees
Peace, tranquility, and love I found in Palestine. Was there for two weeks (only in the West Bank) and apart from a couple of incidents everything was very safe and whilst I was aware that there’d be a lot of generous people I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of it.
I had free rides from taxi drivers, so much free food (not just rice and nuts, people would even cook meat when we went round). One guy took me on a tour of Bethlehem seeing all the parts of the town that tourists usually avoid, one girl brought me to her family home for dinner, taught me some of the language and then took me into the town center for a huge parade. The happiness was off the charts and not what I expected.
The only bad times were traveling to and from Hebron (we all stayed on the bus until we pulled into the gated compound) where we would’ve had a tough time, getting lost in a refugee camp and a security check as we were leaving a school. Half a dozen soldiers with guns pointed at you (I was the only young male in the group, so was probably profiled as high risk) is terrifying but that it only happened once in two weeks when we’re sort of lead to believe it’s a constant war zone was shocking. Miss the atmosphere of that country a lot.
9. Work Hard, Play Hard In The US
People in the US have to make sure you know they are busy. I feel like they are fearful other people might think they have free time. The whole work hard play hard mentality is so strong here. There is a pressure to “live your life to the fullest” and work crazy hours and then go home and have super interesting hobbies and be productive all the time. Learn how to laze around, people.
8. Different Hygiene Standards
The general disregard for hygiene/manners in China. People spitting on the floor EVERYWHERE including inside buses, shops, and restaurants. People littering EVERYWHERE. People smoking EVERYWHERE including inside shops, restaurants, and public transport. Children and sometimes adults peeing and even on some occasions pooing in the street. People shouting at the top of their lungs no matter where they are. People having no regard for other people, cutting into lines, pushing people.
7. Turkish Freedom
The freedom: I don’t mean legal stuff, I just mean Turkey was somewhere you could Live a Life. Life there didn’t revolve around work and work and work, it was about family and long walks and cafes. You would sit on a ferry and it was calm, not one person on their cellphones. There was no curfew where things would get weird, the streets were packed at 2:00 AM with families and their young children, shopping, eating, laughing. The days seemed longer in Turkey and not just cause I was on break.
6. Chill Chinese
Chinese people are like the most chill culture ever (at least in the south where I went).
I went to Guangzhou for Chinese New Year with a few friends and got hammered with a bunch of locals. Needless to say, the Chinese I’d learned got progressively worse over the night haha. We went to clubs and got hammered with more locals, I remember having a flex off with some female bodybuilder (she won and bought me a giant bottle of Tsingtao to make me feel better, it was super emasculating haha) and it was a great time. Then after all that, we found a games club with people playing Magic: TG and a few board games while getting hammered too. We joined them and rocked out at scrabble, then went to a garage store where a lady gave us the best tasting spicy noodles I’ve ever had for free because we cleared her entire shop supply of local beer in one night. We bought street fireworks, made a few local friends in the process and walked to the mountains to set off a massive firework display to ring in the new year before the sun came up.
5. Here On Vacation?
That nobody in Korea believed we were there on vacation. My husband and I love hiking and good food, so we traveled around South Korea for our honeymoon. Nobody we talked to — even a friend of mine we visited in Seoul — believed we were there for fun. They either assumed we were stopping over on our way somewhere else or were living there as teachers. I learned a little bit of conversational Korean to get by, and made sure to learn the word for “honeymoon.” Even speaking Korean they thought I must be mistaken.
4. Don’t Have Much, But Party Anyway
St. Lucia – people didn’t have a lot but the sense of community is beautiful! Got invited to the ‘Jump Up’ which was a giant street party every Friday night. People sold homemade dishes of stews and patties etc. but not for much…basically to cover the cost of making it. For the joy of celebration. Just because it’s Friday. Even though I was an obvious tourist I didn’t feel concerned about going off resort. I had people so excited to show off their homeland and tried to get a kick out of giving me hot sauce to taste. It was packed, full of wasted and dancing people of all kinds, but there was never a hint of aggression from anyone.
3. Customer Service Or Servant
Canadian here … Every time I go to the US, I’m unnerved by the over-the-top fawning of customer service there in shops and restaurants. It’s hard to put my finger on, but it seems like whereas here commercial interactions consist of two equals having a pleasant conversation, there it seems like the staff are either acting like your servants or your long-lost best friend. It seems incredibly fake, and it’s especially strange when you think of how the US is supposed to be the paragon of egalitarianism, when in fact I’ve never experienced as much class/rank-sensitivity at home as I have there.
2. Normal Insanity
San Fransisco, on one street people look friendly, make eye contact, a lot of small talk and taxi sharing etc. Walk to next street and really high zombie looking scary guy can start following you and say things. On some streets, the place looks like it’s from a post-apocalyptic movie. I saw a lady carrying her dogs in a shopping cart while shouting and running around with her friends. Some guys are walking around pants down/half down with a naked bum and it’s everywhere not just at certain streets etc. I even see a completely naked guy running on a crowded street in the evening.
I saw an expensive suit man and a hot woman get off a bar, jump over a sleeping homeless and get in a cab. And they did this so seamlessly it was like it’s a normal, everyday thing. See, we Americans always jump over homeless before getting a cab, don’t you know? It’s for luck.
It looks strange, anxious, sad but I like there somehow and will definitely go again.
1. Love For Strays
The friendliness and warmth: people were connected in Turkey. The family sitting next to us on the ferry bought us snacks, complete strangers, the mom asked to smoke a cig with me and we took some selfies on the way. I’d like to add that Turkish people Loved their stray animals. Having a stray cat hanging in a corner at the restaurant you were eating at was totally normal, and literally, everywhere you would find dog food dispensaries for anyone who would like to feed a stray. I’d always see people carrying bags of dog food feeding the strays they’d run into.