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American tourists are often taken off-guard by these. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 things that culture shock Americans.
For this list, we’ll be examining the ideas, experiences, places, and concepts that give Americans traveling abroad culture shock. They’re the things that make Americans feel disoriented by exposing them to a new set of cultural attitudes or experiences. Now, let’s experience some local color.
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#10: Drinking Water
Something as simple as water might seem like a universal constant no matter where you live, but for the most part, the USA enjoys relatively good quality drinking water throughout the country. However, many developing countries do not meet the same standards as the United States does when it comes to water pipes. This often necessitates boiling water before it can be consumed safely. Large cities can be safer, but it still depends on the country. On the whole however, the spotty water quality abroad has led to the rise of a common saying among American tourists: “don’t drink the water.”
#9: Everyone Smokes
With how stringent America’s smoking laws are, it can be easy for its residents to be surprised that other countries’ laws are lax or nonexistent when they travel outside its boundaries. Developing nations in particular are heavily marketed to by tobacco companies, since litigation against big business is too expensive for poorer countries. That isn’t to say the developed world is smoke-free however, as many countries have a cultural attachment to smoking. Regardless, American tourists need to learn to hold their breath or else hurry to their next, hopefully clean-aired, destination.
#8: Stores Not Being Open After 6 PM
If you're used to shopping on a whim, it can be disconcerting to discover that other stores in countries often close up around 6 PM. Although small towns typically close their local shops early, even in the US, large chains can shut down early abroad too, which can leave many visiting Americans out of luck if they’re shopping late. Restaurants are naturally excluded from this “rule” though, as early evening is right in the middle of peak business hours for many of them. Basically, visiting Americans should do their shopping early to avoid being locked out when they need something.
#7: Having to Pay For Everything
Visits to faraway lands can cost serious money, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Rather, we're talking about when Americans have to pay for things they take for granted as being for free in their own country. For instance, shopping carts at supermarkets will often require payment. Another unexpected expense for many Americans is the use of public restrooms, which also charge their users. Even things like refills in restaurants are not always free for diners. Still, we’re sure they’re a small price to pay when more important things are completely without cost.
#6: Sense of History
She may have been born in 1776, but the United States of America is a relatively young country on a global scale. Even then, Americans usually have to travel to the east coast states to experience their country’s oldest landmarks and historical sites. But traveling outside America’s borders gives its citizens a much greater sense of history, as most other countries have cultures dating back hundreds or thousands of years. Being exposed to foreign art, architecture, and long-standing customs gives many Americans a shock and really puts their own country’s place in the world, and its history, in perspective.
#5: Beer in McDonald’s
Although most foreign McDonald’s have their own quirks and special items, perhaps the most mind boggling for Americans is something as simple as beer. Drinking alcohol with McNuggets is possible in America, but not within the Golden Arches itself. Alcohol is not served at fast food restaurants in America, probably due to drive-thrus; but in countries like Germany or South Korea, beer is an option. But, for the American traveler who has strutted into a Mickey D's for something familiar, seeing beer on the menu board is likely to be just as baffling as the low prices of wine and alcohol overseas.
#4: Polyglots: People Speaking Many Languages
The United States is made up of people from many different races and cultures, but the predominant language remains English. Additionally, most of its population only speaks one language—be it English, or a language more native to their roots. Other countries, particularly those who do a lot of intermingling, such as those in Europe, offer a lot more opportunities for learning through immersion in other cultures, as well as more dedicated language curriculums. This leads to more people able to speak two or more languages with greater ease, which relatively monolingual Americans find surprising and/or impressive.
Restrooms and bathrooms outside the US have many features that Americans may find strange or unfamiliar, such as squatting toilets, separate taps for hot and cold water, or… ahem… bidets. In addition, some countries have bathroom etiquette that is alien to Americans, such as throwing out toilet paper in the trash instead of flushing it, which is often done due to the plumbing becoming easily clogged. Bottom line: Americans traveling abroad need to brush up on foreign commodes because if there’s one place you don’t want to find something unexpected, it’s the bathroom!
#2: New / Strange Foods
Unless they're particularly adventurous, most Americans are bound to be caught off guard by new or unusual foods they encounter abroad. Although these may be as simple as different spins on familiar dishes, other countries also favor unfamiliar meats, including bugs—which are mostly off the menu in the US—raw or live food, as well as local plants, vegetables, or fruits that are exotic to Americans. It can be tough to step outside our culinary comfort zones, particularly when we’re already outside our geographic ones, but being adventurous can be fun, when properly prepared or guided by someone in the know.
Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- ...So Do We Tip or Not?
- The Metric System
#1: Public Nudity
Americans have a lot of hang-ups about anything remotely sexual. What do you expect from a country founded by puritans? And, despite the country’s booming porn industry, nudity is also seen as very private and not something to be displayed in public. A good portion of the rest of the world does not have America’s literally puritanical upbringing though, and social nudity, both partial and complete, is much more common, especially at pools or beaches. It’s just not that big a deal for a lot of countries. Given American society’s cultural prudishness, US tourists do tend to gawk when they encounter brazen nudity.