Culture clashes are not a new fact of life. If you have traveled overseas there’s a good chance you’ve encountered a situation in which your actions have left locals feeling a bit awkward, mad, or even confused.
We searched the web for examples of culture clashes that didn’t seem like a big deal to Americans but matters in other cultures. Some of our tips will help you navigate your next trip while other culture clashes will help explain why you don’t see certain actions occurring in other countries.
If you remember these tips you won’t look like a noob when it’s time to pack your bags, grab your passport, and head out on the vacation of your life.
You’ll be surprised to learn what it means to ask for directions in some countries.
10. I’m Not Eating That!
Sending food back when eating out at a restaurant in the U.S. because you think it’s below par is hardly something we’d call taboo. Unless the dish looks like it’s been kicked around on the kitchen floor, or could be certified as dangerous, in many other countries they’ll just accept the meal and hope for a better one during a second visit. Complaining in some countries is just plain rude.
9. You Think I’m Funny!?
Americans are generally known throughout the world as being a fairly cheerful bunch of people. But one thing you should know when traveling abroad is that smiling at strangers could totally freak people out. In much of Europe for instance, people tend to keep to themselves. A smile could actually cause offense!
8. I Don’t Need Your Charity Buddy
Not giving a tip for certain services in the U.S. might encourage people to think you’re a tight wad, but give a tip for ordering a beer in a local pub in England, for instance, and it’s likely you’ll make someone think you feel sorry for them. Generally speaking, tipping in many places around the world is normal behavior only in expensive restaurants. Read on, and save yourself some more blushing.
7. Drugs That Make You Feel Good, As Advertised on TV
In the U.S. the advertising of non-prescription drugs on TV is nothing out of the ordinary, if not a little controversial. Have you ever seen that ad for Prozac and felt like going out and asking your doctor for a prescription? In many other countries, this is seen as highly unethical, with direct-to-consumer advertising being totally outlawed.
6. Asking for Directions
Most American cities have been designed to be easily navigable. If something is 4 blocks East, then it’s not going to be hard to find. Ask most Europeans how many blocks it is to the zoo and they might not know what the hell you are talking about. “Block” is not used in many countries due to the fact there are no blocks, just a very confusing series of squiggles.
5. The Metric System
Although in the UK you can get away with miles and pounds, in most of the world if you’re not using the metric system no one will understand you. Have you seen the movie Pulp Fiction? If you have, you’ll know that the famous quarter pounder with cheese in France is called the Royale with Cheese. A lot of people in France don’t know and don’t care what a pound is. The next rude American fact will shock you!
4. The Rude American
Try walking into a house in some countries with your shoes on and you’re likely to either get sent right back out the door or seen as being exceptionally impolite. In most parts of Asia, where it’s often hot all year round, the rule is to always take your shoes off. The same goes in most Muslim countries. Nonetheless, it’s not always about the heat. In most parts of Scandinavia, and even the Ukraine and Russia, you should also not step inside a house with your shoes on.
3. Student Debt
Getting yourself in debt in America for obtaining a college degree is something of a norm. In many other countries, a university education is not something that will break the bank. In fact, it’s seen as something that all people should be able to achieve without the need for any kind of loan. We don’t mean to rub it in, but the next one is equally annoying.
2. Sickness Crisis
It’s well known in the U.S. that a trip to the hospital for those not insured can end-up causing severe harm to the family finances. Many countries around the world either offer free healthcare or services that virtually anyone can afford. In terms of First World nations, the U.S. is routinely given a very low healthcare rating.
1. News Anchors Squabbling
Just about anywhere in the world, the sight of news anchors having an argument would be ludicrous. So, why is this something we see in the United States? It’s likely the ratings and subsequently the ad dollars that come along with “infotainment.” It says something that Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was just a massive hit in the United States.
The best thing about traveling is experiencing all those little things people do differently. In terms of your behavior, don’t sweat getting things wrong, because in the end people in other countries will probably realize you didn’t understand their cultural norms. We do advise, however, that when traveling you read up on your destination, just to make your trip that much more smooth. All travel guides for countries have a “Dos and Don’ts” chapter.
We know there are so many more things we could add to this list, so we’d love to hear from you. What did you find most odd when traveling? Did you accidentally upset anyone? What about something you’d love to see in America that we don’t have here. Leave us a comment with your thoughts.