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10 Real Examples Of Culture Shock That Will Amaze You: Dog Poop, Food And Beyond

By Annie André

Not all cultures share our beliefs and values about what we think is normal, acceptable, right or wrong. These differences can cause severe culture shock. It’s a term that people throw around but often don’t understand. You may have already experienced culture shock and not even know it. Here are some examples of situations that could cause culture and turn a perfectly good holiday into your worst nightmare.

Welcome to your new country: People do things differently here.

Don’t underestimate the power of culture shock -that disconnect between what you expect and what you experience when you visit another culture.

It can happen to anyone, even seasoned travellers experience varying degrees of culture shock which can turn a trip of a lifetime into a complete nightmare. 

Culture shock can affect people in different ways leaving you feeling anxious, nervous, and confused to overwhelmed, disgusted, angry and homesick.

When it happens, you may not even realize it which is why it’s important to identify and understand what you’re feeling is normal. 

It happens to a lot of people who visit Paris who have over-romanticized images of Paris, only to find a version of Paris they never expected. The Japanese are especially susceptible to this, they call it “Paris Syndrome”.

Sometimes the differences between your culture and the new culture can be fascinating then turn into a thorn in your side.

For example, I found it charming that some businesses in France close on Monday and for up to two hours during lunch. Then it became an annoying inconvenience that I couldn’t get anything important done on my lunch break like banking. I once drove 2 hours to exchange our internet box that got fried during a thunderstorm, only to discover the store was closed on Mondays. It’s ok to feel angry but be patient. With time, these difference become part of daily life and those unhinged feeling of culture shock usually pass. 

You might be interested in reading this:
Stop Idolizing France! It’s Time To Adjust Your Expectations

Do you or someone you know idolize French culture or have a romanticized vision of France? Here’s a look at what it’s really like living in France. Unfortunately, reality seldom measures up to the picture-perfect image we fall in love with. I should know.

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10 Real Examples Of Culture Shock

I’ve put together ten examples of culture shock. Read through them and try to imagine how you might react or feel in these situations. Some may SHOCK YOU, some may not, but if you’re not accustomed to these differences, they can cause culture shock, which is normal.

And please don’t be rude when you see a row of skinned sheep heads behind the meat counter by pointing and making a twisted contorted expression of disgust. You’ll not only insult the locals, you’ll look ignorant.

1 – Food Culture Shock

TIP: Expect food to be different. What you think is gross may be considered a delicacy in other countries.

chicken feet culture shock

I’ll have some roasted rat and chicken feet, please! Oh what about some dog meat too? 

Travelling to a new culture means seeing things on the menu that you never knew you could eat. You don’t have to scarf down every weird thing you see, but at the same time, choosing not to eat could insult your hosts or make a bad impression. Use good judgement and don’t insult people by making disgusted facial expressions. 

Here are some examples of foods different cultures eat that may send you over the deep end.

  •  In some countries like Thailand and Africa, people eat wild field Rats roasted on a stick.
  • In China and some Chinese restaurants around the world, chicken feet is common, especially in Dim sum restaurants. 
  • Horse meat and blood sausage (boudin), although not an everyday food item, is normal in France. 

You might be interested in reading:

What to expect to eat at a French New Years Eve dinner party

 Spotted Dick? 10 Weird Traditional British Foods You’ll Love or Hate

2 – Language culture shock

TIP: Learn a few keywords and phrases before you go. 

culture shock language

In cultures where you don’t speak the language, simple tasks suddenly become more complicated- like riding a subway, ordering food at a restaurant or calling the cable company to tell them your box isn’t working. Don’t expect or assume people to speak your language. I’ve seen this happen many times throughout my travels. 

Imagine being in a country like Japan, where the language and the alphabet are entirely different. You have no car, so you head to the subway station or bus stop, but you can’t read the signs, and no one speaks English. You could take a taxi, but how would you tell the driver where to go if you don’t speak Japanese? Grunt like a monkey while pointing wildly?

This is precisely what happened to me in my first three months in Japan.

The continued frustration you feel from not being able to communicate can lead to culture shock.

I remember feeling helpless and frustrated at my inability to understand anything. Everything took extra time to figure out. I felt anxious about asking directions because I couldn’t understand what the other person was saying. At times I didn’t want to go out because it took too much effort.

Rather than curl up and cower home with my tail between my legs, I toughed it out. I took extra time to figure out the words for the places I wanted to go. I began learning Japanese, made some friends and immersed myself in their culture. It’s what made my stay in Japan so enjoyable.  Being able to speak a little also gave me the confidence to see and do as much as I could, despite my inability to communicate fluently.

 

3– Nudity in public and boobs on the beach

nudity-culture-shock

(My husband sleeping at the beach next to a topless woman)

 

TIP: Don’t expect other cultures to have the same views as you about nudity in public.

It’s just not a big deal in some countries. In France, for example, it is not uncommon to see women going topless at the beach. Not only young beautiful women but older women in their 80’s too. Don’t expect hundreds of women to be topless at the beach either unless you go to a nudist beach. Instead, you’ll see a smattering of women here and there because NOT everyone goes topless.

You don’t need to go topless at the beach but don’t act as if you’ve never seen a pair of breasts either and for goodness sake, don’t stare. You’ll get used to it, and then it just becomes no big deal.

**note: At the poo,l my husband used to swim at in Hyères France, some women used to swim topless which did shock my husband at first but again after a while he just got used to it.

4 – Clothing: Burqa’s and the way people dress

standing in line at the prefecture in Montpellier

Do you dress modestly enough?

TIP: Do some research about proper attire before you go. You may discover certain things are inappropriate.

At the other end of the spectrum of nudity are women who must cover most of their body including their arms, legs, ankles, neck and sometimes their face like many women from Muslim countries whose custom is to dress this way mainly to enforce female modesty.

The first time I saw a woman wearing a full burqa that covered up every inch of their body except for their eyes was in France.

{There is a large Muslim population in France, so it’s not unusual to see women wearing a Hijab ( scarf on their heard) or a Burqa (covered from head to toe)}

I remember two women were wearing full burkas which covered up every inch of their body except for their eyes. One of them was wearing black gloves as she pushed her baby along in a stroller.

I couldn’t help but stare (I tried to do it discreetly). I wondered how they ate with their mouth covered up, how they swam. How could they stand the hot summer months wearing a burqa? I think part of my shock was because I didn’t expect to see this in France.

 

culture-shock-hajib

I met the woman above in Marseille (she is wearing a hijab)

5 – Hygiène: Blowing your boogers and snot

culture-shock-pick-nose

How to properly clean your nose?

TIP: People from different cultures view hygiene differently.

Most of us are taught from an early age that it’s just not polite to pick a winner. One must use a tissue or handkerchief and blow our nose into it, then put the tissue in your pocket until you can dispose of it later.

Theodora, a single mom who is travelling the world with her son, said that in some parts of Asia, the thought of blowing your nose into a tissue and saving it for later is disgusting. Instead, many people cover one nostril and blow out the other nostril so whatever is up there will get blown out like a projectile and hopefully land on the ground.

6) Toilet Culture shock

Using your hands instead of toilet paper:

culture-shock-wipe-butt-without toilet paper

You probably think toilet paper is necessary but some cultures would rather use water and their hands to clean their private parts after a pee or a poo- not toilette paper.

I know what you’re thinking. WHAT! Use your hands to wipe poo from your bum?

In some Asian countries such as Thailand, India, parts of Africa and some Muslim countries such as Morocco, using water and your hands, not toilet paper, is considered much cleaner than using toilet paper and the preferred way to get a squeaky clean derriere. 

Think of it like this. If you had poo on your arm, would you take a piece of toilet paper to wipe it off and call it a day? No, you wouldn’t. that would be like smearing it all over your arm. Instead, you would probably use soap and water to wash it clean.

Tutorial: How to use the WC without toilet paper!

If you find yourself in a restroom in a country that doesn’t use toilet paper, here’s what you can expect and what you should do. 

There is usually a bucket full of water with a ladle or scoop. Sometimes there will be a hose but not always. 

Scoop out some water and pour it on your rear while cleaning yourself with your left hand. After it is all said and done, wash your hands with soap.

When we went to Thailand, I made sure to carry some toilet paper in my bag or some wipes to dry myself off. Sometimes I had a water bottle too just in case there was no water in the bucket. 

Watch this video of  Wilbur Sargunaraj explaining the whole process. what to expect and what to do if you find yourself in a country where toilet paper is not usually offered.  in the video, a bucket filled with water and a smaller container in the bucket called a dipper is used to scoop out some water and pour it on your rear while cleaning yourself with your left hand. After it is all said and done, you wash your hands with soap. 

-Squatting in the toilet

squat toilet vs western sit down toilette

 

TIP: Learn about toilet customs before you go. You might thank yourself later.

Some toilets have lids, and some have a lever you push, some you pull. In other words, not all toilets look like American toilets.

In FRANCE: it is not uncommon to find toilets with no seat covers or lids.

When I lived in Japan, I was surprised to learn that many of the bathrooms were squatting toilets. If you’re fortunate, there was a pole you could grab onto to keep your balance while you did your business. 

culture-shock-squat-toilett in Japan and Asia

Photo via Kata Canadian

7- Strange celebrations and customs:

Culture shock: phuket vegetarian festival

When is it ok to cut and hurt yourself?

TIP: Every culture has its own customs and rituals. To the rest of the world, they may seem strange and bizarre, but to them, it has special meaning. Learn about their customs to get a better understanding.

There are customs and rituals around the world that would make many of us scratch our heads and maybe even recoil in disgust. This feeling is yet another example of culture shock.

My friends travellers” href=”https://www.annieandre.com/milller-family-slow-travel-world-lose-money/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer” data-lasso-id=”321″>Jennifer and Tony Miller were in Thailand during their world travel tour with their four kids where they saw a festival in Thailand called the Phuket vegetarian festival. People participating in this festival were causing all kinds of bodily harm to themselves as part of the festival. Blood was everywhere.

  • One man was slicing his tongue with a knife.
  • Another man was jabbing his cheeks with sharp objects.

Most travellers and tourists would probably be quite horrified to watch this festival and wonder “WHY?”. But this festival holds special meaning to the locals.

If you are interested in seeing Jennifer’s photo essay about this festival, you should go and read about it on her blog Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Just remember, you may not like what you see.

8- Dog Poom- Accepting the unacceptable social norms

There is no worse feeling than taking a stroll and stepping in a hot pile of dog dung. That disgusting stench that is released and won’t go away no matter how much you try to scrape the bottom of your shoe on the curb or in the grass.

France has had a bad reputation for all the dog poop and guess what? It’s true. There is an exceedingly large amount of dog dung everywhere.

I remember hearing about the dog poo problem in France, but knowing and experiencing first hand are two completely different animals. When I was actually living in France and saw the problem up close, I felt frustrated and confused. How can you just leave your dog’s feces lying in the street? It boggled my mind. Even the French hate dop poop and know they have a problem. Why else would there be avertissements announcing a 50 euro fine for not picking up after your dog?

Culture shock: signage in Hyeres France stating that you will be fined if you do not pick up your dog poop

It took about a year for me to adjust and take on the French attitude towards the dog poo problem, which is…I don’t have to like it, but I don’t have to get frustrated or angry either. I tolerate it and say, “That’s just the way it is, what can I do?” C’est la vie!

See Also: The Day We Found Dog Poop On Our Front Door Step!

9-Don’t Flush The Toilet Paper Please!

culture shock throw paper in rubbish bin

Tip: Try to understand why something is different because sometimes there is a practical reason for the difference in a cultures social norms

Nancy Vogel of Family On Bikes said in many countries, especially in Central and South America, one should not throw used toilet paper in the toilet. You must throw it in the rubbish bin. When I heard this, I immediately thought, wouldn’t it start to smell up the bathroom? It turns out; toilet paper is thrown in the rubbish bins because the septic system cannot handle anything other than human waste; not even toilet paper. Some hotels have signs asking guests to throw their used toilet paper in the waste bin and NOT the toilet.

10

What Can You Do About Culture Shock?

Your best chance at overcoming culture shock is to adapt to your new culture and try to understand the history and reasons why cultural differences exist. Look at it as a learning experience to gain a fresh perspective and develop a better understanding of that other culture.

You might see things in a whole new way and find it easier to adjust and deal with the differences. It’s these differences that make travel so compelling.

If you want everything to be the same, you can always stay at home.!

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