Cultural Norms That Are Unusual In Other Countries

Cultural Norms That Are Unusual In Other Countries

Marcel Stevens

Marcel Stevens

Marcel has over 12 years in journalism who enjoys writing, jogging, reading and tennis.


“I didn’t realize how strange this actually is until I left the US and spent time abroad.”

Society is governed by tons of little norms that often seem so engrained, you probably don’t even think about them. But these standards differ by country, and what’s commonplace where you’re from might seem totally bizarre to someone from another country. So Redditor u/ElizaPaukova asked. “what is normal in your country, but strange in another? Here’s what people said.

1.

“In the UK, children are legally allowed to drink once they turn five years old as long as it’s on private property. A lot of 13-17 year olds have house parties where they get wasted, and although it’s not recommended, it’s perfectly legal. This comes as a major shock for people from the US where the legal drinking age is 21 with no exceptions.


Paramount Pictures Studios

2.

“In Portugal, our food culture is unique and confusing to the rest of the world. Food is a huge part of our lives and most socializing and family time revolves around mealtime. When you have someone over for a meal, it’s expected to last all afternoon. I moved to the UK with my family, and the first time we invited new friends for a meal, they came exactly at the time we told them to, ate quickly, and then left, all within about an hour and a half. I was shocked, but apparently other places don’t treat mealtime as such a leisurely affair.”

3.

“I’m from South Africa, where we call our traffic lights ‘robots’. It can be very confusing for foreigners.”

4.

“In the Netherlands, we are very used to caving conversations so quietly and discreetly that no one else can hear you except the person you are directly talking to. It’s a skill almost all Dutch people have, but it can be very unnerving for others because you can be sitting pretty close to two people talking and have no idea what they are saying. Dutch people really value their privacy.”

5.

“Shoes are very optional in New Zealand in casual settings. You generally don’t wear shoes inside a house so popping out without shoes is normal. Kids spend a lot of time barefoot. I’m a teacher and don’t wear shoes while in the classroom because I find it more comfortable. When I taught overseas, the kids thought it was so weird that I let them take their shoes off. Here though, about half take their shoes off as soon as they get to school!”

6.

“Drive thrus are really unique to the US and unusual to the rest of the world. America has drive-thru everything: Drive thru coffee shops, drive thru ATMs, and even drive-thru liquor stores. It’s mind-blowing.”

7.

“In Venezuela, [the birthday kid will] scream when we cut their cake. It is expected to be a blood-curdling scream, and people laugh at and ridicule you if it isn’t loud or scary enough. Also, our birthday song is like two minutes long.”

8.

“Air conditioning in the US. It is not a luxury reserved for the ultra rich. In fact, the majority of American households have it. In the rest of the world though, having air conditioning in your home is definitely not the norm.”

9.

“US portion sizes. Those giant heaping plates of food are not normal to the rest of the world. I’m from the UK and have visited several places in the US. The biggest shock is how big the food and drink portions are. A regular sized meal in the US is easily enough for two people back home.”

10.

“In Chinese culture, it’s considered weird and offensive to use formal or polite language around the people who are closest to you. For example, it would be very strange to say the equivalent of ‘thank you’ to a family member who passed you a dish at a meal. You show your intimacy with others by using brief, informal speech. Using polite speech puts distance between you.”

11.

“In Germany, it’s tradition to throw porcelain, ceramic pots, and other fragile things in front of the bride’s house a day or two before the wedding. The point is to break them into shards because it’s said that these shards bring luck. Anything that breaks can be thrown, except for mirrors, since superstition says breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck.”

12.

“In the US, it’s totally normal — even mainstream — to eat extremely sugary desserts for breakfast. Donuts, pancakes, most cereals, Pop-Tarts, etc all contain huge amounts of sugar and little nutrition. There is literally Oreo cookie cereal that kids eat for breakfast.”

13.

“American accents. I mean, everyone thinks their own accent is normal, but I’ve met Americans who think that they have no accent, like theirs is the baseline somehow.”

14.

“In Japan, convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Lawson sell gourmet meals such as fully prepared bento boxes and freshly made onigiri. In the US we have hot dogs and questionable pizza slices, but you’d be really hard pressed to find a somewhat nutritious, fresh, and delicious full-blown meal from a convenience store.”

15.

“In Australia, getting your car smashed in by a kangaroo one day, then seeing a suspension wrecked by a wombat two weeks later. The wildlife in Australia is no joke.”

16.

“In most Muslim countries and in Israel we start work on Sunday — not Monday. Our work week is shifted because Friday is the day of prayer.”

17.

“In the Netherlands we have a popular breakfast called hagelslag that is nothing more than chocolate sprinkles on buttered bread.”

18.

“The fact that Americans call a main course an entrée while in almost any other part of the world, ‘entrée’ refers to an appetizer.”

19.

“In Norway, it’s very normal to bring home the leftover alcohol you brought to a party. This might be considered rude in other places, but in Norway everyone does it because alcohol is so expensive here. A beer costs anywhere from £3 to £5. Any decent hard liquor that doesn’t taste like hand sanitizer starts at above £50.”

20.

“In India, arranged marriage is still the norm. I went to law school with a guy who already had an engineering degree. He told me he only enrolled in law school because his family expects him to return to India when he’s finished schooling and have an arranged marriage. As a result, he keeps enrolling in new higher education programs to postpone his engagement.”

21.

“In Norway and much of Scandinavia, we don’t talk to strangers unless we really have to. In fact, as a society we have developed some kind body language to insinuate things without speaking. For example, if you’re sitting on a bus and you’re getting off, but you’re blocked in by another person: just lean forward and grab the handle of your bag. The other person will know you’re asking them to let you out.”

22.

“In the Netherlands, we celebrate birthdays while sitting in a big circle in the living room, eating small blocks of cheese, little sausages and pickles. Then we all go home on our bicycles.”

23.

“Lunch in America. It probably has to do with our work-life balance and live-to-work mentality, but it’s totally normal to grab a quick lunch from your favorite fast casual eatery and then scarf it down alone at your desk. I didn’t realize how strange this actually is until spending a semester in Spain. In Europe, the American concept of a hurried desk lunch is totally bizarre. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in many European countries. Even those working in offices will often take an hour or more to sit together, talk, and enjoy a leisurely meal.”

24.

“In many parts of Asia it’s normal to live with your parents until you get married. In fact, living in the same building as your parents even after getting married is not uncommon.”

25.

“Kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I’m American so I think it’s totally normal. but my relatives from outside of the US think that kids chanting these same words everyday is really bizarre.”

26.

“In parts of East Africa, it’s very common to touch others’ feet as a sign of respect. Actually, the most formal greeting in Swahili literally translates to “I hold your feet.’ You can say it as a respectful greeting even if you aren’t doing it in the literal sense.”

27.

“Only speaking one language and never or rarely traveling outside of the country. In the US, this is standard, but in other countries particularly in Europe, people speak multiple languages fluently and traveling abroad is a nonchalant occurrence.”

28.

“In Europe, the concept of being able to drive from one country to another in a matter of a few hours is wild in most other parts of the world. In the US, it would take you at least 14 hours to drive across the single state of Texas. To put this into perspective, in Europe you could drive from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Bruges, Belgium in about three hours, from Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary in two and a half hours, or from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmo, Sweden in just 45 minutes.

29.

“Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In the US, it’s a classic combination that is introduced to us as children. I have lived in both Finland and the US. When I attempted to make a PB&J in Finland, one of my housemates asked me ‘are you really going to eat that?’ Everyone thought the idea of a PB&J was totally gross.”

30.

“The lack of annual paid time off from work in the US. My uncle recently moved to the UK from the states and could not believe his ears when his company told him he’d have 35 vacation days per year. In the rest of the world, more generous PTO is standard.”

31.

“In Japan, tipping in general is seen as a sort of taboo, and some people feel insulted if you tip them. This is a big difference from other parts of the world like the US, where tipping is essentially mandatory.”

32.

“In Mexico, we never put our elderly in retirement or nursing homes. As a Mexican and I was raised to believe that your parents take care of you for the first part of your life and then it’s up to you to take care of them during their last part.”

33.

“Eating pizza with your hands is an American concept that the rest of the world doesn’t understand. In most other places, people eat pizza with utensils. Brazilian but I’ve lived almost my entire life in North America. When I went back to brazil and ate pizza with my hands, the people around me gave me weird looks like I was uncivilized. “