Many people love the idea of traveling. But, do you have any awkward moments during your trips? Do you ever understand and accept the local culture of a place where you travel? We always live and react in the way that we are familiar with. However, during our travels and change of lives, we have to admit the culture shock is much more than we can expect!
I feel so amazed that a few like-minded travel bloggers join my idea to share their unique personal stories of the Culture Shock experiences! Reading their stories open my mind so much. Some of their stories perfectly echoed my feeling deeply (You know I’m a Chinese in Italy). Others gave me such a precious chance to know a new culture before even visiting the place by myself!
So, here you are.
Community Kindness in Brazil
Culture shocks can come in all shapes and sizes. But I didn’t expect the one I had when I went to Brazil for the first time.
I was in Rio with a male friend I had met in Malaysia and we met a man in his mid-forties who was there to run a marathon. He was great fun and we grew very close to him. He invited us to stay with his family in Brasilia. So, a week later we decided to take up his offer. He had organized a busy itinerary for us, sightseeing, parties and family events over multiple days. The kindness he showed us was incredible. But none more so than when we met his family for the first time.
One afternoon we were invited to a gathering and were welcomed like long lost relatives. The women fussed and pandered over us and were shocked that neither of us was married – let alone to each other. The most touching thing was that they were so worried about us being alone from our family, especially our mothers, just like we were their own children.
The highlight of our trip was probably the most unexpected. Our host was a helicopter engineer with the military police. So later during our stay, he surprised us with the most memorable experience ever – a ride in a helicopter over the capital, Brasilia. We flew over the city by night shining the spotlight into the largest stadium in the world and watching police arrest people for car theft front above. It was so surreal! People would have paid hundreds for something like that and our host did it because he wanted to give us the most memorable experience of our lives.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been in Europe and been snubbed for asking directions or have been looked at suspiciously just making conversation. It was a shock to meet such a tight-knit, totally family orientated community who did everything for us and expected absolutely nothing in exchange.
It took some adjusting to stop feeling bad for everything they did at first, but it made me realize what a beautiful thing family and community can be and how we need more of that kind of attitude back home in the UK.
Free and Not Free? Between the US and Europe
Everyone talks about the culture shock you experience during travel, and I was very curious to find and assess the differences as an American traveling through Europe.
One of the biggest surprises to me was certain things that are typically free in America were not always free in Europe.
In places such as metro stations and other public areas in Austria, you are required to pay a small fee to use the restroom. I embarrassingly did not have any Euros on me when I first came to this realization and had to hold it for a bit. Apparently, this fee typically goes toward maintenance for the facility.
Many Americans are agitated by this custom. I personally wasn’t, because the reasoning behind it makes sense. However, I do wish I would have known prior to attempting to use one without having any cash handy.
Another thing as an American I never expected to pay for was water.
In Barcelona, it was extremely rare to even find a place that would give me a glass of ice water. In most places, bottled water was the only option.
I was so shocked by the looks I would get when asking for tap water— you would’ve thought I had two heads and was placing my order in Morse code. It was even more surprising when places understood what I was asking, but refused and said the only option was bottled.
I learned quickly to carry a bottle around and refill it when I could. I initially drank a lot less water than I usually do but was doing a heck of a lot more walking. I just didn’t want to have to buy three bottles of water every time I had a meal. I think that a lot of people sometimes choose water because it’s free, but in Barcelona, beer was often the same price or cheaper than water, so you almost may as well go for the beer.
Also, for those curious, I did research and the water in the area was safe to drink, so that was not the reasoning behind them not giving it.
Lifestyle between Italy and India
Almost three years ago I moved to the eternal city. Little did I know then, that I was in for such a culture shock. Having grown up in India, I believed Italy would be so different and modern in terms of culture and family values. Especially, the capital city like Rome. I imagined things to be modern and westernized like in any big city.
But when I got there, I realized that the society there was equally family-oriented like in India. Close-knit families, traditional beliefs and not really modernized. In fact, things like banking, online transactions, and government processes were more developed in India. Mainly owing to the sagging economy and the people’s attitude towards work.
Over the years though, I’ve learned to love and appreciate everything in the city even though the slow pace of life really does get on my nerves sometimes. But still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tea or Coffee? Between China and Italy
Have you noticed that I’m actually a big Food & Drink enthusiast? Living in Italy with a Chinese background, I’ve noticed a big difference between drinking tea and coffee. In fact, everyone here is not an Italian could probably claim their culture shock when drinking their first Italian espresso. You know what I mean! Or, if you don’t, read this.
In China, my parents at home, my teachers in schools, the taxi and the bus drivers I’ve seen randomly – everyone drink tea in a way, that I’ve never seen here in Italy. Let me specify to you.
- Chinese drink tea from dry tea leaves from the tin, not from a teabag. Actually tea bag is considered as low quality, especially by the above 40-year-old generations.
- Once the tea is made with boiled water, it can stay for the whole day, as an extreme example. I’ve seen many people drink from their 500ml water bottle for the whole day. It has a composition of 1/3 tea leaves and 2/3 hot-to-warm water. When they finish the water till 1/3, new hot water will be refilled from the office, home kitchen, free hot water stand, etc.
- Tea-drinking can happen anytime. Basically it is just a substitute for water. So, the Chinese drink tea in the morning, during meals, for the afternoon break, and before their sleep.
You might argue that I’m talking about the tea-drinking habit of the older Chinese generation. Partially correct! Young general, however, especially the young female generation, changes their tea-drinking culture from traditional Chinese tea leaves to healthy tea recipes inspired by traditional Chinese medicine.
How do Italians tea? Hum… I think it’s widely influenced by the English tea-drinking culture.
- Drink from teabags (more common)
- Normally the peak time of drinking a cup of tea is the afternoon break
- Tea drinking normally means one cup of tea, which is infused with one teabag for around 2-3 minutes (straightly following the instructions on the back of the teabag package)
Talk about coffee, Chinese adopt the coffee cultures from the US, European and Australia. Black coffee, latte, flat white, cappuccino (Frappuccino) are all popular ones, but Italian’s espresso. It could be even a nightmare to ask a Chinese to drink Italian espresso. Want to know how it is like to drink coffee in Italy? Read my another cultural discussion about How To Drink Coffee Like An Italian.