18 Cultural Things Other Countries Do Differently Than America

After living across 3 continents and exploring some 40+ countries since 2012, I have inevitably noticed many things that the world does differently than Americans.  

Some things are better, and others are worse, but as a whole, I think it’s important to share my insight with my audience and all of my American friends back home.  Because of course, it’s obvious that us Americans have our own ways of doing things (Fahrenheit, miles, pounds anyone??) – which are drastically different than most of the world.

If you’re American, then you’ll know how easy it can be to get trapped inside your American “bubble.”  I’ll admit that I was trapped before I boarded my first flight overseas a few years ago.

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This me graduating college

However, the people I’ve met through traveling, the diverse cultures I’ve been immersed in, and the activities involved in my everyday adventures are some of the things that makes me appreciate the world we live in.  

Not only have I learned about myself, but I’ve obtained new perspectives and life experiences from every culture I’ve explored.   In case you missed it, check out my recent post titled “50 Lessons I’ve Learned From 50 Countries” to hear more! 

I’ve always been an observant person.  Whenever I am in a new country, I always notice the smallest things around me that are different to my daily life back in the USA.

So I am dedicating this post to all of the wacky and different things that other cultures do differently than the America style.  I have personally witnessed everything on this list with my own eyes.  

I hope you enjoy! 

1) In Korea, people bow instead of shaking hands when they greet.

After living here for the last year, it was hard to choose one specific thing to write about Korea beacyse there are SO many cultural things that are unique.  But this one, I see and do every single day. Every time someone greets another person (or says goodbye), they bow.  People rarely shake hands.  

2) In Sri Lanka, shaking your head left-and-right means “YES.”

This really confused me at first. When people bobble their heads left and right, it means yes. The same “yes” that americans shake their heads up-and-down.  It’s completely opposite and threw me off guard.  I finally understood it after a week in Sri Lanka..

3) In Japan, they slurp noodles loudly.

This one is actually insane.  People also do this also in Korea as well. When eating noodles, Japanese people (stereotypically older men) will slurp so damn loud- almost as if they are trying to piss you off.  I don’t know why they do this, but I find it really annoying and disgusting.

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4) In Indonesia, getting your ears cleaned from candle wax is a normal thing.

Almost all traditional massage places and spas have an option to clean your ears for $5-7 per hour.  I didn’t try it when I was in Indonesia, but people have told me that it’s amazing and they could hear twice as good after the procedure.  

5) In the Czech Republic, a typical full-time work week is 30 hours.

As is the case with many countries in Europe, full-time workers are only expected to work 6 hours a day (as opposed to America’s 8 hours).  Are you convinced to move to Europe?

6) In China, you are only allowed to have 1 baby.

I’m sure most of you already know this, but China has put limitations on it’s fertility rate. However, there are many exceptions to this rule and ethnic minorities are exempt.  The policy is enforced based on the families income levels and other variables.   I’ve heard rumors that this law is going to change soon, but for now, most families must hold it to one child.  It must be tough to regulate a nation that has 1.4 billion people…

7) In Taiwan, fishing for shrimp indoors is a common activity.

This was one of my favorite things to do in Taipei!  As Anthony Bourdain demonstrated on his TV show, The Layover, local Taiwanese people enjoy fishing inside of a restaurant.  You can rent fish poles for $10USD per hour, and you sit there next to a small man made pond that’s filled with murky water and shrimp. The place is kind of trashy and it’s open 24 hours.  The best part?  You get to grill and eat the shrimp inside of the restaurant! 

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8) In The Philippines, people ride jeepneys to get from A to B.

Jeepneys are awesome. They are old buses that are decked out in designs, stickers, paint and all crazy wacky things.  They are one of the main sources of public transportation, and each one is different from the next.  Many jeepneys blast music inside and they are very cheap to ride! It’s quite the experience.

9) In Turkey, some restaurants serve a hookah as an appetizer.

Smoking hookah in Turkey is like eating sushi in Japan. It’s just that common. At many restaurants, especially in the Beyoglu nightlife district, I was served a hookah on our table as we were waiting for our food. The sheesha (tobacoo) in Turkey is damn fresh, tasty and it was overall amazing. 

10) In Israel, the work week starts on Sunday.

Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest and 7th day of the week, is celebrated every Friday night at sunset and goes until the appearance of 3 stars in the sky on Saturday evening.  During this holy day, Jews refrain from work activities and the entire country pretty much shuts down. But starting on Sunday morning, people return back to school and work!   The workweek goes from Sunday-Thursday.  

11) In Malaysia, many toilets are “squatters.”

Not only in Malaysia, but lots of other counties in SE Asia have squatter toilets.  If you’re not familiar with a squatter, the name should be enough to create a visual image for these types of toilets.  More or less, they are holes in the ground and you squat to use it. Sound like fun?

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12) In Costa Rica, you can’t flush toilet paper in the toilet.

On the same note of toilets, you must throw your used toilet paper in a trash bin next to the toilet in Costa Rica. It’s sort of disgusting when you have to open the lid to that trash can, but you do what you gotta do…

13) In Spain, everyone takes a short nap (siesta) in the early afternoon. 

This is one of my favorite things about Spanish culture. Usually after eating their midday meal, people fall right asleep. I don’t know how or why this came about, but it’s definitely one of the reasons why people party so late in Barcelona and Madrid! 

14) In Brunei, the sales and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited.

I’m assuming that many of you have never even heard if Brunei, but it’s a small Muslim country on Borneo island, sandwiched between Malaysia and Indonesia.  This country, along with many other Muslim countries, have very strict alcohol policies. You can’t buy, sell or drink liquor.

15) In Vietnam, they eat dog meat.

As do the Chinese and Koreans, eating dog meat is common.  I actually tried eating dog soup in Seoul and it was pretty nasty. I also saw dog served at several restaurants when I was in Saigon, Vietnam.  It’s hard to believe, but dog meat is enjoyed by millions of people in Asia. 

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16) In Germany, many taxis are luxurious Mercedes Benz cars.

I couldn’t believe how awesome this was. As you probably know, Mercedes is German produced vehicle (along with BMW, Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen).  Almost every taxi that I saw in Berlin and Munich was a Benz.   Maybe Mercedes gives a kick-ass deal to taxi companies on their cars?  Whatever the case is, it can’t be that horrible of a job to be a taxi driver in Germany.  Whipping as fast as you can down the Autobahn sounds like paradise for a job. 

17) In Hong Kong, most restaurants serve hot tea instead of water.

This is also common across China as well. I understand that the locals are used to drinking hot tea everyday, but damn, I was so thirsty for water and most restaurants didn’t have any for me! Especially in the summer months, when it was hot and damn humid, all I wanted to drink was some ice cold water. That’s just not the case in Hong Kong.

18) In Singapore, it’s illegal to chew gum.

Singapore has the strictest laws in the world, which is why the country is so safe and clean! One of this most bizarre laws is that it’s illegal to chew gum anywhere. Not surprisingly, you can’t find gum in any convenient store and chewing gum will cost you a huge fine if caught on the metros. Of course, you are very unlikely to get caught, but you’re still breaking the law! 

Which one is the most surprising to you? Comment below and tell me!

18 thoughts on “18 Cultural Things Other Countries Do Differently Than America

  1. I have met people from Sri Lanka. I was told that the bobble head custom was a sign of respect. I have yet to travel there. Maybe I need to so I can see for myself. I will definitely take your word over someone who has not been there. Great article!

  2. In Indonesia, that’s not the only things.. We buy our bride from her parents! In some case, instead giving money, we can trade it with Pig, Buffalo, Cow, even Chickens :D. Come here, I’ll guide you.

  3. For number 3, I think Asians slurp noodles really loudly because it’s a sign that it tastes really good. It’s almost a sign of respect to the chef to show that the customer likes the food. It’s also a technique to help eat noodles when it’s really hot. Just wanted to share this!

      1. lol dude, great blog. But it is taken as a sign of enjoyment. Lots of food docs mention it, it’s common knowledge among food lovers.

  4. I am from Czech and it is totally false that we have to work only 6 hour. All the jobs requires you to work 8 hours plus 30 minutes (time you have to work up for your lunch break). So in fact we have to work AT LEAST 8,5 hours. Not to even mention the fact that most of the jobs requires you to work more because there is loads of work. Only people who do not have full-contract works 6 hours a day (plus the lunch break of 30 minutes).

  5. The taxi’s in Germany sound cool, but the most surprising was the no gum in Singapore! It reminds me of being in grade school again.

  6. Nice observations. One of the first things I noticed when I traveled to Germany at the age of 13 was that all of the taxis were BMWs and Mercedes. As a 13 your old boy, you could imagine how awesome I thought that was. Thanks for taking me back.

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