What seems normal in U.S. culture is anything but that in many other countries. These are surprising societal norms that make Americans do a double take.
Note: Some quotes in this piece have been lightly edited for grammar.
1: Chilly Naps
A Swedish person says it’s totally normal in their culture for parents to put their babies outside to sleep, even in the winter. “I have pictures of myself as a baby, asleep outside in a stroller in the snow, with a warm hat and wrapped up in blankets.”
2: Alcoholic, Says Who?
In Finland, it’s acceptable for people to drink as much as they want from “Friday 5:00 pm to early Sunday,” says one commenter. “But having a glass of wine with food outside of that schedule makes you alcoholic.”
3: Extended Living
Living with your parents until you’re married, regardless of your age, is a societal norm in Asia. “It’s also common for us to continue living with parents even after getting married and having kids,” explains an Asian. It’s a two-way street, with grandparents helping to watch the kids in their younger years and receiving senior care from their kids in their sunset years.
4: Late Dinners
Dinner isn’t dinner in Argentina unless it starts at 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm, says one Argentine. They also say everyone kisses on the cheek as a greeting, even with strangers. That includes men cheek kissing with men.
5: Pharmacy Overload
In Vietnam, it’s a cultural norm to buy anything you want and as much as you want from the local pharmacy. No doctor’s prescription needed.
6: Birthday Suit
Going around in one’s birthday suit in public, including among mixed genders, is no biggie in Germany. There are public places specifically for people who want to meander around as such, and going to a sauna without clothes is completely normal. People from other countries chimed in; not wearing clothes in public is normal in places like Denmark and Finland too.
7: Planning Around Electricity
While it’s far from ideal, a South African person says that planning around daily “load shedding” (blackouts) is totally normal in their culture. The blackouts last up to four hours each time, and can happen multiple times per day. “We’ve become so used to it that we basically schedule our lives/activities around it,” they said.
Whereas slurping is downright rude in the U.S., in Asian cultures, it’s praised. “Slurping is a sign that one really enjoys the food and thinks it is delicious,” says one commenter.
9: A Duck Park Trip
Some things are better left told straight from the horse’s mouth: “Growing up, I had a friend who was born in Bangladesh. When his family first immigrated, they didn’t realize going down to the local park and killing a duck for food is not normal here in America.”
10: Tea Time Times a Million
“Sudanese people drink tea like water,” says a commenter from Sudan. They describe people drinking tea in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, and at night. “There’s coffee too, but there is ALWAYS tea.”
11: No Shoes
A Kiwi says going around barefoot is a societal norm in New Zealand. “Many children walk barefoot to school,” they say, even though they have shoes. The kicker for Americans? “You’ll see barefoot people in supermarkets and fast food [restaurants].”
12: Non-Stop Drinking
“Welcome to Britain!” says a British person about the non-stop drinking there. A non-Brit agreed, saying they thought their Scottish boyfriend had a drinking problem until they moved to the UK and Ireland. “He drank less than most people did by comparison.”
13: Fighting for the Bill
An Asian person says it’s common in Asian culture for people to want to pay the bill for the entire family, no matter how extended that family is. They say the conversation goes something like this:
“‘I will pay. I am the most elder person. I have a responsibility to the family.'” The counter is “‘No, I will pay. Even though I am young. I earn well enough to cover. Let me pay this time.'”
14: A Different Viewing
An employee describes the time when, after their Catholic boss passed away, their Jewish coworker was shocked to read the funeral arrangements and learned that “viewing” meant staring at their boss’ body in an open casket.
15: Pointing Rules
To Germans, it’s impolite to point with a bare finger, thanks to an old proverb. So, many Germans pull their sleeve over their finger before pointing. A non-German describes the time they walked by a flower garden with their German friend, commenting on how beautiful they were. The friend was horrified. “‘Don’t POINT at them! You can’t POINT!'” The person says, “I was so confused, especially since I was complimenting them.”
16: Pushy Hospitality
A Romanian says it’s a cultural norm in Romania to be ultra-pushy with guests about them accepting offers of food and alcohol. They never loved the practice, saying, “I grew up to hate this sort of pushy hospitality.”
17: Cappuccino Shut Down
“Thou shalt not drink cappuccino after 11:00 ante meridiem,” says an Italian about their cultural norm. A tourist to Italy said they knew about Italy’s 11:00 am rule “but thought I would test it and found it hilarious that the waiter was genuinely ready to fight me on it.”
18: Hand Holding
A tourist to Ethiopia reflects on their trip, saying it’s a cultural norm there for “men who are good friends (and just friends) to hold hands in public.” To them, it was “kind of sweet” to see.
19: No, Yes
A Brazilian says, “It’s impolite to say ‘no.'” Instead, people work around it by saying, “‘Well, it’s kind of hard right now.” They say that talking about money in general is considered a no-no in Brazil.
Americans, listen up. These are the ultra-American things that you assume everyone does around the world, but it just ain’t so.
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