30 Of The Biggest Culture Shocks People Experienced When They Visited The US

Published 3 years ago

It’s no surprise that different cultures have different customs and traditions – and it’s not just food or style of architecture. Sometimes their whole way of life is different – and more often then not, these differences can be quite overwhelming to an unsuspecting person, leaving them absolutely stunned. There’s even a term that perfectly describes this feeling – culture shock.

A little while ago, a user of the r/AskEurope subreddit asked people who’ve been to the USA to share some of the biggest culture shocks they’ve experienced, and received hundreds of surprising answers. Rude policemen, gigantic portion sizes, dilapidated public transport systems, and more – see the American things that surprised non-Americans the most in the gallery below!

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Image source: crackanape

Police are the rudest and most aggressive I have experienced anywhere in the world (and I say this as someone who’s dealt with some famously prickly regimes). I go up to ask directions and they put their hand on their gun. If I have more than a single question they are basically telling me to back off and move along. I always read about conflicts between American police and citizens; with that attitude, no wonder it’s a problem.


The poverty. I had been to the US a lot, but always along the costal cities. Sure, I saw homeless people around LA and New York, but I’ve seen homeless people in Sweden too and figured it probably had to do with addiction or mental illness. Then a couple of years ago I decided to travel across the US. I started in Los Angeles, then Nevada and then just moved on throughout the southern parts of the country. There were places that looked like a third world country. Homes barely holding together, people with dirty clothes, just horrible horrible poverty that I’ve never ever seen in a developed country before.

Image source: MrOaiki


Image source: Taalnazi

I saw more obese and morbidly obese people than I ever had seen before in my life. Literally, before I visited NYC, I think I only once or twice saw a morbidly obese person.


Everything is sugary and sweet. I swear even bread was sugary instead of salty.

Image source: napaszmek


Image source: GalileoGaligeil

Having to say the ”Pledge of allegiance“ every single day, not gonna lie I found that really strange because it kinda gave off North Korea vibes to me, that’s just something that would be unheard of in German schools


As a German the patriotism is very scarry. I worked in a camp for kids in the woods of North East and the first thing we did in the morning was to gather at the flag and sing the anthem. Every morning! I can’t even remember when I sang the Germany anthem the last time?! One time the boys of my group, who were the oldest group in camp, randomly stud up after lunch and started singing the anthem again. All the kids joined in and after they were finished the chanted “USA USA…” And hit on the tables in rythm. I sat there with a guy from South Africa and we both were paralyzed. I guess for someone with a history that made it necessary to reflect critically on patriotism the American patriotism is super scary.

Image source: dubledo2


Image source: Luzi1

I witnessed a mother opening several packs of sugar and sprinkle it in their kids Coca Cola. I’m still speechless.

I also can’t comprehend how people think private health insurance is a threat to their freedom or that private prisons could be a good idea.

Lastly, the gap in the toilet doors. WHY


How hard it is to walk in smaller cities. Everything is designed around cars. Want to go to the mall across the street? There’s a 6 lane road, good luck crossing that! If you somehow manage to do it, you still have to cross a gigantic parking lot that is like 10% full.

Image source: superpauloportas


Image source: orangebikini

Any time I’m in the States I’m always shocked by the amount of homeless people. Especially in San Francisco and Los Angeless.


The prices. Deals were extreme. Like you would get 12 donuts for the price of 2.5 single ones. I didnt want to overpay for a single donut, but i couldnt eat 12. So i didnt bought anything.

Healthy stuff was 2x-3× the price Im used to. Unhealthy stuff was half the price.

Image source: BrunoBraunbart


Image source: Squidco-2658

When I was a young child I went on holiday to Florida. I remember going to a museum and seeing a ‘non guns’ sign at the entrance. My mum has to explain to young me that in the US people regularly carried guns around, which blew my mind. Still does today.


Image source: Panceltic

Extremely dirty and old public infrastructure – NY subway feels unsafe to use at times, some of the stations look like they’re collapsing any minute now


I went to Miami for a day when I was 11. I was just so shocked and disgusted by the slums, the country acts like they’re so far ahead but their poverty is indescribable. Every country has their poor and underdeveloped areas, but wow man. Miami gave my system a shock.

Image source: myownfreemind


Image source: Tballz9

People wear shoes inside their homes. So strange.


The loudspeaker announcements about how much we love the soldiers. What the hell? It sounds so fascist.

Image source: crackanape


Image source: Panceltic

Obligatory (not-really-but-yes-totally-obligatory) tipping


Said it before, and I’ll say it again. The gaps in toilet stalls.

I’d heard of them before I visited but they still shocked me. Literally like 2cm of space between the partitions, for literally zero reason at all. People can look right into the stall. Goodbye privacy! Why? Whyyyyyy? Baffling.

Image source: Rottenox


All the waste and no concern for the environment. It really irks me.

And how the ‘greed is good’ mantra has taught many people how they shouldn’t give a sh*t about others.

Image source: ImFinePleaseThanks


Image source: daleelab

I went to the US in 2014. We landed in San Francisco and had to rent a car. We thought: “we’re in america, let’s rent a big car” So we rented a “big” car. Then we joined the I101 and we were the smallest car on the road… So with our redefined car we went to the Golden Gate Bridge but we were hungry. So we stopped at a diner. My brother ordered a burger and a small 7up. He got a liter of 7up. He wasn’t even halfway and the waitress came to ask if he’d like a free refill (!). To quantify the bigness would be an insult of the bigly bigness that is american lifestyle. Certainly a shock for me.


Extremely sad to see people freak out about having to get medical attention and/or illness at work. Also going through the trouble of verifying my travel insurance indeed cover me in the states. I have been less concerned going into literal war zones.

Image source: LeBronzeFlamez


Image source: Tballz9

Swiss are famous for the love of cheese and putting cheese on and in things, but America takes that to another level…even if the cheese is less good tasting. They think they have Swiss cheese, but what they call Swiss like a really sh*t version of Ementaller cheese. They are surprised that we have like 400+ kinds of cheese, none of which we call Swiss.


In hotel rooms: We didn’t watch a lot of TV, but when we did, I was very taken aback by the amount of commercials. I watched Cartoon Network as a kid and I remember the screen faded to black and immediately back to whatever I watched like every 10 minutes maybe (usually during an exciting part, for dramatic effect). I realized those blackouts were meant for commercials, but my home country didn’t do that.

And also commercials for booze. And just in general the intensity of them. Some were hilarious though.

Image source: thelotiononitsskin


Image source: Panceltic

The prices not including tax so you never know how much you’re gonna pay because you can’t multiply by 1.08875 in your head


So many overweight people. I’ll see more alarmingly obese people in 15 minutes in an American airport than in a year living in Amsterdam

Image source: crackanape


Image source: Panceltic

So many whackos around. People just standing in the middle of the pavement with a huge “Jesus is coming” sign or similar


The amount of “fakeness” from people in the service industry: waiters, receptionists, bar staff, store employees etc

Everyone greets you with a fixed totally artificial smile, they speak in standard scripts, everything will be “their pleasure” and they will do it “for you”. You just feel they are acting out a part but actually not listening to what you say and they certainly never do any of the things they promise. You just wish (a) they would start acting like human beings rather than pre-programmed service bots and (b) they would treat you like an actual human being rather than a visiting emperor.

Image source: prustage


Image source: Panceltic

Extreme friendliness to you when you’re a customer. Too much in my opinion, it made me feel uneasy


How religious the US is. Pretty much everyone attended a church and the churches were a big part of everyone’s life. Weekly attendance was a thing. One of my teachers was very progressive (gay democrat philosophy phd literature teacher in a Bush worshipping area) and he was asked by his students about which church he attended. I felt that was weird thing to ask in the first place.

Image source: JoeAppleby


Image source: BHJK90

My experience was that Americans act or seem to be more friendly and personal. But it always feels like they don’t actually mean it. Don‘t get me wrong, I met great people in the US. But Europeans, especially Germans, seem to be more reserved at first or second contact.



The portion sizes. The price of petrol is ridiculous.

Image source: Shogim

Aušrys Uptas

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america, culture shocks, USA, USA culture shocks
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