We asked our regular contributors through e-mail, What was something that shocked you when you visited a foreign country? We got many interesting response. Here are some of them. We have just copied and pasted their responses, not editing them in any way and most of the respondents have requested to stay anonymous, so no names will be published. This is a long one, so we have split it into two page. Enjoy.
1-5 Shocking Foreign Facts
1. How truly polite the Japanese are and how unbelievably clean the cities of Japan are. Tokyo was so clean when compared to other capital and large cities I had visited (London, Paris, Manhattan). It also felt incredibly safe. I saw Japanese just leaving their wallets, phones, bags, etc. alone at their tables when they visited the toilet. You’d never dream of doing that in the UK. I spent three months there this year. One weekend it was quite hot, so my girlfriend and I decided to go to a big water park (Rainbow pool at Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa). The place was packed with thousands of people. We were astounded when we saw one couple leave their less than two year old child, who was asleep in a stroller, completely unattended while they got in the pool. They just left the stroller in the shade and got in one of the pools. They didn’t even stay within eyeshot of the kid. I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else in the world- leaving a sleeping child unattended in a crowded park without fear of something bad happening.
2. How corrupt the police force is in Mexico. My company has a factory in Mexico and we always hire the same driver for gringos coming to visit. Once when I was there we got pulled over and our driver told us to give him a $20 to bribe the cop. The driver and the cop then start having an argument in Spanish and eventually the cop radios someone, takes our $20 and goes. I ask the driver what that was all about and apparently he had a deal with the chief of police that his fares only had to pay the Mexican bribe not the American bribe and the cop had to call the station to double check the that the deal was legit.
3. When I moved to the Netherlands a few years ago from the USA I deliberately wrote down the things that struck me as strange a few weeks into it because I knew I wouldn’t remember later, and here are a few.
- Bicycles are everywhere and are a far more common mode of transport than cars… yet no one wears helmets.
- A Dutch person telling you “I speak a little English” is like Stephen Hawking saying “I know a little physics.” I really had no idea it could be so easy to move to another country where you don’t speak the language, and that’s because the Dutch are so amazing at English (unlike other countries, for example, TV here isn’t dubbed but instead in original language and just subtitled).
- Big Bird is blue in Holland! I mean, they claim he’s Pino, Big Bird’s cousin, but I’m not fooled. You know he really just moved here to explore an alternative lifestyle.
4. Southeast Asia never fails to amaze. Here’s a few top experiences:
- Hanoi, Vietnam: Sweet-looking old woman (looks like late 80s, but was probably younger) shuffles up to a street corner where we’re waiting to cross the street. She leans her back against a sturdy tree right next to us, looks me directly in the eye and while maintaining eye contact lifts up her dress and starts to take a massive sh*t against the base of the tree. Even cracks a little smile mid-process.
- Siem Reap, Cambodia: Teenaged girl feigning tears approaches us asking for “milk money” for her baby. I look at the baby in her arms, and it is that unmistakable bluish/white/purplish shade that indicates it is clearly dying. We continue on our way and eventually see another girl doing the same thing, then another, and another. After the fourth one we finally realized: even though it was a different girl each time, it was always the same fu**ing baby. They just hand the poor thing over from one to the next to keep the scam going. I’m 100% convinced that baby was dead by the end of the week.
5. I lived in Japan for a year. The satellite radio at my school had a channel called “Rokki” that played the Rocky theme song on a loop 24×7. They also have two channels called “Alibi.” One is an endless loop of the noise of passing cars and pedestrian chatter, and the other is the din of a pachinko gambling parlor. They are intended to be used as background noise when you call your wife and lie about where you are.
6-10 Shocking Foreign Facts
6. Paris is a fu**ing shithole. (Disclaimer: we got this response way before the Paris attacks). The first time on the metro, a guy tried to steal my friend’s phone. There were kids at the train station outside Disneyland being chased away by a police dog because there were stealing on that train. When you got close to the middle of the city there was a guy selling tower trinkets at every corner. There was a true and awful smell of piss in the tunnels between trains. I tried to embrace the culture and spoke French while ordering food at a McDonald’s. I got something wrong in it, the lady scoffed me and she started a conversation with the lady to my right. You could feel the looks they were giving. As if they were better than me because I couldn’t speak their language, instead of appreciating the thought. I just wasn’t a fan.
7. How small all of the fruit was in England. One apple in the US is like two UK apples. I went through a lot of apples.
8. When I went to New York I couldn’t get over how familiar everything looked on my first day there. I must have seen way more films and TV shows filmed in Manhattan than I realized, but pretty much everywhere looked exactly as I expected it to. I spent the whole time excitedly pointing at things that I’d seen on TV and films my whole life – Cops! NYC taxis! Diners! Yellow school buses! Traffic lights hanging over the road! I was like a little kid. Also, special mention to the people of New York who I was expecting to be rude and unhelpful (I don’t know why, I just was) whereas they were the exact opposite. Every time we stopped to look at a street sign or consult a map someone would stop and ask if we needed any help or anything. EVERY time. Be it a guy in a suit on his way to work or a young girl on her way from school or a guy in overalls cleaning the street. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. I just didn’t expect it.
9. Don’t take this the wrong way, but as an innocent Irish lad going to San Francisco for the first time, I walked out the airport and I thought I landed in Asia or something. I just wasn’t used to seeing that many Asians, and coupled with that, the humidity really made it feel foreign. Don’t get me wrong, love Asians, just my sheltered mind wasn’t prepared.
10. How much Indian food there was in London. Not just London. Practically every high street in the UK has at least one. Also, how Mexican food is pretty much nonexistent over there. God, I missed it so much, I must have gained 10 lbs in a week from all the Tex Mex food I ate when I moved back.
11-15 Shocking Foreign Facts
11. How empty and untouched New Zealand is. I’m an American form NYC who visited Queenstown, and then drove across to Christchurch. Holy sh*t that whole country is so empty and amazing.
12. I got laughed at by a taxi driver in Romania for putting my seatbelt on. Taxis in general in Romania were pretty weird to me. There was a whole unspoken system there about which taxis were “real” and which ones were there to scam foreigners. Also, I’m from the U.S. I am used to smiling at everyone. Not smiling when I’m talking to someone seems like I’m coming off as curt and rude. But nobody smiles in Romania unless they know you. Felt so awkward. I’ve heard it’s like that in most of Eastern Europe and Russia. Hard to get used to.
13. Falling snow. I’m Australian so while we have snow the chances of experiencing falling snow when you’re on holidays is slim. The first time I experienced falling snow was when I was in Paris at the age of 20. I LOST MY SH*T. Squealing and had a ball. Everyone probably thought I was crazy but for me it was magical and amazing.
14. Swedish babies are hardcore. People are awesomely chill and friendly. In mid-January, it was knee-deep snow everywhere, yet in Stockholm it was pretty common to see parents enjoying a drink at a cafe, with a queue of prams outside in the snow. The babies are wrapped up heavily yes, but they are fully comfortable leaving them outside like that. No fears over child-thievery, or worries about the cold. These kids are brought up to be metal right from the word go. It’s awesome. I imagine if you tried that in the UK (or especially US) there’d be hysteria and child services would relieve you of your parenting.
15. I went to a gun shop in Texas in a large town. It was midweek. I couldn’t believe how crowded the place was. I mean I knew guns are a big thing in Texas, but to imagine that there was this many people wanting a gun at one of several gun shops at this time of the week was very interesting. Anyway, got a few happy snaps with some giant firearms.
16-20 Shocking Foreign Facts
16. USA: How many US flags were everywhere. Just looking down a street you’d lose track after counting a dozen or so. The sheer huge size of everything too in the U.S and the cheap cost of junk food. Canada: The friendly and polite stereotypes were actually incredibly true in my experiences (I loved it!), the weather still shocked me even though I knew Canada got cold. Until I experienced two Canadian winters I could never have even understood what that type of cold felt like. Other things I noticed were the amount of amazing squirrels, Canada’s rampant marijuana culture (I’d heard of BC bud, but I didn’t expect to smell weed every time I went outside somewhere).
17. From India to New Zealand as a child made me feel like I was in heaven. I never knew a place could be so green and clean. In India I never even knew what grass was (I was 7 when I moved). The air smelt and felt so much cleaner when you come back from visiting family in India.
18. When I visited Hollywood, I couldn’t believe how disgustingly dirty it was, and how unsafe I felt! It may just have been that I was unlucky enough to experience a couple of crazy incidents in my first two nights, but it definitely wasn’t all the glitz and glamour that I was expecting.
19. Refillable fountain drinks in the US. As someone who drinks a lot, I was really pleasantly surprised. Plus some even serve water at the dispenser, which I really appreciate. I went to a McDonalds and wondered why the cashier didn’t ask why want I want to drink and instead asked what size of cup I want. Almost lost my mind when I saw the fountain drink dispenser. Those things are like myths here in my country.
20. In South Korea there is no separate shower in the bathroom. The showerhead sprays directly on the floor and there is a drain in the corner of the room. Ajummas (marriage aged woman) who push you out of the way. Straight guys being physically affectionate with each other. Love motels everywhere. Red crosses everywhere. Couple shirts (is this still a thing?). People protesting/campaigning/giving out religious literature on street corners with loud bullhorns.
21-25 Shocking Foreign Facts
21. I was shocked by how dirty Miami is. I was shocked by how little English is known by service people. I understand it’s a Hispanic dominant city, but fu*k. At McDonald’s, it took 3 people to take my order. I was also shocked at how absolutely terrible the service is nearly everywhere I went, due to the automatically added gratuity. I had to tip 18% at Denny’s and it took 25 minutes just to get dirty glasses with water in it. I would have just walked out but my wife didn’t want to cause a scene. I’ve never been treated as much of an inconvenience as I was in Miami nearly everywhere I went. The rudeness/ not giving a sh*t about anything was remarkable. Also, one of my strongest memories was going to a park beach. Lots of people grilling and all that. No one picked their garbage up. There were napkins and paper plates flying off tables and not a single f**k was given.
22. When we were in Taiwan, my sister and I were mobbed by schoolgirls on nearly every corner who wanted photos with us. They were totally fascinated by my sister’s blonde hair and my curly hair. I had never really considered that Asian people who have never left their country might have never seen any hair types besides straight and black before.
23. Shocked, and also loving, the complete lack of responsible service of alcohol laws in Bali. Get a bit drunk in a pub in Australia and you risk being cut off. In Bali they will serve you while you’re lying on the floor vomiting, as long as you keep paying.
24. People seem to drink beer all the time in the Czech Republic. Our local guide said that sometimes workers will have a few beers for lunch and then go back to work, calling it “liquid bread” or something like that. The cafeteria had beer on tap. This was at a nuclear power plant.
25. How pleasant flying around China can be. Sure, you hear about people acting like complete and total idiots and there are certainly plenty of them… everywhere. But there’s no TSA to deal with, some actual price/service competition between airlines, in a country that has gotten really good at moving massive amounts of people around via public transportation. (NOTE: the urban road system could still use a ton of work). It’s just nice not having to be at the airport 2 hours early only to be treated like I’m a criminal for wanting to get on a plane.