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Culture shock

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    This article is a travel topic
Culture shock is the reaction to finding oneself in an environment that is culturally very different from the one in which one is familar. There are many different elements of culture that can lead to such an experience. Travel takes one out of one's comfort zone where things are the way one knows, and people in different parts of the world have different ways of life.

Culture shock not only occurs when traveling to a foreign land. It can be experienced within one's own country during domestic travel. Most countries have multiple, vastly diverse cultures within, and the larger a country is in size and population, the more likely one may beyond expectations find things to be different.

Culture shock occurs simply because the way of life in the new place is different. It does not matter whether this difference is superior or inferior in any way to where one came from. Just the difference may take some adjustment, and for some, adjustment may not be possible. Also keep in mind that superiority of cultures is purely a point-of-view, and not all will agree on this.

Adjusting to another culture may not be easy. But if you can do so successfully, it can be quite rewarding. If you can master adjustment to one vastly different culture, you may find yourself more willing to try out another.

Cultural elements[edit]


One of the most frustrating differences between people can be the differences in language spoken. When two people speak different languages and do not know each other's languages, they are locked apart from each other, no matter how physically close, and any and all communication is difficult if not impossible.

It can be especially isolating to find oneself in a land where no one knows one's language. One who is in such an environment can feel extremely helpless. The natives of such a land are not necessarily unsympathetic to such a visitor. But they simply do not know how to help.

Learning a language does not happen overnight, and for many, is not possible. Expecting one to learn the language is not realistic. It is up to the foreigner to determine if they wish to know the language of the land, especially if they are only staying temporarily.


Some foods are popular around the world, and establishments exist even in countries where they are not natively eaten to make them available to tourists. But the reality is that many foods that are disgusting in one society are delicacies in another. When visiting a restaurant or food store in a foreign land, one may find various types of food not found in one's home country. One may either find them attractive or exotic, or else be repulsed.

Differences could be found either in the types of food altogether, in the mixtures of the same food, in the manner in which they are prepared or eaten, or the time of day they are customarily eaten. For example, in some countries, certain animals or plants may be popular to eat. In others, no one would dare think of eating them, and some of the very same animals are common as household pets. In some countries, it is popular to eat chocolate spread over bread; in others it is not. The cuisines of some countries are very oily while other places traditionally have low fat diets.

Then there are many foods one may be accustomed to regularly eating in one part of the world that are virtually unavailable elsewhere. This may be due to the lack of cultivation of the product, a greater cost in that place, a lack of interest among the natives, a lack of commercial production, religious beliefs of the natives, civil laws, or other reasons.


Personal habits of a population can vary from place to place. Some societies put a heavy value on cleanliness, washing themselves daily. Others are more accepting of natural body odors and a bath is a rare event in one's life.

In some countries, where toilet paper is scarce, it is common for people in these lands to use their left hand to clean themselves. These societies have come to view the left hand as the "dirty" hand, and the right hand as the "clean" hand. If you are traveling to such a land, it is important to be aware of these factors when making physical contact with the natives, such as in handshakes.

In some countries, the lavatory equipment may differ from what one is used to seeing, and methods of urination and defecation and cleaning up afterwards vary. One who enters a lavatory may not even know the proper way to use the equipment.

Manners and social norms[edit]

The behaviors that are widely accepted in one society may be outright offensive in another. These include everything from greetings and gestures to table manners and business interaction.

For example, in some places, physical contact is considered the norm. In other places, it is considered rude for strangers and those who are not related to touch each other. In some places, strangers normally act friendly to one another, and in others, to greet a stranger is considered a huge sin. In some places, platonic friendship and interaction with members of the opposite sex is a way of life. In others societies, any form of conversation with a member of the opposite sex outside the immediate family is just as taboo as sleeping with that person while unwed to them.

Most can agree that certain types of behavior, such as butting ahead in line, are rude. But in some places, it is a form of etiquette that is regularly breached, and to which natives are accustomed, while in others, it is essentially criminal to do so.

Showing gratitude also varies. In some places, tipping is expected everywhere you go. Other societies have no concept of a tip.


In most countries, one religion dominates the population while the remainder compose small minorities. When traveling to a place where one's religion is less known, this can pose problems.

Religion can dictate many aspects of one's life, including diet, the way one dresses, family life, views of the opposite sex, the schedule of one's week, and much more. Conflicts between people can occur over religious differences.

In some countries that are theocracies, certain behaviors that are based on laws of the main religion are written into civil law as well. Even visitors who do not practice that religion are required to follow these laws. This includes, but is not limited to, method of dress, interactions with members of the opposite sex (including one's spouse), diet, restrictions on a holy day of the week or annual holiday, dietary restrictions, consumption of alcoholic beverages, and more.

Regional customs[edit]

Even when religion does not lead people to behave a certain way, culture, yes the culture of the region, does. Various regions of the world or even parts of the same country have ways of life unknown in other areas.


One of the most intriguing aspects of culture is fashion. Certain types of clothes are specific to various continents, countries, or cities. To the visitor, they can be a novelty, often an interesting souvenir. But to one trying to settle in, changing the way of one's dress is not always easy.


We live in a high tech world. Many devices once limited to science fiction are now very much a part of our lives. In some countries that is.

Many countries throughout every continent of the world have made the very best out of modern technology, endeavoring to put it in the hands of every citizen. This technology is used to get us around, communicate, cook, clean, and manage our lives in every way.

At the same time, many countries are seriously lagging behind, and what is commonplace in one land is reserved for the elite in others.

A traveler to a country on a lower economic scale may find that what they take for granted at home is not available where they are visiting. And if it does exist, it may be of a lower quality.

If it is communication technology that is the issue, this could affect one's ability to communicate with those back at home. If such communication is necessary, this should be addressed prior to departure, and one's options considered.

Consequently, one who is visiting or settling in a more advanced society may not know what to do with appliances they have never touched or seen.