Social Question

The_Idler's avatar

What are some interesting little cultural differences?

Asked by The_Idler (9608points) November 4th, 2010

I have lots, because I collect them as a hobby, but I’ll start y’all off with a couple of examples.


In the USA, the middle lane is used for overtaking, so people get pissed off with “middle-lane hoggers”, who drive slowly in the middle lane.

In the UK, the ‘outside’ lane (closest to the central reservation) is the ‘fast lane’, which is used for overtaking, so driving at regular traffic speed in there will piss people off.

This makes perfect sense, because then you will only have people overtaking you on the outside, which you are much more aware off.


In Canada, it is absolutely normal to buy a bag of milk, which fits into a conveniently proportioned receptacle for the fridge door.

Canadians are the only species known to exhibit this mysterious behaviour.


In China, it is completely normal to hack up a load of phlegm and spit it out… even in the subway… even for women… young, otherwise attractive women… Twas most disconcerting the first time I saw that.


In Japan, blowing of the nose in public is pretty much as offensive as pissing in the street.


And now you!

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59 Answers

Jude's avatar

I have your species right here, pal. :)

Having milk in bags in perfectly normal. lol

As a matter of fact, I have a bag of chocolate milk in the fridge right now. :)

Blackberry's avatar

Lol @ the bag of milk thing.

I like how in Spain, restaurants and other businesses shut down during the day and open back up during the evening.

the100thmonkey's avatar


> You take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house. EVERY TIME. NO EXCEPTIONS. You even do this when entering some businesses and schools.

> Smoking while walking is considered uncouth.

> You hand banknotes to the cashier unfolded and with both hands.

> It’s considered a bit odd to say “thank you” in shops.

> Department store staff shout “irasshaimase!” (welcome/come in! or something like that) at random intervals. This is then taken up and repeated by other members of staff like some kind of weird virus.

Fyrius's avatar

If I understand correctly, here in the Netherlands, giving a waiter a tip is an unusual sign of appreciation. You’re not expected to tip, but you can if you think it was worth it.
As opposed to places where tips are considered normal and not giving any means you’re incredibly stingy.

Alternate analysis: maybe the only difference is just that if you’re incredibly stingy in the Netherlands, you don’t stand out from everyone else.

LuckyGuy's avatar

In Japan, saws are toothed so you saw on the “pull” stroke, instead of the “push” stroke like in the US.
I prefer the Japanese method. The saw blades can be made thinner since there is less chance of buckling.

Cruiser's avatar

When I was in Germany in the late 70’s I was amused to see people on the side of the road squatting next to their cars to go to the bathroom in full view of other cars while we drove the Autobahn. Looking back not sure if that was because of lack of exits or rest stops or what?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

In Canada and the US it is proper etiquette to help a fellow hockey player look for his teeth. I don’t notice that as much from European players, especially the Russians.

partyparty's avatar

Here in the UK we drive on the left hand side of the road

mattbrowne's avatar

In college in Germany it’s considered impolite to leave a party long before midnight.

In college in the US it’s considered impolite to leave a party long after midnight.

Less than five sentences as an answer to the question “How are you?” are considered somewhat impolite in Germany.

More than ten sentences as an answer to the question “How are you?” are considered somewhat impolite in the US.

OpryLeigh's avatar

My dad told me a story about a time when he was in France (the south I think) at a restaurant and he ordered his meal and as soon as he finished it, they bought aother plate of the same meal. He managed to finish this meal, still full, and they bring out yetn another plate. He was worried about offending them seeing as they had been so generous but couldn’t finish that plate. They didn’t bring him anymore. Turns out, by finishing them meal the chef had assumed he wasn’t satisfied and bought more and more. It was only when he couldn’t eat anymore that the chef assumed he was satisfied and didn’t need anymore food.

Now, I have never heard of this before and didn’t have the same experience when I went to France but here in the UK we seem to be taught that finishing a meal is polite to whoever prepared it and proves to them that it was a satisfying meal.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

While eating in a sushi bar, it is appropriate to send the chef a beer/drink if you appreciate their creations.

Blueroses's avatar

The US has a ridiculous concern with liability. You must post warnings if the floor is wet or the sidewalk is cracked and someone might trip.
In Mexico, there may be a gigantic hole in your path and you are expected to use your own sense not to fall into it.

Scooby's avatar


Lol…. :-) true very true.. Lol…..

Christian95's avatar

In Romania a black cat brings bad luck while in UK it brings good luck.
In Bulgaria nodding your head up and down means no and shaking it left and right means yes while in the rest of the world it means exact the opposite

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

how about wearing deodorant?
im not sure which cultures dont wear deodorant, but noticed some Indians and Russians who at least smell like they dont wear deodorant.
this has actually caused some conflict on a few jobs of mine. i work in construction and have seen people almost get into fights because the one guy never wore deodorant. i didnt care too much because im sure it was cultural and sure he had his reasons. I wonder if he thinks americans are weird for covering up their natural body scent with all sorts of chemicals that most people have no idea about their long term effects.

GladysMensch's avatar

In Minnesota we played “Duck Duck Gray-Duck”, in Wisconsin they play “Duck Duck Goose”.

RocketGuy's avatar

In France, I offended the owner by my choice of drink. The only acceptable drinks for a French dinner are: wine, water, sparkling water. Any other choice will result in extra rudeness, as a minimum.

BoBo1946's avatar

I’m from the deep South, USA…and we are known for our Southern drawl! You “A L L L L” know what I mean!

Fyrius's avatar

Shop advertisements in the Netherlands always brag about how cheap their stuff is. Not about having very good stuff, or even about offering good quality considering the price. Just cheap.
I don’t think it’s so much that we care a lot about money, it’s just that this is the way we shop.

I’m not sure if this is very different elsewhere, but I have the impression this is a typical (obnoxious) Dutch thing.

whitenoise's avatar

When a Dutch person is being asked by hir boss to deliver something “as soon as possible”, that will be interpreted as “take your time and finish it when you get around to it”. In the US it means ’“drop anything else you might be doing”.

When your Dutch boss tells you “interesting, I can see it took you a lot of work”, it means you did a good job and you should keep it up. If your boss is American, better brush up your resume.

If a Dutch person asks you if you want coffee, the next question will be: “will that be one or two cups?” The exact amount of cups will then be brewed.
Next thing, you will be presented a cookie from the cookie jar, which will be removed from sight after that. If the jar returns for a second round, you can consider yourself a privileged guest.

When you take an American up on ‘do come by, when you’re around’, they may get into shock. ;-)

whitenoise's avatar

Cab drivers in Asia often have an oscillating “throttle foot”. They will constantly go through a 1.5 second cycle of mild acceleration and deceleration .

nicobanks's avatar

Are you serious about the bagged milk thing? Milk isn’t sold in bags in the States? Or anyone other than Canada? I had no idea – that’s crazy!

(To be specific, you don’t buy a bag of milk, but rather two bags that are packaged together. And the jug the bags slide into can be placed in the fridge door or on the shelf ;).

I’m not sure I understand your distinction about US and UK driving. What do you mean by the “outside” lane? I know people in the UK drive on the left – so is it just that everything is reversed?

Here in Canada the left lane is used for passing. (If there’s more than 3 lanes, slow drivers take the right, passers take the left, and everyone else takes the middle.) This rule extends beyond the road: really, at all times, the rule is stick to the right unless you’re passing (that includes pedestrians, stair-climbers, etc.).


My favourite cultural differences is that some things are opposite in some cultures. Like here in Canada it’s polite to make eye contact. I’ve heard in other places it’s rude.

whitenoise's avatar

They used to sell milk in bags in The Netherlands as well in the seventies. With a similar container to put the bag in.

They do it again, nowadays, in the UK, at Sainsburies, I believe.

Kayak8's avatar

McDonald’s coffee is so hot in the USA, we have to have warnings on all the paper coffee cups.

harple's avatar

Well, let’s just say fanny means something different in the UK from the US!!!!

Kayak8's avatar

@harple So does Spotted Dick!

Mat74UK's avatar

Sod reading all this I’m off out to “smoke a fag”!
Take that as you will.

FutureMemory's avatar

A bag of milk? A bag of any liquid intended for drinking? rofl!

Blueroses's avatar

Wine comes in a bag (within a box). Is that just a US thing?

FutureMemory's avatar

I don’t drink alcohol but I’m pretty sure wine comes in a bottle.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@FutureMemory In the US, wine is also sold in a bag in a box. While some people look down upon it, it’s a good way to keep it relatively fresh vs. stuffing a cork back in a bottle, as no air escapes into the bag.

harple's avatar

@Blueroses we have that here in the UK too… (And milk in bags has just this year become a not-yet popular option as a way of cutting down on packaging.)

The_Idler's avatar

In Bangkok, the “Ping-Pong Show” is not a table-tennis tournament at the local community centre!

In SE Asia, be liberal and forthright with your bribes. If you don’t bribe the first police officer, or if you offend him, he will arrest you, and then you will have to pay MUCH more to his higher up. The longer you put off the bribes, the more you’ll have to pay, because, let’s face it, you’re not actually going to end up in a Cambodian prison. Let’s make things perfectly clear, nobody cares what you did, everyone is in it for the money.

Kayak8's avatar

@The_Idler You bribe a cop in Japan and you will be arrested for that too.

The_Idler's avatar

@Kayak8 Yeah, just like every other rich country in the world.

In SE Asia, the police are paid a tiny fraction of the wage of a Japanese (or Singaporean, don’t try it there either) police officer.

They are actually expected to make their living from “on-the-spot fines”.

Kayak8's avatar

@The_Idler I guess the point I am trying to make is that many consider Japan to be part of SE Asia and you reference SE Asia rather globally and attribute characteristics that do not exist across the entire region.

The_Idler's avatar

@Kayak8 “many consider Japan to be part of SE Asia”


The_Idler's avatar

On the Continent, it is acceptable to serve a beer with over two inches of head!
Apparently, a beer with little head looks “dead” and unappetizing to a European.

Kayak8's avatar

@The_Idler I don’t think it is, but I have had conversations (when people hear I lived in Japan) that makes it clear most Americans have no real idea about geography. Just think it’s easier to be specific about locales within countries (or even entire countries) when talking about “little cultural differences.”

The_Idler's avatar

Where does it end!?
I’m not teaching primary school kids.

Anyone who thinks Japan is in SE Asia deserves to be arrested anyway.
And, frankly, I don’t give a damn about “most Americans”

You think it’s “easier” to list all the countries in SE Asia, just for clarity, than to say “SE Asia”?
To hell with the idiots, this isn’t for their benefit.

Correct me if I’m wrong, and only if.

Excuse me.

Kayak8's avatar

@The_Idler If the cultural difference extends to an entire region of the globe I suppose that is fine.

GracieT's avatar

In the US when I was in elementary school (NW Ohio, I don’t know if this just happened in my area or was nation wide) we had milk in bags for about one year, and then it stopped. I was an environmental major in college, so this to me was a great idea!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

In England, eggs are stocked on unrefrigerated shelves in the grocery stores.

Mat74UK's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer – yes this is the norm. In what countries do they refridgerate them? I can only imagine it being very hot places.
Do you know all our individual eggs are stamped with a use by date?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Mat74UK Almost all eggs are refrigerated in the US. Maybe it’s one of the reasons we don’t worry as much about salmonilla. And no, I wasn’t aware that UK eggs were stamped with a ‘use by’ date. I must have missed that on the ones we’ve purchased.

harple's avatar

I was very interested to watch a dear American friend of mine put salt on his salad… not something I’ve ever seen done in the UK before…

nicobanks's avatar

@harple Ahh yes, the salt on the salad. I didn’t realize that was a regional thing. The first time someone asked for salt for his salad (I was working as a waitress) I was shocked and disgusted, but then I realized that I always add salt as an ingredient when I make salad dressing, so really what’s the difference?

meiosis's avatar

Jaywalking is not a crime in England

jesienne's avatar

“In China, it is completely normal to hack up a load of phlegm and spit it out… even in the subway… even for women… young, otherwise attractive women… Twas most disconcerting the first time I saw that.”
———————utterly speechless``````````````````

The_Idler's avatar

but @jesienne, you live in Beijing!?

Maybe it’s that evil Beijing smog that makes people so ill all the time, eh?

jesienne's avatar

@The_Idler I guess most Beijingers have adopted to the evil environment.. or I should say they can’t realize how bad their living conditions are….........................cos they have never been to a better place outside their country….....
were you ill?
haha I’m in london right now, get rid of the evil air;)

peridot's avatar

I’m not sure which region in the U.S. this comes from, but… putting salt on watermelon.

It sounded so weird, I had to try it. You’ve got to be really careful to not sprinkle on too much, but just a bit really punches up the flavor.

jesienne's avatar

@The_Idler Hi, I’ve been in London for about a year AND I found that people here also spit a lot when they walk! no matter men or women

GracieT's avatar

I just realized what I said! I meant to say that I HATED the idea of using plastic!

FutureMemory's avatar

@GracieT I had wondered about that :)

The_Idler's avatar

Hah yes, that’s true of course, but it was the sound made beforehand that was shocking to us….

London, too, has quite dirty air compared with most of the country.
Nothing like Beijing though, which is more like Victorian London!

The_Idler's avatar

In Germany and Spain, certainly, and probably more places besides, you must ask for “hot” tea, and usually have to ask for milk with it as well, whereas in the UK it will always be hot and you will automatically be given milk.

Sneki95's avatar

Buying milk in plastic bags in common in Serbia too (just cook the milk before drinking).

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