Travelers Sharing Food Culture Shocks Abroad

Travelers Sharing Food Culture Shocks Abroad

“It took me a bit to adapt, but when I returned home, I found myself really missing it.”

Have you ever traveled somewhere new and found yourself baffled or blown away by the local culinary preferences or norms?

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Maybe it was a popular local delicacy you’d never seen before, or perhaps a custom around dining that made you say, “Whoa, that’s different.”

For example, I went on a family vacation to Tuscany when I was younger. I was 18 and my younger sister was 13. At every single restaurant, Italian waiters served my sister wine without even batting an eye or thinking twice. Turns out, it’s totally normal for young teenagers (and even kids) to be served wine while accompanied by their parents. After a wine-filled week in Italy, my sister was less than thrilled to return to the US where the drinking age is 21!

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Going off this, I rounded up a bunch of responses from the subreddit r/travel, from the Community, and even a few more of my own travel stories. Here are some instances where people experienced food “culture shock” around the world.

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“When I ordered French fries in Germany, the waiter drowned them in mayonnaise before serving them to me. As an American used to eating ketchup with fries, it changed my world.”

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“Seeing beer as a combo meal option at a Spanish McDonald’s.”


“Realizing that in Japan, tipping in general is seen as a sort of taboo. Some Japanese people even feel insulted if you tip them. This is a big difference from other parts of the world, like the US, where tipping is essentially mandatory.”

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“Pizzas in Italy are not like pizza in America. They’re meant for one person, and they give you a fork and knife with which to cut it yourself. It’s hella good, but man, that one threw me for a loop.”


“As a French person who lived in the US for almost a decade, I was always confused by the fact that Americans drink their water with ice no matter the weather or the season. This is a nightmare for anyone with sensitive teeth. Besides, who needs water that cold in the middle of winter?”


“I spent a year in the US when I was 16, and I still very much remember the fact that no grocery stores sold real bread. It was always just that square-shaped, sliced sandwich bread that tasted sweet. In fact, everything in the US tasted like it had too much sugar in it.”

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“Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In the US, it’s a classic combination that is introduced to us as children. I have lived in both Finland and the US. When I attempted to make a PB&J in Finland, one of my housemates asked me, ‘Are you really going to eat that?’ Everyone thought the idea of a PB&J was totally gross.”

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“My boyfriend is French and he is currently on vacation visiting me for six weeks. He says that the biggest culture shocks are the size of American soft drinks and the idea of free refills, which is banned in France. He’s also blown away by the amount of ice we put in our drinks.”

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“I studied abroad in Barcelona and at first I couldn’t get over the fact that they eat dinner as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m (even with young kids!). It was a big adjustment, but little by little I began to grow accustomed to it. In fact, when I got back to New York I found myself eating dinner later and later. I actually started to love the fact that I could enjoy long, leisurely early evenings before dinnertime.”

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“I moved to Italy when I was10 and my mom would give me money to buy myself candy. The candy I chose had a not-so- insignificant amount of alcohol in it…which didn’t stop anyone from selling it to a 10-year-old kid.”


“Going to Mexico City and realizing the best tacos of my whole damn life cost about 20 cents. Back home in NYC at my go-to Mexican restaurant, I usually get two mediocre, skimpy tacos for about $10. In Mexico City, I could eat corn tortillas filled to the brim with tender pork al pastor to my hearts content for pocket change. Suffice it to say I ate a whole lot of tacos in a few days…”

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“The whole concept of the word ‘entrée.’ In the rest of the world, entrée means starter, but in America it means the main course. It’s straight-up confusing.”

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“I studied in France and I was shocked to see the cafés and coffeeshops turn into bars at night. They just switched the menu and went from selling hot cocoa to whiskey.”

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“Kids are allowed in all bars and pubs in the Czech Republic. As a Czech person, this is totally normal to me, but my American wife was blown away by it.”

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“Every time I visit the states, I am taken aback by the sheer amount and variety of food in US supermarkets. Compared to smaller markets in Asia, it’s a big change. I always think about how there are so many different types of produce, even things that aren’t in season. How on earth do they sell all of it?”

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“Fast food in Japan was wild to me. When I ordered food from any type of chain that also exists in the US, like McDonald’s or Burger King, my food looked exactly the way it was pictured on the menu. If you order a Big Mac in the US, it looks nothing like the photo or in the commercials. It’s as if somebody back there in the Japanese McDonald’s was artistically and perfectly assembling that burger.”

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“I’m French, and I was surprised at the HUGE glasses of wine you’re served in most restaurants in the US. The wine glasses almost look like fish bowls, and if you go to a bar where they use smaller glasses, they just fill them to the brim. Not that I’m complaining. More wine is always a good thing in my book.”


“The whole concept of drinking in public and open container laws in Asia. I was visiting Seoul and people would hang out until the early morning drinking, eating fried chicken, and playing music in public outdoors. I absolutely lovedit”

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“All of the different flavors of beverages. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. Until I came to the US I had no idea I liked Blue Raspberry flavored soda. Then I discovered that it’s delicious to mix different sodas from the fountain to make a soda ‘cocktail.'”

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“The fact that in the US, a server actually takes your credit card when you’re paying the check at a restaurant. This is bizarre to foreigners. In France you’d never let anyone take your card anywhere you can’t see it.”

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“I never realized how many freebies we get in the US until I visited Europe. Free refills, as much ketchup as you want in fast-food places, free toilets, etc. In Europe, you have to pay for everything.”

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“The culture around food in France was very different from what I’m used to. Whenever I would visit family in France, I had to remind myself that dining is an unhurried affair. You’ll rarely sit down, have a quick meal, and continue on with your day. Food is meant to be enjoyed, so the French take their time. A lot of local businesses even close around midday to accommodate these leisurely lunches.”


“Doggie bags. My dad was eating out at a restaurant in America. When the waiter came over and asked if he wanted a doggie bag, he said ‘no I didn’t bring my dog with me from Denmark.’ The staff laughed their asses off, but we don’t have that back home.”

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“Drive thru restaurants everywhere you look in the US. They are so much more common in the US than anywhere else in the world. It seems like every street, even in the suburbs, has a drive thru. This is definitely not the case in Europe.”

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“In Spain, I saw my first beer-vending machines. It was just sitting there unsupervised for my 14-year-old self to spend my change on.”

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“Street food like it exists in Southeast Asia, where you can eat delicious, quality food for cheap.”

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“Visiting the U.S., I was mind-boggled by the number of calories in American restaurant meals. The Cheesecake Factory has a 2,000 calorie pasta! Holy cow, that’s an entire day’s worth of calories in one dish.”

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“My husband is from Portugal, and when we visited I realized that a beer or a half bottle of wine is cheaper than a bottle of juice. Also, the food at rest stops along the highway is amazing. It’s not fast food, but a buffet of local favorites from whatever region you’re in.”

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“I had a roommate from Australia who was studying abroad in the states. We went out to dinner one night and I got mozzarella sticks. He couldn’t believe that in America we just deep fry cheese and then eat it.”

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“I’m from UK and have visited several places in the US. The biggest shock is how big the food and drink portions are. A regular sized meal in the US is easily enough for two people back home.”

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“How much beer is consumed in the Czech Republic and how cheap it is. You can’t even get a non-alcoholic beverage in a bar for cheaper than a beer. I did a little research and lo and behold, the Czechs have the highest beer consumption in the whole world.”


“I was born in Korea and moved to US when I was 6. That’s when I realized for the first time that Americans actually eat things other than pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs. I was shocked.”


“I visited Albania and there wasn’t a single chain store or restaurant. It was a strange experience to be in a large city and be completely unable to find a McDonald’s, Subway, KFC or Starbucks.”

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“Ordering salad in Spain. It was one of my first days in Spain and, like a typical American, I was craving a salad for lunch. I ordered the only salad to be found on the menu — Ensaladilla Rusa. It turned out to be a mayo-drenched potato salad…not quite what I had in mind. I was much more careful about my salad orders from that point on.”


“Walking into a Japanese convenience store. They are amazing. My local 7-Eleven has sticky floors and gross looking pre-packaged sandwiches. The 7-Elevens in Japan are squeaky clean and have a great selection of gourmet, prepackaged lunches and dinners. Not only do they have a cold drink section, they have a special heated unit for hot drinks.”

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“Vending machines in Japan that serve full meals. Ordering food from a vending machine at a restaurant in Tokyo was surreal. You order noodles from a machine, then you sit at a booth with a curtain, and someone delivers your food when it’s ready and closes the blinds. It was a strange experience, though not in a bad way.”

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“I found it shocking that in the US it’s totally normal — even mainstream — to eat extremely sugary desserts for breakfast. Donuts, pancakes, most cereals, Pop-Tarts, etc. All contain huge amounts of sugar and little nutrition. There is literally Oreo cookie cereal that kids eat for breakfast.”


“The whole concept of lunch in other countries. I am from Portugal, where lunch is the largest meal of the day. Almost everyone has a big, hot lunch and breaks from work for at least an hour to eat. In many places I’ve visited, lunch is a little sandwich or small salad, and that’s it. It’s still very funny to my British friends when I say I’m making lasagna or a hearty stew for lunch.”

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So, what’s your best or favorite food “culture shock” experience? Tell us in the comments!