Skip to main content
Camel sitting in sand against night sky.
Main content

Culture Shock in the United States

"What was your biggest culture shock going to the United States?" is a question that was posed via the website, Quora.  The question is a valuable one to help us reflect on the sometimes invisible norms that make us who we are.  Some excerpts are included below to show some of the varying perspectives by country:

Here are some of the comments and you can check out the full discussion here:

"It was a shock to me about how fond (almost) everyone here is about working out. People here have such amazing bodies, to be honest. I was even more impressed to see the older people run on the roads. This got ME motivated to start working out. I ran my first race - The Canal run last year, here in the US! Thankyou America."

"I couldn't believe how many of my friends here, who are young undergrads and graduate students, have loans of thousands of dollars from an undergraduate education. Education is pretty affordable in my country."

"I wasn't too fond of sarcasm till I got here. I am used to it now because sarcasm is just a culture thing here."

"The number of women in public places is equal to the number of men! Women in India simply don't emerge from the confines of their safe spaces (houses, offices, schools). Unless it's to run necessary errands or occasionally to go out and have fun (but always safely ensconced within a group of friends). ... In the USA, women go out for early morning jogs by themselves, women go out to get coffees by themselves and linger in parks, women go out for smoke breaks and dare to loiter in public places. You'll understand how amazing this is if you've ever heard of campaigns like #whyloiter (Why Loiter: A Movement to Reclaim Public Places for Women in South Asia)."

"The American flag is everywhere, everywhere, everywhere: You're never likely to forget which country you're in. I've never been to any country which had their own flag proudly plastered every few feet (except bizarrely, the islands in Thailand, where the Thai flag was similarly ubiquitous). And it wasn't anywhere even close to Independence Day."

"I met several students in U.S. schools that were from other countries, that spoke other languages, had other religions and belonged to different cultures. I never did so in Mexico. Everyone that I met there was mostly a regular Mexican catholic. During a High School trip to Disney world, I was shocked to see people all over the world and how many diverse people I met."

"It appears that a significant portion of the population is pretty bad when it comes to geography, unless I just had the misfortune of meeting most of these people. I'm not at all surprised when people say that they don't know where Sri Lanka is. I mean really, we're barely visible on a world map. But when I point it out on a map, they still ask me "So what kind of an Indian are you?" that's when I walk away."

"I lived in a joint family in Mumbai and I still live with my family here in States and cannot even imagine my life without them, whereas in America people only meet their family during Easter or some other festivals which was quite shocking. I remember an incident where my colleague told me he had a family get together for Thanksgiving and 7 people were coming to his house for dinner that night and I started laughing when he exaggerated the word seven and told him how I lived with 9 people in Mumbai for 19 years of my life and loved every second on of it."

"In Korea the professor is next to the king. In Canada, he/she is just a prof, but still treated with some deference. In the states, it's hey doc, and often first name basis.... Americans make a point of treating people in authority as equals..."

"In China, most people enjoy strolling on street as a hobby, not just in parks or shopping centers. While in US, it seems strange to do so. A relative of mine who lived in a pretty good neighborhood in US still enjoyed walking here, and cars would often stop and people asking him if he need any help."

"I'm from Austria and we have "Kaffeehäuser" (literally, coffee houses, or, if you prefer the French word, cafés). There are many options to have in terms of coffee but the coffee itself is usually quite strong (unless you specifically order a de-caff) but without much frills. There is also a culture associated with cafés, that is totally different to the any coffee shop I have been to in the US. American coffee was so weak and watery, barely undrinkable (especially in diners). Coffee shops seemed more like places where people whisked through to get some frilly concoction but not like we would use a café in Austria, where it's a place to meet, read the paper, study, etc."


Want to learn more about culture and cultural training in the Department of Defense (DoD)? is here to help!  We are a public resource to discover specific information about various cultures and also training on cross cultural competence or general concepts that affect all cultures.  If you are in the military, or support the military, or are thinking of joining the military, we welcome you to check it out!  Some of our Department of Defense (DoD) oriented material is restricted to government ID holders, or password protected, but our goal is to provide you with some training that is easy to access.  Cultural competence is important to military missions, the Department of Defense (DoD), and for all those who support those missions.  Learning about specific cultures will help you accomplish challenging tasks in a culturally complex environment.  Being ready for any cultural challenge in an important aspect of military readiness.  For more information on culture readiness and training, be sure to check back to

Fish kites blowing in wind against blue sky.