Memorable culture shocks

I’ve recently started actively engaging in Quora. Quora is a site where you can ask and find answers to anything. I mean anything. It’s very interesting to me and I usually spend a few hours on the site per week answering and reading through fascinating content. Recently I answered one question, which was quite interesting, so I am sharing it on the blog.

Taken from my Quora answer , here goes:

For someone like me, who has spent last five years away from home, culture shocks are quite regular. I’ve had series of culture shocks over the years, but not all of them are memorable. I have a few that I often remember and talk about to this day.

  1. The Japanese way of using bathtub: 10 years ago, I went to Japan on a cultural, home-stay trip as a 13 year old. Japan has a plethora of unique customs, so culture shock was inevitable. There were many that I observed and realized in those 10 days, but one stands out in particular. The Japanese like showering/bathing at nights before bed, opposed to Nepal where people normally do that during mornings. On one of the first nights there, I went to the bathroom and used the bathtub. After I was done, I mindlessly drained the water out and left the tub empty. I don’t remember if I had found it that way before, but I realized shortly after that I wasn’t supposed to drain the water. (We had lessons on cultural differences to mind before going to Japan.) I was embarrassed by my mistake and made a point to just use the shower from there on, as I couldn’t bring myself to use the water used by somebody else before me for soaking. The Japanese use tubs primarily for soaking after showering their body clean and the same batch of hot water is used by the entire ousehold.

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    10 years ago in kimono
  2.  Finnish coffee: I first went to Finland from Nepal at the age of 18 to pursue higher studies. While flying to Helsinki from Frankfurt after a transit stop, I was aboard a Finn Air plane. As a snack we were given a rye bread sandwich and coffee. I was not a big coffee drinker in Nepal. Our coffee is normally boiled/cooked on a saucepan and has a very light and sweet taste. When I tried that Finnish coffee for the first time, I hated it. I couldn’t believe how strong it was and seriously wondered how people drank that.Turns out Finland is among the top coffee consuming nations in the world. I passed three winters in Finland, and their strong coffee really helped me through sleepy college mornings and lazy, dark afternoons. I now prefer my daily coffee strong and without any sugar.

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    That’s frozen sea in Finland
  3. Buying groceries in Poland: This one was a culture shock to me because I grew up in Nepal, where you buy fresh produce from small markets and not giant supermarkets.Every time I go to a supermarket to do my groceries here in Poland, I am just flabbergasted and frankly, tired by all the varieties. All I need is a crate of eggs and there are about a hundred kinds on the shelves. (Okay, okay, maybe 30.) On the first year when I understood very little Polish, it was frustrating to not understand the differences and just pick whatever. There are not many options in Nepal, and you don’t really have to wonder about the different options and varieties when it comes to buying a product. While it can be a good thing to have options, I found it very tiring at the beginning to go through all the options and have no idea what kind I was taking home. Now I know the products that I use, so it’s not as frustrating. It’s amusing considering how often I hear stories of the communist era in Poland (just until 25 years ago) when the stores were completely empty or just had useless stuff like vinegar. Makes me think that Poland has come a long way in a very short time.

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    Baltic sea coast, Poland
  4. Cultural difference between Finland and Poland: These two countries are near geographically but are quite different culturally. I came to Poland on Erasmus exchange from the university in Finland, and I was shocked when random strangers talked to me on the bus stops and streets. I was used to the Finnish nature of generally minding my own business and not smiling or talking to people I didn’t know. On many occasions in Poland when I’d be waiting for bus, people came up to me and asked what time it was, whether the bus had already left etc. More than one time on the streets, people asked me for directions. I was shocked. This never happened in Finland and I lived there for about 2.5 years. Finnish people are known for their high value on personal space and not at all for their small talk. Well, the Poles? I think they love to chit chat. Oh, and party hard.(Read this old post to read my take on the differences in life between the two countries.)

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    The weather sure isn’t that different between the two countries
  5. The extremely important sauna culture in Finland: Finland is crazy about saunas. In fact it’s said to be invented there. What I found astounding was how every apartment, house and even a student apartment complex seemed to have saunas readily available. What was more shocking to me was that people went to saunas completely naked. In fact it’s considered unhygienic to attend saunas clothed. In public spaces like a swimming complex, the saunas are generally segregated by gender. I eventually got used to it but luckily didn’t have to attend any sauna with strangers of the opposite gender; that would have been outright embarrassing.

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    A summer cottage by the lake in Finland. With a sauna of course!
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25 thoughts on “Memorable culture shocks

  1. Ah yeah the lovely Finnish Coffee. In fact my parents bring back to Germany each year abour 20 kg of coffee…
    I think Finland is even number 1 in the rankings when it comes to coffee consumption, at least this is something I read a few years ago 🙂

    1. Wow I can imagine why 😛 Yes I also remember reading that they’re actually number 1 at drinking coffee. I did start drinking coffee with a little bit of cream and sugar for some time there, but then I went back to black, sugarless kind. Here in Poland, they drink a lot of tea, not so much of coffee. More of a tea culture. 🙂 Nepal is also definitely a very much tea culture.

  2. It’s funny because to me, Poles are very reserved much more so than Americans or Mexicans. They definitely will ask you questions if they need the time or directions, but Americans like to chat just to chat! I can’t even imagine what Finland must be like!

    1. Oh wow. I cannot imagine the Americans then! Finnish population in general can be referred as socially very shy which I think might be because of their dark, cold winters. If Poles seem reserved to you, then I haven’t quite experienced the nature of the people on the other spectrum then 🙂

    1. Ha ha I can relate! I still cannot understand the concept. I mean at public bubble baths we use the same water, but it’s constantly regulated so it’s different. Not the same in Japanese bathtubs! 😀

  3. A really interesting post!! I dislike Finnish coffee, I always buy an espresso-based coffee even though they’re more expensive. I’ve heard about Japanese spa customs so that bath thing doesn’t surprise me but I’m sure I would have made the same mistake as you anyway!!! 😂

  4. I totally get you. I’m a Finn who has lived also in Poland! I was always very surprised when people in Poland talked to me – or stranger still – sat a bit too close to me or *gasp* touched me friendly!

    1. Haha I know what you mean! 😀 I was told by Southern Europeans and Asians that they find Polish people to be not so talkative either, but to me they’re definitely more chatty than Finns! Where did you live in Poland? 🙂

      1. I lived in Toruń and loved it so much! As you know, we don’t exactly have so many historical buildings in Finland, but Toruń has plenty of them. Something to see – both for my eyes and for my history-loving soul.

      2. Torun is that one place I have yet to visit and it’s so near from me! Oh I know what you mean – sounds like you had a wonderful experience in Torun and Poland in general 🙂
        I am going there for sure this summer and maybe I will write a blog post about it! 😀

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