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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.