Recently a friend of mine posted pictures of the apartment she and her family are currently renting in Ukraine as they undergo an intense screening process in order to adopt a teen from there that they hosted this summer. They are in the final adoption stages, and it is exciting to see how God has been undoubtedly working to help see it to fruition.
The pictures showed a bathroom lit up by a green bulb, emerald green furniture, green bedspreads and green butterflies stenciled on the walls. The pics made me chuckle because it reminded me of all the randomness we’ve seen in the apartments we’ve rented across Europe over the last three years. Which then got me thinking about all of the randomness in general that you learn about other cultures when you spend a substantial amount of time integrated into them.
I decided to ask my friends that live or have lived abroad to tell me about some of the randomness they’ve encountered. The things that really make you scratch your head and sometimes make you pull a Kanye with your face.
Sometimes it flat out sucks. It just does. There are countless times I may or may not have acted in this manner:
We all come from some kind of culture and, from that, our comfort zone is created. It sets the standard that all things will be compared to. Over the years I’ve learned to be less critical and more open-minded about cultural differences, but sometimes they really do get my panties in a wad.
And other times, they cause me to question everything I’ve known and make my face do this:
Undoubtedly, living abroad will make you question your own culture. It will cause you to wonder if what you’ve always known is how it always has to be. It strips away all of the cultural norms that you might’ve once defined yourself by and forces you to see yourself for who you truly are and what you are really capable of dealing with.
I received a huge response from friends about interesting customs they’ve experienced in the countries in which they’ve lived and visited, and I would love to share them to give you a little insight (and possibly a little chuckle) into what I mean with all of this. I’m writing about Germany and Japan from personal experience, but the rest are from friends who have traveled to or lived elsewhere.
I give you the many randoms of living abroad (from an American’s perspective, of course):
- In some places, you must put a coin in a shopping cart in order to use it. Once I had driven all the way to the store with a baby and 7 year old in the pouring rain, and realized I didn’t have the correct coin. NOT ONE. Kanye face.
- While we’re on the topic of shopping carts…on German carts all four wheels spin or turn 360 degrees, which makes it feel like you are pushing a cart on an ice skating rink. And makes you look incredibly ridiculous doing so, especially the first time.
- If your name is not on your mailbox, no mail for you!
- You put salt in your dishwasher to make the dishes dry faster.
- By law, you have to be quiet from 1:00-3:00 every day and all day on Sunday. This sounds so smart, but when you have to air out your house by opening the windows every day because you have no A/C and your toddler screams at the top of his lungs on an hourly basis, it’s just not.
- No A/C. You wouldn’t think it would get hot in Germany, but last summer it hit over 100 degrees multiple days. It gets miserable for a good couple of weeks in the summer. So you open the windows wide up at night. You can either have bugs or be cooler. Pick one.
- Which brings me to rolladens….one of the best inventions Germans ever made. Way to go, guys. Black out your entire house in seconds. Efficient and secure. I will be putting these in our retirement house.
- This goes for most of Europe, but most water you order comes carbonated, or “with gas”. Most of us learn the hard way.
- And although it may be some of the cleanest water in the world, don’t you DARE serve anyone tap water. We aren’t swine.
- And do not ever think of asking a stranger, “How are you?” You know nothing about them, you fake, uncaring psychopath.
- If someone falls on the sidewalk in front of your house, you will probably be held liable. Because people in Germany never trip and fall…ever.
- Trash only comes (in our village) once every two weeks and is in a bin about 1/3 the size of those in the states. You miss trash day, you are totally screwed.
- There better not be a single snowflake left on your car when you pull out of that driveway. Not a single one!!!
- One thing I love about Germany is how little value they put into looks. Bodies are viewed totally differently. And this goes for much of Europe, really. At the pool you will find women of all shapes and sizes wearing bikinis. No shame whatsoever. No one cares what you look like. Is that even fathomable in the states? I wish we could get to that place. Oftentimes little girls go swimming with no tops on. It’s not seen as inappropriate because they are kids. Heck, the other day we just went to a park here and there were two little boys (probably about 4 and 6) butt-naked. No one gives a crap because they expect you to be an adult about it. Imagine that!
- Chimney sweeps aren’t just fictional characters in Mary Poppins. They are real, and if they show up unannounced (which they will), by law you have to let them in. They usually stop by when you’re looking especially horrendous and the house looks like it has been hit by a tornado.
- What exactly are these things you call “crafts”? Nonsense.
- Don’t buy your printer ink on the economy because your US printer chip doesn’t speak German.
- When you move, don’t forget to take the entire kitchen with you. Literally. Cabinets, stove, oven, range…all of it.
- You guys seem smart enough to figure this one out:
- And every toilet has two flushing options: big button or small button. I’m sure you’re also smart enough to see where I’m going with this.
- We recently had a birthday party at a place here and we had to take ALL of our party trash HOME. I’ve never experienced that anywhere except this one place, though, but it’s still totally worth mentioning. KANYE FACE.
- One hospital room can contain a 6 month old, 1 year old, 6 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old and 14 year old, all with varying ailments and all sharing a single toilet.
- No refrigerated eggs (A European thing in general, actually.)
- How pompous of you to expect someone to bag your groceries. And in bags that are provided by the store, no less!
- Always look people in the eye when making a toast. You may not drink until you have looked your fellow toasters in the eye. If you don’t, then expect 7 years of bad sex. You’ve been warned.
- Need to pee while you’re out running errands? Prepare to pay or wet your pants.
- German fridges are tiny because Germans shop daily rather than making one huge trip each week. I must look like a gluttonous pig as I bring in our 20 bags of groceries every Sunday. Most villages have small bakeries, metzgereis (butchers) and convenience stores that make it easy to buy essentials. And if you don’t, they usually have a bread truck that comes by once a week.
- Germany keeps it old school and shuts down on Sundays. It’s kinda nice. It’s also kinda annoying.
- Beer truck! We have a beer guy that will come to your house and deliver your favorite beer and give you samples of others he has. Yeah. Germany’s awesome.
- It’s against German law to keep your car running past a couple of minutes. Even in freezing temperatures Germans get in their cars and drive off. No “warming up”, which is bad for your engine anyway.
- “Drive-thru?” No no no. A meal is supposed to be enjoyed for, at the very minimum, 4 hours. “Drive-thru”….hahaha what immature rubbish.
- Germans don’t use dryers. They hang-dry everything. And if you don’t hang your stuff in a particular way your neighbors may come over and let you know. (true story)
- Now this depends on the place, but don’t expect to find a changing table in restaurants. Or small children at all, for that matter.
- The only legal day to set off fireworks in Germany is New Year’s. And they go ALL OUT. Midnight hits and the fireworks are going off constantly for at least half an hour straight.
- Beer is everywhere (shocker!) and is even cheaper than water in most places. McDonald’s has it, kid play places have it (it ain’t no Chuck-E-Cheese beer), and you can even bring it (and wine) to public pools. That is probably totally shocking to Americans, but the mentality in Germany is so different. It’s not taboo or looked at in a negative way; it’s just part of the culture. My sons are around beer and wine all of the time because it is everywhere. In fact, here’s a pic of our oldest with our beers at Oktoberfest:
- Who needs street signs when you can just say, “turn right at the light, left at the green pachinko, follow the road until you hit the sea wall with the sushi place on the right, and follow the road all the way down until the you see the building called Ocean Palace”?
- Which brings me to pachinko….which is EVERYWHERE, at least in Okinawa.
- Because this is obviously so much easier:
- No #4…anywhere. No floor 4, level 4, option 4…nope. Unluckiest number out there.
- Need the waiter? Just press a button on the table. GENIUS.
- No tipping whatsoever! If you do you’re basically paying them to do their job better.
- Say “hai” (pronounced “hi”) in response to everything. I continued to say it out of habit for a good 2 years after leaving Japan.
- It’s perfectly acceptable to drive your car up on the sidewalk. It’s also perfectly acceptable to just stop on the side of a very major road and just park.
- Although this is also true for Germany, it’s even more of a thing in Japan: you do NOT walk through the house with shoes on. Take them off outside first. Even when visiting someone.
- NEVER pour yourself a drink. Someone should pour it for you. And don’t lift your drink until everyone has been served.
- The medical mask. It’s almost a fashion statement.
- Stripping naked and bathing with a bunch of strangers is totally norms.
- Fish eating the dead skin off your feet is totally a thing.
- Expect your toilet and bathtub to be in separate rooms.
- Tiny kids play outside by themselves all the time. I’m talking toddlers. And when they want to cross the street they just raise one hand and start walking. You are expected to be mindful of children when driving. Because they really will just start walking with that hand in the air. It’s cute and terrifying at the same time.
- To turn on your hot water there is usually a button somewhere in the house you have to push. We learned this after a few days of searching.
- The “sink sock”. One of the grossest things on the planet. There are no disposals in Japan (or Germany, for that matter…wait, maybe that is just an American thing…), so they have a mesh bag that fits inside the sink catcher, a cylindrical bucket that sits in the drain. You put the “sock” in there and when it fills up with bits of food stuffs, you dump it out. I gagged just about every time we lifted it out. Just for your viewing pleasure:
- Always bring a gift to your new neighbors. Then they’ll give you a gift back and you will give them another one and you will do this forever until you die.
- The sun is the devil. Must wear elbow-length gloves while driving at all times.
- The 100 Yen Store. Heaven on earth. And no, it’s NOT the same as a Dollar Store. (I hear some are coming to the states! Y’alls minds are about to be blown.)
- Karaoke in Japan is THE BEST. You get your own private room, so you and your friends can sing (and drink) the night away without waiting in line or worrying about stage fright. You can order food and drinks by phone inside the room, so you don’t even have to leave (but drinks are watered down so hide liquor in your purse). What happens in the karaoke room, stays in the karaoke room.
- Apparently babies in Japan can sit in adult seats with no problem. Don’t expect to find a high chair anywhere. Actually, they do have them in some places, but they are literally chairs that are high.
- At youth futbol (soccer) games it is unacceptable to yell at the players; only encouraging words and clapping is allowed.
- You can get just about anything you want in Japan in a vending machine, especially iced coffee. Oh how I miss it.
- I could put this for Germany too, but I am mentioning it with Japan because it is soooo much crazier there: recycling. Japan is an island; Okinawa is an incredibly tiny island. So recycling and trash are taken VERY seriously. They recycle everything and are very particular in how it is all sorted and put out. If something is not right, it is left for you to deal with. Cloth should be folded and tied a certain way. Only certain types of metal can be accepted. In Germany you need about four recycling bins. In Japan you need around ten. And the translations for these items were never the best when I was there. Maybe it’s changed now, but at the time, it gave me many a Kanye-face. But it totally changed the way our family thinks about waste. I now cringe every time I have throw anything away that could be recycled (in the states). Here’s a pic of our recycling in Germany that will be going out tomorrow. I wish I had taken pics of our recycling in Japan!
- Saved the best for last: love motels. In Japan it is custom for children to take care of their parents when they get older. They come to live with you until they die, which means constant elders in your house. Which means no sexy time. So, enter love motels. (Or if you are a Japanese businessman, you can take your mistress there. That is very common. In fact, once when my friends and I were driving around a love motel district —totally for exploring, of course—, we saw parking spaces with signs that could block a car’s license plate from view.) Basically you drive into a private parking spot, go in your own private door to your room, and get down to business. The door locks behind you, and when you are ready to pay you send your money in something that looks like a bank vacuum tube. You pay by the hour, and most of them are themed in some way. Here’s a pic of a Hello Kitty bondage room in a love motel in Osaka. Yes, you read that correctly.
- My friend who lives in Italy said that in the area where she lives they don’t cut the pizza into slices for you.
- There’s no ice in drinks and they are not usually cold, including soft drinks.
- You never drink beer, water or soda in the containers they come in…always pour it in a glass first. This isn’t 1985.
- Something I noticed when visiting Italy is that they don’t like toilet seats. It’s just that nasty porcelain rim. WHAT is the deal with foreign toilets?!?!?!
- Road laws are just suggestions, of course.
- Threatening to kill jaywalkers is totally normal (at least in Rome).
- August…AKA the month no one does anything but eat and sleep because it is too damn hot to do anything else.
- In Venice the water in the canals is actually pretty nasty. When I was there my friends and I took a gondola ride. The gondolier bent down and pointed to something floating in the water and said, “See that? That’s shit.” Way to spoil the ride, man.
- Saying “good job” to someone is viewed as sarcastic, and oftentimes rude. “Well done” is a better phrase to use.
- Having jello/ice cream together for birthdays is apparently a thing.
- Birthday cake is cut up and sent home with the guests in goodie bags.
- Instead of saying, “What’s up” when greeting someone, Brits say “Alright”. Which has caused some confusion with their American friends. lol
- You better learn to pluck a chicken and gut a fish yourself or you are screwed.
- Forget all of this trash/recycling business….just stop off the side of the road and burn it all.
- The market it only a two mile walk away. No biggie.
- A friend of mine who lives in Lagos said that you can get anything you want from the inside of a car. New crystal? Sure! New bed sheets? Absolutely? Laundry basket? Why, of course!
- BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper) or you will literally have a messy situation on your hands.
- Best dressed? You get to push to the front of the line and get serve first! But that’s probably for everyone’s safety.