petite anglaise

November 11, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:26 pm

I’d only ever spent five days in the USA prior to my trip to San Francisco. It was back in May 2001, when the twin towers were still standing proud and tall and Tadpole was nothing more than an unfertilised egg in my ovaries. The weather wasn’t particularly kind to us on that trip, either. But Mr Frog and I bought cheap lightweight waterproof jackets on our first day and resolved to do everything we’d planned, regardless.

I remember getting the same nagging feeling of déjà vu back then too. Every time I sat down at the counter in a diner and the uniformed waitress refilled my coffee I felt like an extra on a film set. Every time I stepped off the pavement to try and hail an elusive taxi, it was as though I was re-enacting a scene from one of my favourite television series.

But this eerie familiarity didn’t mean that absolutely everything was how I expected it to be. It wasn’t, because however much I’ve been exposed to all things American by books and films and TV programmes for the past thirty-six years, there were still surprises. Tiny little culture shocks – scoring low on the Richter scale – that simply caused me to pause for a moment, to frown or to repress a giggle.

Random examples of things that amused/bemused me at first encounter include:

  • The tone of the announcements made over the tannoy on my US Airways flights. I was expecting Sweet’N Lo insincere politeness, but instead they varied from schoolmistress bossy to downright surly;
  • Waiters saying ‘pardon my reach’ when setting down my order as though they were terrified of violating my personal space without my say so;
  • The odd, discontinuous shape of toilet seats in public ‘restrooms’;
  • The take-away section in shops called ‘grab and go’ which sounded like an invitation to try out shoplifting;
  • Advertisements for specific brand name drugs on TV, exhorting patients to ‘ask their Dr about…’ and reeling off side effects at breakneck speed;
  • The food stand in a Fisherman’s Wharf market proudly advertising that it sold the city’s ‘finest pig parts’;
  • Being expected to pour maple syrup over my French toast, bacon and eggs;
  • Nickels and dimes. I brought home a huge wallet-full. Couldn’t memorise how many cents they were worth, for the life of me;
  • Being asked if I wanted cream for my coffee and finding out that in this context, ‘cream’ actually means ‘milk’;
  • Finding out that Heinz make mustard in a glass bottle shaped like a ketchup bottle. Who knew?

These were just a few random thoughts I scribbled down on the plane home while watching truly awful in-flight movies (tip: avoid ‘Made of Honor’ at all costs, even if you are a fan of McDreamy). It might have been a red-eye flight, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to be an option (even with the help of over-the-counter sleeping aid pharmaceuticals purchased at Walgreens) when I discovered that my economy seat only ‘reclined’ by five centimetres.

If anyone has any culture mini-shocks of their own they’d care to share in the comments box below, be my guest…


  1. When I was in Australia, we went to the grocery store and I was faced with all these alternate names for common items: raisins = sultanas, yogurt = yoghurt. There were others that I can’t recall. I found it amusing.
    Also, my host’s mother was asking me what graham crackers are because they appeared in a recipe in one of her cookbooks. I couldn’t quite figure out hoe to describe them, so after I returned to the States I sent her a box in the mail.

    Comment by Karen — November 11, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  2. Oh, New York is a wonderful city, but where do they buy FOOD? To use at home, I mean. They sell everything – but not bread, yoghurt or anything to make a dinner of.

    Your book is very interesting. I’m reading it in Finnish right now.

    Have fun in San Francisco!

    Comment by ulla — November 11, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  3. I love that you used the term “the tannoy” to refer to what we would call the PA (short for Public Address). Tannoy is so colloquial British and absolutely unheard of in the US. I am glad you enjoyed your visit here, I certainly enjoyed my recent visit to Paris.

    Comment by Mark — November 11, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

  4. What is a tannoy?
    What is the shape of French and English toilet seats?
    (I don’t remember them seeming strange when I’ve been there)
    You aren’t expected to put the syrup on your eggs and bacon, only on the french toast. But you can and it’s not bad. Have you ever had maple-flavored bacon.? Yummy!
    Cream does mean cream. Usually you get cream but some lower end places don’t have it and put out milk instead.

    Comment by Sheila K. — November 11, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  5. I visited Ireland and Scotland a few years ago and a few things that still stick out to me are:

    -How different breakfasts are: baked beans, haggis and entirely different bacon than here in the US;
    -New Year’s is also referred to as Hogmanay in Scotland;
    -The popularity of HP sauce/brown sauce, known in America as Heinz 57, but no Tabasco sauce or ketchup in sight; and finally,
    -When I was craving a Mars bar and unwrapped it only to discover it is what we call a Milky Way bar here.

    I hope you enjoyed your stay in San Francisco. It’s beautiful. Next time you should try Orange County. Something for everyone! Ooh, or Miami. :)

    Comment by Kelli — November 11, 2008 @ 9:06 pm

  6. A few culture shocks from my first trip to France, a very long time ago:

    The fact that dogs were welcome in restaurants.

    The complete lack of toilets in some restrooms, where a hole in the floor was the only option offered.

    Being served coffee in a bowl.

    Comment by Bluegrass Mama — November 11, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

  7. “Tadpole was nothing more than an unfertilised egg in my ovaries” – that reminds me of the time that a small boy of my acquaintance was relating a tale of how his parents renovated their house – “Of course, I was still in Daddy’s penis then.”

    Poor lad’s pushing 30 now but I will never let him forget it.

    Comment by Z — November 11, 2008 @ 9:30 pm

  8. my culture shock, as an american, heading to the uk:

    -the flavors of ‘crisps’ in the uk is insane (my fav. is tomato ketchup)

    -salad dressing is basically a big dallop of mayonaise

    -spicy curries (americans usually associate bland food with the uk)

    -the uk actually has a sandwich that consists of fries (chips) and buttered bread (how many carbs can you fit in one meal?)

    -the variation of accents in such a small space

    -uk roads are really nice and well taken care of….even out in the middle of nowhere

    -fear of patriotism

    Comment by a — November 11, 2008 @ 10:12 pm

  9. You don’t put maple syrup on French toast! What, if anything, do you put on French toast then?

    Comment by Forest Green — November 11, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

  10. Aww, ha ha most of those (as someone who has lived in Southern California her whole life) are so “familiar” to me. :) I’ll have to take some time and think of the culture shocks I remember from when I was last in England, and when I went to France and Italy.

    Comment by Heather Leigh — November 11, 2008 @ 11:00 pm

  11. Syrup for pancakes and powdered sugar and butter on French Toast for me :-)

    Comment by Mark — November 11, 2008 @ 11:23 pm

  12. My favourite US/UK difference has to be the American word for bumbag: ‘fanny pack’. Makes me snigger everytime I hear it.

    ‘Pocket book’ for purse also sounds strange to British ears.

    Comment by Sally — November 11, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

  13. The only real culture shock I had in France was the appalling rudeness of some people. I know everyone in France is not rude and not everyone I encountered was rude but the ones that were, well they could have made an Olympic event of it. Oh yes, and parking just wherever, I thought that was pretty insane. Like in the middle of the street or on the sidewalk.
    In Holland I was surprised at the bicycles, I already knew people rode them of course but I was surprised at how many and of all ages. In the US strapping your baby to a bike in the cold and rain would probably get you a call from CPS, but in Holland it is normal as it rains every day pretty much and the marketing must be done.
    The biggest problem for me in the Netherlands is the 9 to 5 lifestyle, knowing that if I run out of bread on Sunday I am screwed til Monday but of course a Dutchman would NEVER run out of bread.

    Comment by Jules — November 11, 2008 @ 11:40 pm

  14. To my shame, my culture shock surrounded the gravity placed on some words that in my part of the world that would be considered ‘low level’ swearing. I discovered calling something “shitty” was really offensive. Who’d have thought it?

    As for budget airlines. Horror of horrors. Learning that it was standard practice to cancel flights, leaving you stranded until they could fill one to capacity. Luggage that went astray every time (then being expected to tip the delivery guy when it was dropped off the next day) and yes- just like you, some of the surly announcements over the tannoy, by jaded, well-past-there-useby staff.

    Ah happy memories!

    Comment by another outspoken female — November 11, 2008 @ 11:42 pm

  15. Wash my mouth out “their”, not there. The things you spy just after the submit button is pushed!

    Comment by another outspoken female — November 11, 2008 @ 11:42 pm

  16. i live in america and some of the things you mentioned i have never witness or experienced. obviously, america is a vast country that varies from state to state, and actually within state as well.

    p.s. i recommended your book to some friends.

    Comment by m. — November 11, 2008 @ 11:44 pm

  17. The orange cheese in the UK – or is it just Scotland?

    Vegetables individually wrapped – UK

    Karen – I know what you mean about different names – we calls candy sweets or lollies – but sultanas and raisins are different.

    Comment by Rochelle — November 12, 2008 @ 12:05 am

  18. I have been a few times to the USA on business and have not had much of a culture shock, except perhaps in Las Vegas where we used to have an annual exhibition. It is like being in a huge fairground. Great fun in small doses.

    I cannot get used to the toilet (lavatory in Yorkshire) being called a bathroom, surely logically that is where you go for a bath. And who would dream of resting in a public lavatory? Do the Americans have an aversion to bodily functions?

    I did not go to the organised baseball game as I though it would be boring. A colleague knowing my dislike of extreme US patriotism told me they had to stand for the national anthem and put hand on heart. Yuk! Gordon Brown’s project to make us in the UK synthetically patriotic has been abandoned.

    Thing I really liked was drinking various microbrewery beers in San Fransisco airport in several taster glasses. I always thought US beer was like gnat’s p***.

    Despite the above, now that Bush is departing, I shall take my French wife next year for her first visit to the USA. We met a nice French speaking American lady in Majorca who wrote out a list of places to visit.

    Comment by franglais tyke — November 12, 2008 @ 12:10 am

  19. Hmm… a few of my favorites?

    – finding out that in the UK when ordering a sandwich with “salad” in the description it did not mean it came with a side salad, but meant that there was lettuce on the sandwich
    – finding only holes and not toilets in Malaysia
    – learning that Koreans eat with metal (not wooden) chopsticks… slippery, let me tell you!


    Comment by sfangie — November 12, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  20. Interesting post Petite Anglaise. It’s the little things that fascinate the most. I have two very good friends, one American and one Canadian, and although we speak the same language I am constantly surprised by some of the words and phrases they come out with.

    Two points of information re Kelli’s comment:
    Haggis is not traditionally a breakfast dish although it does appear in various inauthentic guises ie deep fried with chips (ie French fries), haggis burgers, haggis bhajis etc!
    Hogmanay is not New Year’s Day but New Year’s Eve.

    I agree with ‘a’ re crisp flavours. The other day I spotted Roast Turkey and Sage & Onion Stuffing! Our French exchange partner went mad for the Salt and Vinegar variety which she apparently can’t buy in France.

    Comment by Just Gai — November 12, 2008 @ 12:42 am

  21. Petite:

    SF is such a gorgeous city! Lucky you.

    I am confused however – “cream” is not the same thing as milk. It is milk-like in substance but it is heavy cream (or liquid cream).


    Comment by bijou — November 12, 2008 @ 12:48 am

  22. New Yorkers buy food in grovery stores – but you only find those in residential neighborhoods – not Times Square, etc. When I lived in New York, I had three grocery stores within a five block distance plus a fresh, open-air market on Saturdays.

    Given that most New Yorkers have small apartments with even smaller kitchens coupled with the high cost of food in a grocery store, they eat in restaurants often as its less expensive.

    Comment by bijou — November 12, 2008 @ 12:51 am

  23. As a Scot living in Florida, I can appreciate your confusion about American English!

    When I first arrived (in Massachusetts-hope I have spelled that right) I was at a coffee or something of the sort, and we were discussing dogs. Someone asked me what kind of dog I had in England, so I replied “A golden cocker spaniel.” They then began discussing the male v female, which is better, and asked me what my spaniel was. I promptly said “Bitch.” and wondered why everyone looked absolutely horrified.

    Later I found that bitch is not an acceptable word in the US although, curiously enough, it was acceptable to call someone’s baby “a cute little bugger”.

    Go figure!

    And keep on writing

    Comment by Margaret G — November 12, 2008 @ 12:56 am

  24. When I moved from Canberra (in southern end of Australia) to Mt Isa (in the middle of nowhere in North West Queensland) I spoke a completely different language. They had weird words, like:

    Port = School bag (short for portmanteau, apparently)
    Peg = To throw something at somebody
    Yonks = A long time between things
    Sat = Sat on your ar#se/put in your place

    And lots of others, that was 20 years ago, the brain doesn’t go back that far.

    And you could wear thongs to school, at my dad’s work if it rained? and the local pubs, until 7pm. Apparently they had standards for evening wear, a collared shirt & sandles.

    It was a culture shock, to say the least.

    But I went back down south & now I’ve come back up north, on the coast, it’s a bit prettier & more shops!

    Comment by QldDeb — November 12, 2008 @ 1:35 am

  25. Regarding the cream/milk… no no no! Really? Here, cream typically means “half & half.” When I lived overseas, in Europe, I was always frustrated that milk was the standard, and not my beloved half & half.

    As for the maple syrup… aaaah… one of the things I was so happy to come back to, upon returning to the States.

    Comment by Nikki — November 12, 2008 @ 1:45 am

  26. I have one that goes the other direction — I was 11 and my brother was 9 the first time we travelled overseas. We were jetlagged and flipped on the TV in our London hotel room (Mom and Stepfather were down the hall). When the talking tub of “margereeen” came on we lost it entirely. We thought that pronounciation was the funniest thing we’d ever heard, and fell apart giggling the way you do when you’re a kid. Happy happy memory.

    Comment by Charlotte — November 12, 2008 @ 1:45 am

  27. I was in Scotland and England last Christmas and both my husband and I learned a few new things

    We were very surprised when we heard from an English taxi cab driver who said Scottish football is total crap. Isn’t football football no matter where it’s played?

    The size of refridgerators in Britain are about half the size we Americans are used to.

    That every store in Britain used the chip and pin system with credit cards. That just started over here this year.

    People could walk into to drug stores and get reccomendations from the ladies working behind the counter on medicines. We can get some help from the folks behind the counters but not like what I saw in Glasgow. I wish ours were more like this.

    I experienced a Glasgow football game first hand and British football fans are way more excited and into this game then the way Americans are with American football.

    Comment by kccat — November 12, 2008 @ 2:22 am

  28. Over the years I’ve had a lot of culture shock moments. Most I’ve forgotten, but some are more memorable than others:
    Discovering that I actually quite like drive-throughs!
    Seeing vast amounts of wasted food.
    Buying milk by the gallon (albeit an American one!)
    Meeting people who actually shoot their own Thanksgiving turkey!
    Not sure if bears in the backyard really count as culture shock, but they were definitely a surprise at first (given that we don’t exactly live way out in the country.)
    Meeting people (college students!) who don’t know that Canada and the USA are different countries!
    The hours the stores are open – finding convenience stores open on Christmas Day. 7-11 and Store 24 were revelations when I first came to the United States in the early 1980s. Similarly, I was stunned on my last trip to the UK to find that shops in my home town still close from 1 to 2:30 every afternoon – except Wednesdays, which is half-day closing so they don’t reopen at 2:30!

    Comment by Almost American — November 12, 2008 @ 2:22 am

  29. How about:
    –Having to place a coin(s) to use the restroom at Harrod’s (especially inconvenient if you didn’t know you would need to pay at a nice department store “ladies room” and you don’t have any coins and you are with a young child) [10 yrs ago]
    –Paying the “Dragon Lady” (we would call the attendant that amongst ourselves as she never seemed happy and would snarl the days we saw her) at the restroom behind Notre Dame Cathedral (no I was not wearing white tennis shoes and speaking English)
    –Recall the pink “cardboard” paper in many a european public restroom
    –At the train station in Basel you can see into the men’s restroom while waiting to go into the women’s restroom
    And off toilet talk:
    –Needing to place a coin in a slot on the grocery cart handle which will release a chain so you can use the cart

    Comment by Beverly — November 12, 2008 @ 2:30 am

  30. #12
    Sally: Only older people, for the most part, use “pocketbook.”

    Comment by Sheila K. — November 12, 2008 @ 2:38 am

  31. The full English Breakfast while doing study abroad at Oxford!!

    Do the Brits really smear Marmite (dead salted yeast cells)on toast? Ok, so I know the answer is yes but it doesn’t make it taste any better.

    Of course in France having co-ed bathrooms was a new one for me. Along with dogs in restaurants, that doesn’t bother me but interesting none the less.

    Comment by David Wendel — November 12, 2008 @ 3:13 am

  32. walking into a restaurant (US or EU) and discovering they still allow people to smoke in there… or have a “smoking section”… yeah right… unbelievable!!

    Comment by kara — November 12, 2008 @ 3:27 am

  33. After moving to Nantes to study for a year, I was visiting my host family for my first ‘French’ dinner. It was that night, after many courses of food, that I learned “Je suis pleine” had a very different meaning in French than I had assumed.

    Comment by cassidy — November 12, 2008 @ 4:17 am

  34. The differences in cultures are appreciated by my sister and I when we travel. It is wonderful to have enough time in one place to really take notice of how much different things are in California than in France. My favorite example ~ ice in cold drinks. As someone who “likes a little soda with her ice”, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to get ice in Europe. You would think it was made of gold instead of just being frozen water!! I won’t even mention the cost of the Coca Cola…

    Comment by grandmary — November 12, 2008 @ 4:37 am

  35. Totally know that feeling! Monday was my husband’s graduation, we’re both French and live in Ireland. I was laughing on my own while looking at other families around me. It was totally surreal! Felt like an extra on both Harry Potter (the PHD robe was closer to a wizard outfit than anything else to me) and Dead Poet Society!! LOL ^^

    Comment by Vanessa — November 12, 2008 @ 8:29 am

  36. Argentina: meat is everything (except pudding, which tended to be dulce de leche, which was exactly what my father used to achieve by cooking a tin of condensed milk). By the end of my week there, I was ready to kill for a lettuce leaf.

    Comment by Autolycus — November 12, 2008 @ 8:46 am

  37. Honey, my whole blog/life is a culture shock. I mean, seriously, this is not a trick to get you to my blog: it’s literally every single post. I live in an Indian village, you see…so read away and take your pick :) Love your blog and am wading my thru it. A book? A BOOK?!! Love it. YAY!!!

    Comment by Braja — November 12, 2008 @ 9:36 am

  38. Here are a few of my “mini-shocks”:

    – Finding out that it’s rude in the US to invite people to your own birthday. They have someone else host a party for you.

    – When the toilet flushes it fills up first and then “sucks”. I kept thinking it would overflow!

    – Everything was always fat-free, sugar-free, low-fat… I couldn’t find a simple whole-fat, non-flavoured yoghurt. I even took a picture of a product called “non-dairy creamer, 100% milk free”, we thought that was hilarious.

    – People would always be so overwhelmingly nice. “I’m soooo delighted to meet you”, or when you do something for them it’s “you’re absolutely wonderful!”. Made me feel really appreciated, until I found out that’s just the way everyone talks and it doesn’t mean that much. The first time I heard an American talk on the phone to her parents and end the conversation with “I love you Dad, I love you Mom!”, my eyes must have bulged. We just don’t do that here.

    Comment by theycallmepat — November 12, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  39. On my first trip to USA (that was in Florida), we passed in front of a church. It was just an ugly cement building and they were flying an american flag in front. I told my friend that this was really funny, that I had never seen a church like that (I think I actually drew him a picture of a gothic church to illustrate) and that we’d never see a french flag on a church, either. My friend could not understand why I would even care about what a church looks like since I’m an atheist anyway.

    Comment by walken — November 12, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  40. When I was in England years ago, a woman asked me about a word she read in a Stephen King novel: Bleachers. “What on earth are bleachers?” She asked me. Sort of got me wondering why we call them that, seeing as they have absolutely nothing to do with bleach.

    On the flipside, I had no idea what to do when I was told to put my bag in “the boot”. Of course, I later learned that this is the trunk of a car. Go figure.

    Comment by writefromtheheart — November 12, 2008 @ 10:14 am

  41. I was working on a cruise ship with a very high percentage of US clients and couldn’t get over how the clients addressed the personnel:

    Gimme . . . (fill in the blank)

    I thought this was so rude. No please no thank you apparently this wasn’t considered rude but just the normal way of asking for something.

    Comment by Pauline — November 12, 2008 @ 10:44 am

  42. As Canadians we experienced no major culture shock in moving to the UK but there are many little differences. Like the extra syllable put in several words, for example ‘disorientated’ instead of ‘disoriented’ or ‘pressurize’ instead of ‘pressure’ (as a verb). After several years working in the UK (really like it there!) have started to instinctively use UK vocabulary and phrasing, just in time to move back to North America …

    Comment by Laura — November 12, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  43. “schoolmistress bossy to downright surly”> to say the least… not very welcoming as I remember from my last trip to JFK airport!

    Comment by Vonric — November 12, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  44. I remember buying a “hamburger and chips” in a little one-takeaway town about five miles North of Hadrian’s Wall. When we stopped a few miles down the road to eat our lunch looking out over the rolling hills we discovered that that had bought a deep fried hamburger patty, glistening with oil – not the bun, lettuce, tomato and hamburger patty experience that we had hoped for.

    Comment by Damian — November 12, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  45. After two years living in Los Angeles, and experiencing the Los Angelinos faultless politeness and upbeat attitude, a friend of mine started wanting to say, “Just tell me what you really think!”

    Comment by Damian — November 12, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  46. My brother in laws company were having a conference here is England and the MD of the American branch gave a big long speech. When he had finished speaking, he shouted “Right, I think everyone needs a fanny break”….as they had all been sat down for a long time. Someone from the English HQ had to take him aside and tell him what that meant for us English!!

    Comment by LaPetiteMarseilllaise — November 12, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  47. While on the Dalmatian coast my mother, my sister, and I were amused at how a pile of rocks could qualify as a “beach.”

    On the other hand, while touring through central Croatia, we felt like we were back in central Pennsylvania, and had the shock of recognition as to why so many central European folks wound up there.

    Comment by Shrike58 — November 12, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  48. The thing I remember the most from my visit to the US was how friendly everyone was.
    Even in New York, we met the nicest people ever.

    Scotland has different vibes, but I have grown to love em now!

    Comment by Yaya — November 12, 2008 @ 1:56 pm

  49. Wow, these are interesting to read as an American…some of you have had some weird experiences I wouldn’t call typical of our culture at all. But instead of getting all defensive I will say…I was shocked in London at how nice people were compared to Paris which is where I live. I took a long time trying to figure out how to top up my oyster card and I was so scared at how mad the people behind me in the line must have been…I turned around and they were smiling! And asked if I needed help! Amazing. I’ve been in Paris too long to remember what *shocked* me, but in the end I don’t think the cultures are different enough to warrant too much discomfort…

    Comment by Casey — November 12, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  50. Never mind the UK’s weird crisps, I love my visits to Champion in France to pick up peanut butter flavour corn crunchies……

    And Belgium – Jupiler lager in the vending machines at stations, airports etc – wow

    (and I’m from the country that deep fries Mars Bars!)

    Comment by Julia — November 12, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  51. Ah culture shock, my old friend. Some favourites:

    *When I first moved to Lille I was amazed by the magic way the French have devised their parking system – once you throw on your hazard lights, ANYWHERE is a parking spot – the footpath, my doorstep, the middle of a busy intersection, disabled spots (for people whose only disability is chronic selfishness)…

    *Also shortly after arrival – I went to the bank to open a bank account. “Sorry, we can’t open an account for you, you have no address”. Fair enough, off I trotted to a rental agency to start the house hunt. “Sorry, we can’t help you unless you have a French bank account”. Hmmm.

    *Similar-ish to above comments re: swearing – I still get odd looks when I throw a “thank God” or “please God” into conversation here – French people with their over 200 years of laïcité look at me as if I were about to whip out a Bible, douse them in holy water and force them to convert or be damned. In Ireland these are totally harmless throwaway phrases that worm their way in everywhere (eg “I thought I’d lost my keys but I found them just before we had to leave, thank God”)

    *UHT milk!! This horror has been all over Europe with me, I cannot understand the insistance of everywhere except the “British” Isles to force that awful stuff upon the populace. Do they not know that it is the undoing of a good cup or tea?

    *Obviously the concept of a good cup of tea is something to which I could dedicate many acres of space – but a quick note to any non-Irish-or-British persons reading: the definition of “a good cup of tea” does not stretch to include a glass of lukewarm water with an individually wrapped sachet of Earl Grey / Lipton’s Yellow Label propped up beside it. And “au lait” does not mean “with one of those horrid heremetically sealed nipples of UHT milk”.

    Nice to see you posting Petite! Have a good Wednesday.

    Comment by Ch'tirlandaise — November 12, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

  52. A trip round any American supermarket is always a culture shock. Items I remember the most were were huge wedges of illuminous orange shrink-wrapped processed cheese, along with a litre-sized tub of peanut butter.

    I also went to Texas once and found a buy-2-get-1-free offer on Marlboro red cigarettes in a petrol station. Only in America.

    Comment by straight-laced — November 12, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

  53. Hey, ‘writefromtheheart’, you didn’t tell us what ‘bleachers’ are. C’mon spill the beans, I’ve got to know now. :-)

    Comment by lettsy — November 12, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  54. Joke alert: My culture-shock was seeing that you posted twice in the space of a week! ;-)

    Anyway, while in Paris one day while watching a well known cycle race whizz past, I was in the middle of a 10 deep crowd. As the cyclists flashed by, I felt something from behind (steady now!), touching my bum. I thought nothing of it and just carried on watching the stage. Then it happened again. I looked round to see a middle aged woman, straining to watch the stage, with her hands in her pockets. About five minutes later it happened again. Thoughts of ‘I’ve pulled here’ were trampled underfoot when I looked round for the third time, to see, a ‘pocket dog’ peeking out from the womans coat.

    I just laughed to myself, one for thinking ‘I’d got lucky’ and secondly for finding out she was a dog. Ah well, better luck next time!

    Comment by Steve... — November 12, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

  55. Could anyone explain what a “bumbag” is? And bleacher (nr 39 comments on it, but doesn’t state what it means??). Moving from Paris to London, my biggest shock is that people in most shops don’t say “hello” or “goodbye” (they probably do in smaller towns, but not in central London). At my local supermarket, bakery, grocery, dry-cleaners, etc in Paris, you’re certainly expected to say “bonjour” and “au-revoir”. And the odd “comment ça va”.
    Another shocking fact when I moved across the Channel for the fact the English never apologise if they push you or elbow you on public transport. Even if it may not be entirely sincere, you do appreciate the “pardon” or “excusez-moi” in the Paris métro. And the fact that people will hold the door for you at the exit, or leaving the supermarket. In London people do not apologise on public transport, even if they’re literally standing on your toes. And I have had more doors slammed in my face than I care to think about.

    Comment by Tandy — November 12, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  56. Ah, been reading a while but now feel compelled to add my culture shocks!
    – In America if you have leftovers in a restaurant (which unless you regularly pack away half a cow in one sitting you invariably will) they ask you if you would like to take your leftovers home in a doggy bag? Very odd, but saved my dad asking for one I suppose! Oh and another American one, if you would like a wake-up call, they offer to ‘knock you up’. Erm, no thanks!
    – In Spain, we went to a show (forget the exact term, like a fair but with a horse and animal show bit) and they had a carousel with REAL ponies and donkeys tied to it going round and round and round all day :-(
    – In Italy & France where they still have those loos which are just a hole in the ground with footplates and you have to pay someone for the loo roll. Really, are they in the same EU as us?! Also in Italy, the police stopped us for not having our sidelights on, but pointed his machine gun through the window to point at the light switch, yikes!

    Comment by BigBird — November 12, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  57. Shock nr 1 after flinging case on the bed in NYC as a lad: picking up the yellow pages. It began with A for Abortion. Pages and pages and pages. Shocked? I was.

    On a more mundane level, when I lived in the US later I discovered American milk doesn’t go sour easily–because it has formaldehyde in it. Is it listed on the ingredients? No! Why? Same reason margarine in the US used to be sold with the colouring packaged separately and you had to stir it in yourself. Special interests get to write the small print.

    Of course for every unpleasant surprise there was a pleasant one.

    Comment by Eats Wombats — November 12, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

  58. I’m sure I’ve had many, but here are some that stand out.

    From when I studied in Spain (in 1996):
    – Trying to figure out how to flush the toilet at school. I finally looked up and found the flusher hanging from the ceiling.
    – Total absence of peanut butter. My friend actually brought some from the US to give as a gift because they just don’t have it.
    – Being able to smoke ANYWHERE. I was amazed when everyone got off the plane, walked into the airport, and immediately lit up. Also, despite No Smoking signs in my university building, everyone smoked in the hallways – even teachers.
    – Calling professors by first names.
    – No ice in your soft drinks.
    – Paying to use the bathroom at train stations in Andalucia and Amsterdam.
    – Having to light some water heater contraption to take a shower in my apartment.
    – Beer in street corner vending machines.

    Brazil (2006)
    – Their take on pizza. We have nothing like it. (Hearts of palm and potatoes as toppings, for example) Also, instead of ordering what you want, you sit down, and they come around with a different pizza every few minutes and you take a slice of whatever you want.
    – 90% of the restaurants we ate at over the course of a month were buffet style, and you paid by the kilo. They love their buffets.
    – The medications you can get at the pharmacy WITHOUT a prescription. Pain killers, antibiotics, Rogaine. The list goes on. And they’re cheap.
    – Wires protruding from shower heads. Always very scary. Electricity and water don’t mix.

    Incidentally, I truly felt like I had more culture shock returning to the US than when I arrived in Spain. Have you experienced that when returning for visits to the UK?

    Comment by librarianlisa — November 12, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

  59. PS to #13 (Jules)

    I found the French to be quite the opposite. Perhaps because in the US we always hear about how rude the French are, I was expecting rudeness. But when I spent two weeks there after studying in Spain, I found them to be the most polite and helpful of all the Europeans I had encountered.

    Comment by librarianlisa — November 12, 2008 @ 5:48 pm

  60. “Coffee cream” is 10% fat, so I think it qualifies as cream, not milk. I guess in France it would be called “crème liquide”. Coffee tastes fairly different if you use actual milk instead, or so I’m told.

    As a French expat in Canada, I can readily come up with a long list of little shocks (some nice, some annoying, some that are just plain fun):

    – In elevators, the mysterious ways buttons for lower floors are labeled.
    – Being allowed to turn right on red lights.
    – Benches in public parks with little signs that say they’ve been paid for by a local company or person.
    – Milk sold in plastic bags.
    – Having to remember to make a credit card payment at the end of every month.
    – The small size of road signs.
    – The humongous size of ice cream scoops.
    – The concept of suing government.
    – Homes with a “family room”, a “sitting room” and a “dining room”, none of which are used for having meals in, ever.
    – The marvelous yellow bus that takes kids from their doorstep to school every morning.
    – The “taupe” color, very popular for interior decoration, and fairly common as a car color too (ugly, if you ask me).
    – Trains that hoot and slow down when the track crosses a road.
    – Buses that must (by law) stop, then proceed, when the road crosses a train track, even if no train is coming up anytime soon.
    – Styrofoam cups and plates.
    – Being paid every other week instead of every month.
    – Ever-present references to football and baseball in language. As in: “When John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, he threw a Hail Mary, and it fell short”. I’m so glad for Wikipedia !
    – No booze for sale anywhere except in government-licensed liquor shops.
    – Real estate agents ads all over the place, with a picture of their face as the main selling point.
    – The willingness to drive incredibly long distances even for short vacations.
    – The massive array of outdoor Christmas lights on nearly every house, starting early in November, to be taken down at the end of January or even later.
    – Free local newspaper delivered to your door.
    – Everyone drinking coffee while driving to work.
    – Lawn signs at election time.

    Comment by ontario frog — November 12, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

  61. I was brought up by my grandparents who lived for several years in Austraila, I was about 7 before I figured out why I got odd looks for asking for my ‘thongs’. I was talking about flip-flops, just for the record!

    Comment by Optimistic Cynic — November 12, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  62. “Bleachers” are basically benches to sit on at a baseball field, basketball court, etc. They are set up in riser fashion they way stadium seating is, so that the first row of people have their feet on the ground, the second row is behind and raised up, and so forth.

    The last time I was in London I was surprised that we were not allowed to take home our leftover food from the Indian restaurant where we ate. When we asked if we could take it home, the waiter said, “No you cahhhn’t, it’s unhyGENic.” It’s too bad, because the food was AWESOME. The next time we were smart and ate it all up there.

    Comment by Sarah in LA — November 12, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  63. Moved from Paris to the east coast last year. For me, the two biggest surprises were:

    -“How are you doin’?” is the standard greeting. Joey Tribiani 1, Budweiser 0!

    -Cheese on meat. Chicken, pork, beef – you name it. If it’s in a sandwich then it’s fair game. I mean the cheeseburger is one thing, but on everything??

    Comment by Michael — November 12, 2008 @ 7:06 pm

  64. Re: theycallmepat: It is not considered rude in the US to invite people to your birthday party, in fact, if that were the case, I would suspect most people would be sitting around by themselves waiting for a birthday party that never happens.

    Bleachers are used for seating, most often at sporting events; Essentially they are just stacked benches that rise so lost of people can sit and see instead of staring at the back of the head of the person in front of you.

    A bumbag or fanny pack (hideous creation really) is just a small pack that you wear around your waist.

    I’ve never heard the term “knock you up” for a wake-up call, as far as I know it has nothing to do with waking up!

    Comment by king — November 12, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

  65. “lots” of people, not lost, sorry

    Comment by king — November 12, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

  66. The biggest culture shock: Americans and Brits eat all the time! The French don’t.

    Comment by Jessie — November 12, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

  67. Bleachers are sports stands aren’t they? I got that from Sweet Valley books…

    And a bumbag is what Americans call fanny packs. Lol

    If you want real English manners you should look outside of London!

    Comment by anon — November 12, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  68. Bleachers are open seating — usually rows of benches without backs set up in rising tiers on metal frames or scaffolding. Typically found at sports events (baseball, football…) and along parade routes.

    Comment by Bob — November 12, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

  69. Bleachers – open risers used as seating at smaller sporting events that are not held in large stadiums such as at schools (ex. )

    Bumbag = U.S. “fanny” pack = carry bag worn around the waist (search for “Fanny_pack” on )

    I don’t remember much culture shock on my one visit to Europe (Spain in ’73 when I was young and adaptable) but I did miss certain foods, and hoarded Nestle chocolate bars and biscuits/cookies that tasted like Graham crackers. :-)

    I had two aunts who traveled a lot in the 50’s and 60’s and always wanted US-style “iced tea” which is brewed tea (usually sweetened) served in a glass filled with ice. They had a lot of trouble finding it in Spain and other places.

    I do agree that a lot of food is wasted here in the US too, especially in restaurants where they serve monster-size portions (that, yes, you can take home in a “doggy bag” presumably to share with your pet; you can also ask for a “container” for leftovers; “doggy bag” isn’t ubiquitous).

    Comment by Janet Tryson — November 12, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

  70. Coming from the American South, I have always talked to strangers in public about all kinds of things. Whilst abroad with my dearest friend from the UK, she would constantly berate me for even smiling at people on the street. Apparently, doing such a thing in much of Europe is an invitation to get mugged/beaten/kidnapped/spat upon, etc. I’m going to South Africa in a few weeks for the first time with my husband (a native) and am already practicing my slightly aloof, far away stare so as not to parade around Johannesburg with the equivalent of a giant I AM AN AMERICAN sign around my neck. Who ever thought a smile and “hey y’all” could have such dire implications?

    Comment by Leslie — November 12, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  71. English, moved to Paris, then to NY area (about 25 years ago so now mostly American).

    Thanksgiving was a total mystery. Particularly a large meal involving turkey 5 weeks before Christmas. Pumpkin pie was also scary. Now a huge fan of both. Yams still frighten me, though.

    When we first moved here, we also could not find a supermarket. Tried the Woolworths to no avail. There are many great supermarkets in NYC. Definitely check out Gourmet Garage and Whole Foods.

    Comment by Shosie — November 12, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  72. I’m a Kiwi and we spent time in England, Poland, France (Paris only)and San Fran this year. Surprisingly the biggest culture shock came for us in San Fran. Had a great time but we were shocked to feel more ‘at home’ in Warsaw, Poland than in the USA. We had made the assumption that because we’d seen so much of the States on TV that things would seem ‘normal’ but the two things that really stuck out were:
    1) Being harrassed constantly on the street for ‘spare change’, not that we hadn’t come across this before but it was so constant it really made an impression.
    2) The sheer size of the meals in restaurants. A small side salad in most places was about the size we’d dish up for a family of four. And I didn’t have a hope in hell of ever finishing a main meal!

    Comment by Tumnie — November 12, 2008 @ 11:09 pm

  73. One thing that I remember my parents being snagged by (once) on their trip to the States was the names of courses. In Australia we call the first course the entree; then, in the States, this was the name for the main course. (Their beginning course was an appetizer.) So they started off saying ‘I’ll have so-and-so for entree, then such-and-such for mains”. Then they were horrified at the amount of food they were brought!

    Watching the American election broadcasts reminded me of the more elevated tone of their political discourse (not always, of course). But some of the blue-sky rhetoric would have most Australians thinking “cut the bulls**t”. And apparently calling someone a “loser” is a real insult in the States, unlike here, where it is capable of being used in a friendly, chaffing kind of way. Like “bastard” … a word capable of shades of meaning in Australia, but unappreciated elsewhere as a friendly insult. Truly two countries divided by a common language.

    Comment by Guy — November 12, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

  74. After I moved to London, I was reminded the “Queen’s English” is not “American” – I got very annoyed a consultant hadn’t produced his work and told the office manager I got pissed with him. She gave me a very funny look and said “do you mean pissed as in drunk?!” From then on I made sure I said “pissed off” though she may have still thought I went around drinking with the consultants.
    – Once I did know the use of the word pissed, I said to the same manager “Oh I got pissed as in drunk rather than angry this weekend and we were dancing and my pants were falling down.” She gave me an even funnier look and would have sent me back to America if we somehow hadn’t determined pants in the Queen’s English is underwear and in American is trousers!

    Comment by TSerafin — November 13, 2008 @ 12:26 am

  75. The first two that come to mind:

    In Costa Rica we had rice and beans with every meal (which I really liked as it turned out).

    In Canada I was startled by a weather forecast that said the temperature would be “soaring to 35 degrees.” I’m used to the Fahrenheit temperature scale in the US and of course the 35 degrees was on the Celsius scale. (It really was a very warm day….)

    Comment by ~Tim — November 13, 2008 @ 2:50 am

  76. Pauline, I think you must have had some really rude cruise go-ers. personally if I don’t at least say “May I?” I say “please” at the end.

    Beverly, I’ve been to Harrods about 4 times since I’ve been here and I’ve never had to leave money in the bathrooms. actually the only place I had to do that was Planet Hollywood.

    My culture shocks are pubs. I really feel odd in pubs. American bars may be a bit seedier, but I know the hierarchy. Here, I have no idea how to approach people and bartenders don’t know how to make quite a few drinks. I also miss American beer with a passion.

    I also found it funny that no one ever talks on the tube or looks at each other. Hilarious.

    I’ve used pants a few times too many in conversations and have gotten odd looks.

    I was also shocked at how burgers just aren’t burgers here. I mean no tomato, onion and lettuce for it?! How weird!

    Comment by Sara — November 13, 2008 @ 3:57 am

  77. I think “getting off” with someone is something more in the US than in England (at least when I was a teenager)

    Comment by Sara — November 13, 2008 @ 7:09 am

  78. Hello! I am excited to read that you were out here in my neck of the woods- the bay area, California! I was working in an independent bookstore for some time, before I decided to do a study abroad program in Italy. After the month long program, I extended my stay for two more months, and will now be returning again in two days, a mere two and a half months after landing back in America. I had a copy of your book from the store I worked in, and finally got around to reading it upon my return to the states. And you really, truly inspired me. I now have a blog of my own about my new life (to-be) in Italy. I just wanted to say thank you, and I hope that your time in California was fantastic!

    Comment by Lindsay — November 13, 2008 @ 8:50 am

  79. Leslie (#70): in Johannesburg a few years ago, I was struck by how FRIENDLY everyone was. “How are you” seems to be the standard greeting, and I remember a good few nice conversations with strangers in the street — not at all what I’m used to in Europe. I think you’ll be OK there.

    Comment by Claire — November 13, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  80. I live in Switzerland, and whenever I go back to the UK (Scotland), I feel terribly rude all the time! I just _can’t_ say “Thank you Ma’am/Sir”, whereas “Merci Madame/Monsieur” is fine. Then the lack of being able to use a formal term (“vous”) to an older/hierarchical superior.

    And finally, to complete the “dépaysement”- when I’m out for a walk here, it is de rigueur to smile and say “Bonjour” when passing people going the other direction (or sometimes if you overtake somebody going your way)- stipulating they are also out for a walk, of course. Can’t do that in the UK!

    Switzerland is still a very polite society. And a safe one too- the 5-year olds in my block walk to school and back alone. All 800 metres, across one hardly busy road. My friends in the UK wouldn’t dare let them do that!

    Comment by little_bounce — November 13, 2008 @ 10:59 am

  81. My turn!

    – the way americans mix flavours: I mean, cinnamon biscuits with strawberry ice-cream filling and chocolate topping was strange enough, but then lemon flavored coffe??? Hurgh!

    – pizzas in russia: no mozzarella cheese, but dollops of mayonnaise instead… Well, basically, mayonnaise everywhere. Including with soup, as a replacement for cream (as long as the stuff is white, who cares what it actually tastes like, right?)

    – pizzas in France: no mozzarella cheese, but greasy, salty “gruyère” (which by the way isn’t even real “gruyère”) instead. Blech.

    Okay, got to think up other, “non-food” examples, or you’re going to think it’s my only interest in life ;-)

    Comment by V. — November 13, 2008 @ 11:07 am

  82. It took me a long time to realise that in France (or at least, in Paris) you should not look people in the eyes when you’re in the street or on the metro. If you do, it means one of three things – in ascending order of unwelcomeness:

    1. You want directions.

    2. You want money.

    3. You want their phone number.

    I wish someone had told me that when I arrived here. It would have spared me a lot of embarrassment.

    Comment by suziboo — November 13, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

  83. My mom once asked her 12 year old English cousin if he had packed his pants for their weekend trip. He got very flustered and demanded to know why she wanted to know anything about his pants. (Pants=underwear in British English, as opposed to trousers.)

    I get culture shock whenever I go back to the States and see people in the airports or in schools wearing pyjamas.

    I just got back to Paris from Scotland and was surprised that though the people in Scotland are extremely nice, I couldn’t understand half of them, half the time. Especially in Glasgow…

    In Paris, it took me awhile to get used to not smiling at people who weren’t my friends. Even if I was in a class with them, I would get some strange looks.

    Comment by alessandra — November 13, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  84. Having recently travelled to North America for the first time, I was amazed at the HUGE gaps at the bottom of the partitions between cubicles in the restrooms. Supple people could easily limbo dance under them. And, the partitions only seemed about 3ft high anyway.

    Comment by Ian — November 13, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  85. My best example of cultural viewpoints, though I think I’m immune to the ‘shock’, was when we were chatting with a Cretan teenage friend of ours. He asked how long we’d been married, and I responded that we’d been not married for 6 years.

    In total seriousness, he asked me, “Don’t you have any brothers?”

    Comment by Sydney — November 13, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

  86. I am a New Yorker, but lived in the UK for 3 years, including 1 year in Scotland. The small shocks went on and on at first, but over time I completely forgot about them – only to be shocked upon returning home! A few observations:

    1 – The streets of London are quieter than New York. Everyone here SPEAKS REALLY LOUDLY.

    2- All those ready-made sandwiches in every corner shop, plus Tesco, Boots, etc. in the UK. I loved them and miss them.

    3-Bad coffee in the UK and the love of tea! Every house I visited the first question I heard was whether I wanted a cup of tea. I’ve been embarassed over the years when Brits come to visit and I dont have the right tea to offer…

    4-Brits- bad at introductions. When walking into a room of people you don’t know here, Americans IMMEDIATELY introduce themselves (unless they are painfully shy or strange). In Britain, I found that I frequently had to introduce myself, or sit for hours not knowing the names of the people around me.

    5-British students- much more money conscious than American students, AND much more conscious of their status AS students.

    6- Tea/dinner/supper distinctions – all can get very confusing to Americans if you’re not prepared.

    The list could go on and on. Oh- and yes, we do have grocery stores in NYC, though those of us without kids spend so much time eating out it really is a waste to buy many groceries. They just get moldy.

    Comment by Snowy — November 13, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

  87. Hi! I love your book! I am an American who lived in England briefly, and I was most confused with the following:

    1. Single cream and double cream – all I wanted was half and half to put in my coffee so I had to mix milk and single cream together every morning!

    2. I could never find a vinagrette anywhere, just “salad cream”.

    3. I could never successfully describe an American biscuit or an English Muffin to a British person.

    4. Ordering a tuna sandwich and finding out they had buttered the insides of the bread before putting on the tuna.

    5. Finally, I had never rode on a bus before, and I didn’t know that you pull this little yellow handle when you wanted off, so I sat on the bus and watched my stop pass by. I didn’t speak up until about 10 miles away when I realized they weren’t stopping anytime soon.

    Comment by Kali — November 13, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

  88. When I was 17 I was an exchange student to Tunisia for the summer. At one point I became ill and I also felt very homesick when I was sick. One afternoon I wouldn’t get out of bed to go downstairs to eat the big meal of the day. The father in the family I was living with came up to check on me and he had this huge thermometer and a twinkle in his eye. When I saw the thermometer all I could think of was that it was a rectal thermometer! I started saying that I was feeling better and didn’t need to have my temp checked. He kept grinning, knowing full well what I was thinking, and coming at me with the thermometer. It turned out that the thermometer was the kind you put under your arm. I had never seen one like that in the US. Was I ever relieved!

    Comment by Sue B — November 13, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

  89. I lived in London for six months (over twenty years ago, but it stayed with me) and came to notice that, yes, Americans are rather loud. But that the Underground was far too quiet if you ask me! Also, as Kali found out, every sandwich I ordered I had to pipe up “no butter, please!” And, although my mom was born in London, I’d never heard of a spanner. Or a Dalek. I think my office mates just enjoyed testing/teasing me!

    Comment by Jennifer — November 13, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  90. Oooh! Forgot one! This really blew my mind…I was checking out a bedsit (a term I quickly learned) for my stay, and the woman showing me the room pointed out “you need to put 5p in the meter for hot water–it usually gives you enough for a bath”. I’m sorry, what??? I have to pay a nickel to take a bath? I ended up taking a room in a flat–I shared with another American girl. Apparently, we Americans don’t mind sharing.

    Comment by Jennifer — November 13, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

  91. Some little differences I’ve noticed myself, or have heard about :

    – In San Francisco, ten years ago : being unable to find an ATM eaysily: not much of them, quite all inside buildings.
    In Paris, at the same time, often what you had to do in order to find one is make a 360 turn on your feets, when you’re at a main streets crossing : it would have been surprising if you didn’t notice at least one or two logos of ATM, all of them located on the external walls of banks..

    – probably on the I-5 between LA and SF, eating a lunch at a hamburger restaurant using the old “in S” waiting line system with four to five people at the desk serving one client at a time (like a car assembly line !) , instead of having one waiting line in front of each cashier, which is doing all the tasks.
    I had never heard about this system before, because it was obsolete when McDonalds opened its first restaurant in France in the early 80.

    – The exceptional respect that american or british people have for waiting lines : dare you only try to cheat, and several people will tell you firmly to get back at your place. French young (and sometimes not so young) people often cheat in waiting lines, adults don’t want to argue and “let it be”.. too bad.

    – The way US persons introduce themselves very quickly, saying their name and from where they come, and often ask you from were you are, even before they’ve heard your famous ‘so cute’ french accent :-)

    – The US toilets with their famous “oblongue” shape, and the great pleasure to always find them perfectly clean, even in public, touristic places like the Embarcadero.
    But… few privacy, which is shocking for us europeans : doors cut in the lower part, not completely sealed on the sides, so that someone standing in front of it could see you inside !!!

    – In an hotel in Vietnam, when my -french- parents asked for some tea they where brought some of those little bags of “Lipton Yellow” with bowls of hot water. When they asked for “real” vietnamese black tea, the waiter answered with surprise : “but.. we were told that THIS was the kind of tea all of you westerners were drinking !”

    Comment by Etienne — November 14, 2008 @ 12:23 am

  92. When working in Australia (North Queensland) for a summer:

    – Finding out the hard way that the word “rubber” referred to an eraser, not a condom.

    – Calling my pants (trousers!) “khakis” elicted strange looks.

    – Finding that my host had buttered my ham and cheese sandwich (though that one grew on me – delicious!)

    – Having a very frustrating and pointless conversation about the accelerator pedal in a car, which I referred to as a “gas” pedal. The girl I asked the question to thought I was nuts. It took me a good five minutes to figure out where I’d gone wrong.

    Comment by Allie — November 14, 2008 @ 1:18 am

  93. Petite, regarding coffee in the US, cream can mean EITHER: milk OR actual cream. It simply depends on what the person has available. Actual cream is oftentimes more expensive (and fattening), so many people simply buy milk, instead.

    Your syrup is not necessarily expected to be poured over your bacon and eggs…just your french toast (or pancakes). If you poured it over your bacon and eggs, too, I would actually be surprised or expect that sort of thing from a guy (or a child). Generally, we just pour it onto the pancakes or french toast.

    Your observation regarding the commercials for pharmaceuticals here was really funny and dead on.

    Comment by Chandley — November 14, 2008 @ 1:47 am

  94. As a Canadian, I’ve encountered:

    The pants/trousers references – I once told an English boy I liked his pants. Of course, I meant trousers (they were very stylish for the time) but you know the reaction I got.

    The wax-paper toilet paper in British public toilets.

    Haggling prices in Tunisia. I’m used to prices that are posted. And non-negotiable.

    An English person called another a “mentallist” meaning crazy. Over here, a mentallist is a person who hypnotizes people. Usually as an entertainment.

    Within my own country:

    Where I grew up a raglan is a type of sweater (jumper to Brits) with a particular style of shoulder seam. Where I live now, it is what I would call a trench coat. (overcoat, top coat)

    Where I grew up “shag” is a fairly vulgar term. Here it just means to mess things up. “Well, I really shagged that test up.” The first time someone used it in an office setting, my jaw dropped.

    Or it can be used as an insult, but a fairly mild one. “You shagger!” at home would be considered a terrible insult.

    Comment by Dawn — November 14, 2008 @ 2:44 am

  95. @ 60 The willingness to drive incredibly long distances even for short vacations.

    cdns will say: “its just a 10 hour drive and were in montreal!”

    this isnt the first time ive heard this… i thinks its bc of the size of canada… if you drove 10 hours with a starting point in belgium then youd end up at least 2 countries away from here you came from!! :)

    Comment by kara — November 14, 2008 @ 2:55 am

  96. To Shelia (#30) & Sally (#12), I am from the North East and both young and old say pocket book. I am 24 (not too old I hope) and say pocket book!

    Comment by that girl — November 14, 2008 @ 6:23 am

  97. I made my cultural shock in England a book ‘johnny and me’ and the Greeks really appreciated it! in a few weeks is in the bestseller list!!
    I don’t know what to mention first the marmite for breakfast or the eccentric clubs and hobbies (fuscia club, plane spotters….

    Comment by penelope — November 14, 2008 @ 6:32 am

  98. Im an english student teaching english in france at the moment and for classes this week we discussed english food and i gave them marmite sandwiches…needless to say, i knew what the reaction was going to be! very funny!

    Comment by Mikki — November 14, 2008 @ 9:43 am

  99. In a Swedish museum, a few years ago: we 2 were strolling around and something one my right side seriously caught my attention so I bumped into an older man “standing in my way”. He was British and started to apologise immediately, at some length and with quite some feeling. I could only squeeze a stammered “but it was my fault” into his apologies and got away blushing and feeling quite ashamed of myself.
    My Teutonic husband gets a laughing fit at least once a year when re-telling the story of that poor Englishman who stood in my way and apologised for my not having noticed him. :oops:

    Comment by alcessa — November 14, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  100. As a spotty “gap year” student in ’79,I dived into the first cinema I saw in NY to escape the rain on day 2 of my first US vist.Didn’t pay any attention to the film(movie) until I was seated,only to find that Linda Lovelace was headlining(pun intended!),further shocked to see “Comfort Station” illuminated signage around the cinema. My innocent mind boggled but no “happy finish” to be found.

    Since then the following have produced the odd wry grimace…

    -Hearing American friends complain about the price of gas
    – Thier obsession with guns (more of a frisson than a grimace)
    -Seeing a chain gang of prisioners working on the roadside,wearing stripped black & white pyjamas (Florida)
    -How small the world is to many Americans,often limited to the State border.
    -How little international news there is on US TV
    -The love of baseball caps (have you EVER seen anyone look good in one?)
    -People describing anything,especially building,made in 18anything as “old”

    But I love it & keep going back.

    Comment by Hank — November 14, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

  101. I’m not sure I can agree about every comment about the UK you know – I always greet people in the street or when passing them, whether I know them or not.

    Comment by Fee — November 14, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

  102. The things i’ve encountered:

    When I was living in Spain as a student, the fact that people wouldn’t invite friends over to their houses, people were mostly meeting in the streets or in pubs.

    In curacao (small caribean island)the fact that we (poor interns) didn’t have warm water, it would be lukewarm in the beginning of the day, unbearably hot in the middle of the day, and lukewarm again in the afternoon….

    In New York, I complete stranger offering me and my friend two tickets for the US open that evening!!! Who says New Yorkers aren’t friendly?

    Comment by Annemiek — November 14, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  103. I (a Canadian) went to Irelend when I was 16 with my school for a week and the biggest culture shock was the food! (I got sick on the first day) But I found everyone very friendly – always willing to strike up a conversation!

    Going to Italy the next year, at 17, the biggest shock was how bold the guys were! I’ve never been approached like that in Canada. Being very fair with blonde hair didn’t help either!

    Some of my biggest surprises were in the states because I expected them to be the same as Canada but there are key differences (i.e. no Smarties or Tim Hortons!) It also always surprises me how little Americans seem to know about Canada!

    Comment by Sasky Girl — November 15, 2008 @ 4:07 am

  104. Maple syrup on bacon is pretty much the greatest flavor combination ever.

    My reverse culture shock is that I am always surprised that non-Americans don’t enjoy peanut butter or root beer. Why not?

    Whenever I travel, it takes me a long time to acclimate to the fact that the weather map is not, in fact, in the shape of the US or my home state.

    French people don’t wait in line, they form a mass and push and shove until they get to the front.

    Haggling/bartering. I can’t do it.

    Not leaving a tip in a restaurant. It feels as though I am stiffing the server.

    “Take away” is a term for subtraction, not a way to say that food is leaving with you instead of being consumed on site. Otherwise known as buying the food “to go.”

    Comment by Nutmeg In Paris — November 15, 2008 @ 5:50 am

  105. yawn

    Comment by Louise — November 15, 2008 @ 6:40 am

  106. When I was in Paris, I found the French to be delightfully polite and helpful, especially when I made wretched attempts to speak in French. I still babble about moving there.

    Oddities elsewhere? In Croatia, except in nicer hotels and restaurants, there were no toilet seats! And there and Slovenia, even in luxury resorts, no washcloths. I learned to pack my own.

    Comment by pamela yaeger — November 15, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

  107. I remembered another one:

    My American cousin came to visit me in Paris with her two sons (22 and 20 at the time). It was the sons’ first visit to Europe. They were standing at the window, looking out onto the street (boulevard Magenta, with a row of beautiful buildings), and I overheard their conversation:
    “Look at all these old houses.” – “Yeah, I can’t believe they haven’t been torn down yet, they’re so old.”

    We still laugh about that one…

    Another shock was the first time I saw a world map in the US, where the American continent was in the middle of the map.

    @ Nutmeg (#104): Peanut butter and root beer – I think you have to grow up with these. I know of nobody who discovered them later in life and enjoyed either. It’s the same with Marmite or Vegemite. Strangely enough, foreigners usually don’t seem to have that problem with our breakfast spread: Nutella!

    Comment by theycallmepat — November 15, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

  108. okay, here is my gem. flight from Heathrow to Ottawa, Canada, back in 1999. Sat next to an tiny, elderly Sikh man who had just boarded from somewhere in India, had been in transit for a zillion hours. He couldn’t open the little bag of crackers, so I did it for him…he was horrified to see the contents and passed them back to me. Later, dropped his head down, unwrapped his turban and rewound it. I know, I thought they weren’t allowed to do that, but he did, and the sight of it was quite fascinating. His hair was like so long it just trailed on the floor, and the rewind of the turban around it was a work of art.

    Comment by gwappa — November 15, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

  109. My observations of differences between Europe and the US was simple… Why aren’t there any shower curtains in the bathrooms there? As a young exchange student I couldn’t figure out how to have a shower without making a mess!

    Comment by Amy — November 16, 2008 @ 4:32 am

  110. O.K. I’ve worked my way down through these 100 and more stories laughing all the way and nobody has mentioned “bidettes”. Did any American, Canadian or other non European person ever mistake this for a real toilet with the obvious disastrous results?? I remember my aunt pointing to the real toilet in a closet down the hall after I had messed up and assumed the toilet-like thing in the bathroom, next to the bath and sink was NOT a toilet. Yikes!

    Also, first time in Switzerland and invited to eat at a “Mezgete”? It is a giant platter of pork parts including blood pudding. I’m serious! and they eat RAW bacon with naked bread and a glass of wine made from apples for supper. Hey, after 28 years I LOVE IT!

    And the U.S of A is one endless culture shock. Go have an Ice cream cone and choose from 50 different flavours (mocca Heath Bar?”)and 5 kinds of cones. No wonder everyone is so humungous-sized there when you see how big a size “small” is! It is rude to stare or show any kind of shock, I know…. when you see a 250 lb. human being in SHORTS (ugliest piece of clothing ever invented) and, of course, a baseball cap. Sorry, I just can’t believe what I am seeing is true. Everything is upside down: The kids are the boss and the parents are the kids. Overheard: Mom takes small kids to restaurant “O.k. here’s the menu just please don’t order all the most expensive things”

    Get this! In Canada guys announce their engagement by publishing a photo taken with their girlfriend …….and they’re wearing a baseball cap!!It’s a fixture they don’t even notice they have on. Removing that cap must be like pulling their pants down.

    Comment by marlana — November 16, 2008 @ 5:15 am

  111. Petite,I copy what a friend said about you:

    “This person writes well, like Raymond Chandler.”

    Comment by hilde — November 16, 2008 @ 9:46 am

  112. My biggest culture shock, coming from the UK via Italy was how big the people were in the US – and how big the beds were! We stayed in motels that had two double beds in one room – what’s that about?! Also I remember being freaked out by the security in the motel – the signs telling you on no account to open the door at night, and how to store your weapons – yikes!

    Comment by Cath — November 16, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

  113. A few memories of New York:
    Ordering breakfast and finding that the person behind the counter didn’t understand me at all.

    Fantastic orange juice, but, basically too large servings of all food.

    Ordering a selection of cheeses from a menu and discovering that they had no idea which cheese was which. In fact, I didn’t get anything I asked for.

    Being given a doggy bag to take home the breadrolls we hadn’t eaten.

    Comment by sablonneuse — November 16, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

  114. Toilets/WCs–without sinks! So disgusting to this American to use the toilet in French apartments and have to then go find a sink somewhere else in the house. Dirty, gross. One should be able to wash hands before turning the doorknob to leave and flicking light switches on and off in other areas of the house!

    (I noticed this is England, too.)

    Comment by Joy — November 16, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  115. Marlana;
    Even though there are lots of people in the U.S. with weight problems, EVERYONE is not fat. Also, I just read that the U.K. is getting fat also, catching up with the U.S. rapidly followed closely by several other E.U. countries. You probably shouldn’t travel to the U.S. It doesn’t sound like you think too highly of us.

    Comment by Sheila K. — November 17, 2008 @ 2:43 am

  116. I find it’s most often our “shared language” that divides Brits and Americans in the US. I’m thinking of bizarre linguistic expressions that sound made up, or just wrong: worst of all “acclimate”, which had me in stitches when I first heard it (apologies to the person who uses it above). Also things like “momentarily” for “in a moment”. And there are loads of things we say that prompt blank expressions from Americans. My husband recently went to Australia and said their use of English was much more like in the UK.

    For the record though, plenty of British people like peanut butter and marmite – you’ll find these in the aisles of any British supermarket.

    Comment by old school friend — November 17, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  117. I agree avoid Maid of Honour at all cost. I’m sorry that you had to be on a plane with a bunch of other poeple who i’m sure where loving it because they had no choice. The thing about being in other countires is that you either adapt or trip through it day by day. When i was in italy for 2 months after about a week i just got into a routine and it was a done deal for me. I love to see how other people live and have no issues with the saying when in rome do as the romans do or go home.


    Comment by jensenblack — November 17, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  118. I’m a Brit, but spent a few months working in the US mid-West and experienced many of the odd, unexpected moments you and other posters describe. On day one I spent a frustrating 5 minutes trying to buy a sandwich, banana and bottle of water from a Subway, and ended up having to point at the items required.

    Comment by Hannah — November 17, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

  119. Hannah@118.
    Maybe it’s something about subway. When I was in Vancouver I had to repeat everything about 4 times for the chap behind the counter. He asked if I was from London and I said no and apparently that’s the reason he couldn’t understand me. I’m from the borders between England and Wales but don’t really have much of an accent.

    Other little things I have noticed, the lack of pork products in New Zealand and how they are just as obessed with tea as us. Parisians being very friendly, which really was a pleasant suprise. Slovakians win the friendly competition though, well for the countries I have been to.

    In the US; tooth picks in restaurants, ice machines in apartments, (condos),waitresses asking if you are going to leave a tip and not forgetting massive massive portions.

    Closer to home, the Scots call it a fish supper instead of fish and chips.

    Comment by Bimbo78 — November 17, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

  120. Originally from England but now true blue Aussie, I’ve always thought it slightly odd that in Australia we eat the animals featured on our National Emblem – namely Kangaroo and Emu. You can buy meat from the former at any supermarket.

    Comment by Stay at home husband — November 17, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

  121. I’m American and one of the strangest things that I noticed when I was in Paris was the lack of wash cloths. When I arrived at the hotel, I noticed there were none with the towels in the bathroom. I asked the front desk and nobody seemed to know what I was talking about. I spoke to some other Americans who said that wash cloths weren’t a common thing in Europe. It seemed odd to me and I still don’t know if that is true.

    Comment by Anali — November 18, 2008 @ 6:52 am

  122. Re: washcloths…
    I think washcloths are ideal breeding-grounds for bacteria and cannot really understand how using one could be in any way be considered to be a hygienic practice. They are not at all common on the European continent, but I know that some (usually older) people in England and Ireland still use them in their homes and do not automatically put them in a hot cycle in the washing-machine after use, rather leaving them on the side of the bath or in the shower (for the next person to use, maybe?! Yuck!).
    Doesn’t make much sense to me and I didn’t think they’d be common in the States…

    Comment by happyforyou — November 18, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  123. OMG are you pregnent, i know when i was everything is just so much better, funnier because your so happy

    i hope you are!!

    Comment by i know — November 18, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

  124. I remember when I was in the states a while ago I cut my finger. So off I popped to the local shop in search of a plaster. After searching unsucessfully for one, I asked the shop assistant where they were, but she just stared blankly at me with a bemused expression on her face. I repeated myself slower this time, thinking that my English accent may have been the cause of the confusion, but still she didn’t understand. It was only when I explained in a painful ammount of detail what I wanted that she exclaimed ‘Oh, you want a band-aid?!’

    Comment by Big City Bumpkin — November 18, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

  125. Hello!

    Comment by Trevpr — November 18, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

  126. Sorry for that mistake, I’m thissed!

    Comment by Trevor — November 18, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

  127. When I was in South Africa I was amused to find out that while we here in the US use the word fanny to mean buttocks, there it is another word for a woman’s genitals. I was also surprised that most of the people who (very graciously) offered me coffee gave me Sanka instant coffee, not actual brewed coffee – strange since some of the best coffee in the world is grown in Africa!

    I do love how in response to “Thank you” they say “My pleasure” instead of “You’re welcome.”

    Comment by Caroline — November 19, 2008 @ 12:21 am

  128. As a New Yorker my big moments of culture shock usually come from loud American tourists asking directions. Unlike the rest of the world they rarely say “Excuse me, could you please…..” and instead feel free to bark requests for directions.

    I could not get used to being called “Madama” in India. Shades of a colonialist past.

    Comment by J — November 19, 2008 @ 2:41 am

  129. Wascloths are almost ALWAYS white in hotels. They can be washed in hot water and bleached. How do people who don’t use them get the stench and nasties off their bods, especially in those regions…oh, some things make a lot more sense now.

    Comment by Sheila K. — November 19, 2008 @ 7:23 am

  130. @happyforyou. They are not at all common on the European continent.

    I must be living in another European Continent as I know tons of people that use wash cloths and excuse me but I’m not THAT old. Even worse though is that us ‘oldies’ use the same cloth on our faces, bums and under our arms, for several days in a row and then use a towel to dry our clean bodies that hasn’t been washed for a week . . . or maybe it’s just me.

    Anyway thanks happyforyou I had my first good laugh of the day.

    Comment by Pauline — November 19, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  131. Didn’t mean to cause such a commotion with my comment on washcloths…:)

    SheilaK, I think if a person has good hygienic habits and showers at least once a day, I don’t think they should have any problems with “stench and nasties, especially in those regions”. Good soap & shampoo and hot water should be more than enough!

    Pauline, I was speaking from my own experience, as someone from Northern Europe now living in Southern Europe. Although I do remember seeing people from my parents’ generation using them, I honestly don’t know anyone in my generation that uses washcloths for themselves or their kids. Anyway, no offence was meant by my comment and I’m glad I made you laugh…:)

    Comment by happyforyou — November 19, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  132. As American expat living in Italy, I know just what you mean about culture shock. Reading your post today made me smile and feel little homesick for America…

    My home in Italy is full of nickels and dimes that I will NEVER be able to get rid of! Hehehe!

    Comment by Cyn — November 19, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  133. I’m originally from the American South like Leslie, so I’ve had to tone down the “Hey y’all!” and big smile myself, just about everywhere.
    When visiting the UK, I had a number of hilarious language learning experiences. My favourites involved naughty words, namely:
    1) that they were shocked by the “MF” word, while I was shocked by the “C” word
    2) in my home state, South Carolina, “the shag” is the state dance. No, I am not making this up!
    Also surprising in Wales was getting a lamb and leek pie lunch special (6 pounds, around $12 U.S. at the time) served with giant portions of French fries and steamed carrots and brown gravy poured over the whole thing. It was delicious, but enough to feed 3 or 4 people. Wish I had fasted first!

    In France, what shocked me the most was:
    1) Turkish toilets, of course
    2) Men peeing in the street
    But I loved the privacy of the stalls in the public toilets, and the highway system with rest stops on each side of the road at fairly frequent intervals.

    In Germany, it was:
    1) The exactness of their waste/recycling sorting, including hefty fines for non-compliance
    2) That friends always seemed to want to go to out to eat at McDonald’s (not for my sake, because they loved it!)

    I now live in Montreal, and what continues to surprise me is people’s relative brusqueness and directness, both French and English speakers.
    Bus drivers, shopkeepers, etc. don’t necessarily greet you or say anything afterwards if you say thank you. The complete opposite of France, where you will get a talking-to if you don’t say “Bonjour” in any commercial exchange or “Excusez-moi de vous déranger…” before asking for directions.
    If a French-speaking Montrealer wants directions, they will start hollering, “Allô? Allô?” at you. This took some getting used to on my part. I thought they were all on those wireless headset phones for a while and paid them no mind. One day, a lady started waving in my face and I made the connection. I got pretty testy with her about it (“whoa! ça va pas???”), but hey, on the upside, I found out what the “Allô” in the street was about!
    Also, when Montrealers have parties, they will straight out tell you to bring your own alcohol, food, even CDs, in the invitation. You don’t get the chance to ask if there’s anything you could bring or make. Some hosts will assign you something to bring. I don’t generally attend those parties.
    I love Montreal though… there are plenty of very pleasant surprises, too! and people in smaller towns in Quebec, even in Quebec City, seem to have quite lovely manners, it’s maybe just a big city thing.

    Comment by Hannah — November 19, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

  134. Got a kick out of “tannoy.” I’ll bet very few americans knew what you were talking about.

    I have not found les francais, even les parisiens, rude.

    I think speaking even a modicum of french in france makes a very big difference.

    Only real complaint, those ridiculous hand held shower contraptions. How hard is it to attach a holder to the wall?

    Comment by John from Florida — November 19, 2008 @ 11:57 pm

  135. petite, what happened to your blog site!? i can just seem goobledygook when i try to access it! (I’m in the google cached version now)

    Comment by l — November 20, 2008 @ 4:29 am

  136. This is fun.
    Some of my most memorable experiences are:
    1. Learning how to ask for the toilet in other countries…here at home we “politely” say washroom or bathroom. But I learned quickly in South Africa, when i woke up one morning in my tent to discover that my husband had taken the key to the facilities with him on his morning walk, and i had to pee. I went to the guard (because there are security guards everywhere in South Africa or at least there were 10 years ago) and he led me first to the laundry building, then to the shower room and then Finally to the TOILETS! Each country we visited after that, we were sure to learn how to ask for the toilet. But, that was another thing…finding public toilets. I have had very few experiences travelling in Canada where i could not find a public toilet…not the case in some countries, especially Spain seemed nasty.
    2. All of the security in South Africa, especially Jo-berg, was a shock to us. There was alot of razor wire and security guards and guns.
    3. And since i have started on South Africa…they put fried eggs on their hamburgers. That was new to me, but my husband said he had encountered it on his travels to Australia as well.
    4. The first time someone in Australia said “good on ya” to me, I had NO idea what they were saying. And being the polite, small town Canadian girl that i was, i kept saying, “pardon me”. Finally i had to ask them to please say it another way because i couldn’t understand them.
    5. We discovered that bar-b-quing means VERY different things in different places…
    And i could go on and on…especially when you get into Asia…
    One thing that my husband and i discovered is that alot of people in the world eat their evening meals MUCH later than we are used to. We would be going to bed, and people would just be heading out to the restaurants at 8 or 9 pm. We figured out that this was probably why we were getting such crappy meals at the restaurants we ate at and why we were the only ones there when we were eating.
    I think it is fun to experience all the little culture shocks. Besides being able to travel, i have been so lucky where i live that we have been exposed to such a wealth of cultural differences…even just between regions in my own country! ha ha
    Oh, just one more quick note. My husband is one of those ballcap wearing guys and i asked him about it…he says because when you play hockey or you work wearing a hard hat you need something to cover your messy head when you are done before you can shower…and if you are a farmer (which there are alot of around here) you need a hat to keep the sun off and the grime out. I think it just becomes a habit though because you see them alot…and i must be used to it because i find it attractive on some men.

    Comment by canuck — November 20, 2008 @ 5:11 am

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