5 Surprising Culture Shocks Asians May Encounter in America

RealClear Staff


Despite globalization, the Western world and the Eastern world are still divided by numerous cultural differences. These longtime practices often lead to a small, and sometimes pleasant, culture shock for many Asians in the United States for the first time.

I've discovered 4 big differences between educational systems so far, but below I provide 5 common, yet unexpected cultural surprises that I have experienced.

1. Tip Culture

Most East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, and China, don’t have a tipping culture.

Travelers or immigrants from such countries need some time to get used to tipping in America. It can be hard to understand why additional gratuities need to be paid when employees should already be paid by their employers.

Not only do the visitors find this culture bizarre, but they also have a difficult time calculating appropriate amount of tip to be given to the servers. As the cost of a tip also rises along with the cost of the main meal, many people find tipping quite economically burdensome.

2. Holding Doors

In many Asian countries, people do not feel the necessity to hold doors for the people who are coming after them. This is because it’s assumed that most would prefer to walk at their own speed rather than walking fast to reach the door being opened for them. Also, Asians simply do not regard holding doors as an important part of being polite. So, experiencing almost everyone holding doors for the next person here in the United States - it’s heartwarming. 

3. Greeting Strangers

Throughout most of Asia, people neither say greetings nor smile at strangers. Most people look to the ground so they don’t have to worry about making eye contact with strangers.

In America however, it is not unusual to say “hi” or smile at strangers while walking on the street, or when buying groceries in the supermarket. Rather, if somebody avoids the gaze quickly or maintain a straight face, that person could be regarded as rude.

Some Asians who are newcomers are quite surprised at Americans’ friendly gestures and need time to acclimate. 

4. Legal Drinking Age

Many Asians feel that the legal age for drinking in America is quite high. As Western countries tend to be more open and progressive compared to conservative Asian countries, Asians are surprised at the high drinking age limit of 21. In most Asian countries, the legal drinking age does not surpass 21, ranging from 18 to 20. 

5. Meeting Friends of Friends

In America, it is not unusual to have a meal with your friend and their other friends, whether you know them or not.

For many Asians who have recently arrived to America, this can be quite stressful since they’re used to having meals or other meetings with just their immediate friends. They are unsure of what to talk about or how to act around the friends of friends. In fact, in most Asian countries, people seldom even meet their friends’ friends.

What do you think?

Have you experienced any culture shocks in your travels? Leave your observations in the comments below.



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