If there’s one thing most expats experience, it’s culture shock, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Asia. To many travellers visiting Asian countries, the customs can seem a little bizarre, but however strange some of these cultural oddities may be, they undoubtedly add much to the character and charm of the country.
The Soba Slurp – Japan
In a country renowned for politeness and courtesy, there is one habit that leaves Westerners shocked and mildly disgusted – slurping soba noodles! The Japanese love their noodles and it is a cultural norm to enjoy your noodles with as much noise and gusto as you can manage – the louder you eat, the more you appreciate the dish!
While this may be considered impolite table etiquette in the UK or the USA, it is considered complimentary and slurping is encouraged. If you ever find yourself in a Japanese noodle bar enjoying a tasty ramen dish… feel free to slurp away!
Killer Traffic – Vietnam
There are many cultural peculiarities in Vietnam, though none leaves expats so dazed and confused as the traffic. There seems to be a distinct lack of directional flow, with waves of mopeds moving against the tide of traffic, and road signs and signals completely ignored by both drivers and pedestrians – it is going to take the average expatriate a while to get to grips with!
For those moving to Vietnam, you will undoubtedly be shocked by the traffic, though with a bit of practice and determination you can learn how to survive on Vietnamese roads.
Strange English Names – Hong Kong
There is a custom in Asia to give your children a cool and socially relevant English name, and nowhere is this more apparent than Hong Kong. There is a growing trend in the city to bestow children with exceptionally eccentric names, often inspired by aspirations, animals, biblical characters and celebrities.
There are some fantastically bizarre first names, and here are some of our favourites:
- John Baptist
There is burgeoning international trade in Hong Kong and with English being an official language, a trend of hilarious English inspired names has taken the country by storm. Just remember, if you’re planning on moving to the vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong, be wary of laughing out loud when getting introduced to a Mr Treacle Wong, Ms Biscuit Li or even Mr John Baptist Ho-Ding Chow.
Raising Your Voice – Thailand
In many parts of Thailand and throughout Thai culture, raising one’s voice is generally considered unacceptable and is a sign of losing self-control – which can be met with occasional judgemental looks from the locals.
Even if your raised voice is positive and jovial, it is better to maintain an outward appearance of calm and reserved excitement – with quiet and humble being the optimum approach in Thai culture.
Personal Space – China
There is an unspoken rule in most western countries that strangers must maintain a certain distance from each other, not barge into you or touch you without invitation. However, any western expat residing in China will tell you that the Chinese have a very different concept of personal space.
It is not unusual for commuters to push you out of the way in the street, lean on you in the queue or use your frame as a support on the subway. For the Chinese, this is an entirely normal part of everyday life, though for fresh-faced expats living in China, this cultural difference can be one of the most difficult to get used to.
Squatting Toilets – Asia-wide
By far the most inconvenient cultural oddity for many western expats is the ubiquitous squatting toilet. Akin to a porcelain hole in the ground, the squatting toilet or ‘squatty potty’ (as it’s often referred to by Americans) involves crouching over a hole to do one’s business – an uncomfortable situation for many an expat living in the Orient.
As unsightly as they are for expats, squatting toilets are seen by locals as the more natural and sanitary way of relieving oneself.
On the other side of the restroom scale, the Japanese tend to offer a high-tech solution for when nature calls – with toilets featuring a myriad of features including LCD displays, wireless flushing capabilities and even heated toilet seats!
Strange Foodstuffs – Asia-wide
It is no secret that Asia is home to some of the world’s tastiest food, with fresh sushi in ample supply and Thai curries teasing the taste buds, you don’t have to go far to find a delicious meal in any Asian country.
They do however, hold the title for the strangest and often downright disgusting delicacies. Here are just a few of them:
A popular delicacy in Korea, deep fried chicken feet are eaten as a tasty snack, on its own or accompanying a meal.
Cooked and seasoned insects
Insects are a big part of the Asian diet thanks to their high protein and mineral content, with common critters including honey-bee larvae, crunchy crickets and even fried tarantula!
Also known as thousand-year eggs & millennium eggs, these are simply chicken eggs that have been preserved in a mixture of clay & salt water and despite their name, they are in fact only left for a few months until the whites turn black and the yolk takes on a cheese-like consistency.
The Chinese have also been known to pickle eggs in human urine as a delicacy.
Pointing is rude – Thailand
To the unassuming westerner, pointing at a person or object may seem like second nature, but for the Thai, this is a big no-no as pointing is seen as impertinent and downright rude – especially when aimed at monks.
Instead of pointing with an extended finger, it can be more prudent to gesture with a sweeping arm or a nod – just don’t point!
Umbrellas – Japan
Umbrellas are remarkably popular with the Japanese, especially during the rainy season, and since this season occurs in the summer, umbrellas are seen as a trendier and more practical alternative to a raincoat.
Thanks to the umbrella culture of Japan, there have been a number of umbrella-related contraptions introduced to the public, such as the umbrella lock (similar to a bike lock where you can leave your umbrella unattended whilst you shop), an umbrella sheath dispenser (to wrap your brolly and avoid dripping rainwater when indoors) and even motorised umbrella dryers.
Expats are likely to be amused due to the absurd inventiveness of Japanese umbrella culture.
Eating with an open mouth – Asia-wide
For westerners, table etiquette forms a large part of what constitutes manners and respect – especially when it comes to eating with one’s mouth closed.
In Asia, however, etiquette and respect is performed in other ways, such as removing your shoes before you enter a home or temple. Eating with your mouth open however, is not considered rude. In fact, it is considered respectful to make as much noise and show as much enjoyment as possible when eating a meal!
This guest blog was written by Currency UK, who are dedicated to helping expats make the move by providing fast and secure overseas currency transfers and services worldwide.