Expat Life

Culture shock

Recently on an American expat group that I belong to, someone asked about the things that caused us culture shock when we arrived. The answers were humorous and some ring true for me so I thought I’d share. They’ve been edited for grammar and clarity and names have been removed to protect privacy.

On shopping & trading hours

  • When I first came, the shops closed at 5pm on weekdays, 12pm on Saturdays, and weren’t even open on Sundays.
  • The only time I have to test drive a car is on Sunday and none of the dealers open on Sunday.
  • I miss being able to go somewhere after work like Barnes and Noble or Starbucks or something. There’s nowhere to get a cup of coffee except McDonald’s after 5!
  • Restaurants have set times they are open. Lunch 12-2. Dinner 6-9. And half of them aren’t open on Mondays.
  • Oh, I’m still confused about how early everything closes here.
  • The biggest disappointment is the lack of selection. After whining, my hubby always says, “What do you expect from a country with the population of California?”

On feminine hygiene products

  • My shock was the feminine products.
  • I have 4 48ct packs of Tampax Pearl tampons in my closet, brought back from my most recent US trip. I have lived here 5 years and I have never purchased Aussie tampons.
  • I brought over 2 years worth of Tampax from Costco in the big boxes. They came in the container and my husband thought I was crazy.
  • I honestly did not think they wouldn’t be in tune with lady products. Imagine my surprise.
  • The year I moved here, 2009, they started carrying regular Tampax with the cardboard. I always had to bring them the previous years while visiting.

I sympathise.

On driving

  • No left on red.
  • How small handicapped parking spaces are and how few there are.
  • Despite being the size of the US with the population of LA, they still can’t build a decent sized parking lot or a real freeway system.
  • The “freeways” in Sydney are crazy. Crazy narrow lanes and weird exits. I was always a good freeway driver in California, but the Sydney roads had me beat.
  • Narrow suburb lanes and no stop signs. The roundabouts drive me insane.
  • Narrow lanes with no shoulders.
  • Hook turns. For the love of God, why?!?

On life in general

  • I couldn’t believe that I had to buy a refrigerator for a rented house.
  • So many places don’t have central heat and air.
  • Shocked when I ordered an iced coffee and ended up with a coffee ice cream float. Coffee in general shocked me. All this instant and no drip coffee?!?
  • $4.50 for a diet coke at 7-11 almost sent me packing!!
  • No mail on Saturdays and the postie doesn’t pick up your outgoing mail.
  • Weekly rent.
  • Pineapple and beetroot on a burger. Still weirds and grosses me out.
  • Speaking of burgers…egg on everything, too. I like eggs, but not that much!!

On the bright side

How blue the water is, how blue the sky is, how intense the sun is, and how BIG a huntsman is. Also how big and delicious fruits and veggies are. How big the birds are. How fresh the air is.

Have you experienced culture shock? What are the things that have done it for you?



  • +1 to all of these!

  • In Spain, the siesta time drove me up the wall. In Madrid, it wasn’t that much of an issue because it is a major city. However in residential neighborhoods, many small stores would close between 2 and 5 for the lunch break (not so much for napping). On the plus side, stores closed around 8 or 9 at night when they reopened at 5. On Sundays, most stores aren’t open either.

    And the banks closing at 2 PM!! This drove me crazy. If you needed to go to the bank after 2 PM because you couldn’t get off work, you were always screwed!

    • The closing early thing really gets me. If everyone is working at the same time, when are you supposed to get errands done?

  • So glad this isn’t just me but a little disappointing as we may be moving to Melbourne from Tasmania and that its the same on the mainland with stores closing early. The skies seem bigger here too for some reason. The biggest adjustment by far for me is learning to drive on the left side of the road, I still get in on the wrong side of the car and I have been here for 6 months.

    • Driving on the left side of the road is tough for me too. Thanks for your comments!

  • no turn on red gets me! and in the car, my windshield wipers and indicators are opposite. and OMG TAMPONS. why? why does that have to be a thing?? also, no dryers. everything is hung up outside. great post!

    • Driving is probably my #1 culture shock thing. The tampon situation is dour, but I shipped a big box of tampons and pads before I came over. Thanks for your comments.

  • It is interesting to hear what the issues around culture shock are. There are differences between the Australian states too (shopping hours etc) that take some getting used to (from an Aussie point of view).

    • It would be similar in the U.S. Moving to a small town from a big city would take some adjusting, for example. Thanks for your comments!

  • I find this amusing because I experienced the reverse culture shock when I moved to Florida.

    Shops always open! When are people meant to rest?
    Too much choice.
    Enormous crazy, confusing road systems, although I did like the big parking spaces and the left on red. Of course, the big parking spaces were a necessity for the fuel guzzling gigantic cars.
    No roundabouts!
    Consumerism gone mad – plenty of sunshine and the HOA disallowed hanging the clothes out to dry. What about the earth’s diminishing energy resources, caring for the environment? Same with constant heating/cooling.
    Iced coffee is regular cofee with ice in it – mega yuk and disappointment.
    No egg, salad or beetroot on burgers.

    Living as an expat has taught me that we generally like the culture we grew up with. That culture is the foundation of our values, and different countries have different values. The hardest part is accepting that and not judging. Each country has it’s pros and cons. And after awhile, you adjust to the differences and see the benefits in some of them.

    • I’m from Miami, FL!

      My partner Theo asked the same question about the shops, “When do people rest?” But it’s not like it’s the same people working round the clock. That’s what managers, staff, and shifts are for.

      It’s funny you mention too much choice because I feel that here as well with the food shopping at the markets. I was used to one-stop shopping at a supermarket like Coles or Woolworths, but now I go to the market and am often overwhelmed by all the choices. How does one know who has the best whatever at the best price. I spend like an hour just roaming around looking at everything, comparing prices, and trying to figure out how much a kilo is.

      Consumerism is a huge problem in the U.S. and, sadly, shows no signs of slowing down.

      I think most of us Americans in Oz will agree the Aussie version of iced coffee is yummier, but it’s more of a treat than a drink you can have everyday.

      Thanks for your comments!

      • Di

        I’ve come to conclude that humans are not nearly as transplantable as we like to think.
        Cosette, I’m still not driving solo yet – two years in! (I know, kinda lame)

        The shopping hours, early evenings sequestered after dark at home (I’m used to freedom and safety of strolling at night) and lack of drip coffee (I don’t like milk or soy – but prefer a dash of half & half) kills me sometimes. I now though know why beetroot, lamingtons and meat pies were such a part of my childhood (folks are Brit/Aussie) I was raised in Canada/USA.

        (It’s something of a confusion, yes…)

        But then the glassy blue ocean, constant sunny weather and beautiful birds and the delightful wine makes up for those moments… and of course the annual flight home.


        • Aside from just being from different countries, there’s an added cultural component. Being Hispanic from Miami, I didn’t grow up on beetroot, Lamingtons, or meat pies, and lovely weather is a given in South Florida. I do miss good coffee and Latin food, but Melbourne has a lot going for it too. One day, I will be an awesome left-side-of-the-road driver lol. Thanks for your comments!

        • Cosette Paneque

          To think about how ancestors thousands of years ago travelled far and wide! It takes getting used to and some days are easier than others, but you’re right – there are a lot of great things about being an expat.