Cultural Observations #1

Some of you may remember the “Canada Culture” posts I wrote when I first moved to Canada. Or maybe the blog post I wrote for Emanate called, “The American in Durham“. Similarly, I thought it would be fun to list just a few of the new and different things we’ve experienced so far during our first month here in Asia-Pacific.


New experiences:

  • Driving is on the opposite side of the road. This is important to remember when getting out of a vehicle and when looking to cross the street!
  • Using a twin tub washing machine (not an automatic washing machine), and no dryers. All the clothes are hung out to dry, which sometimes doesn’t happen when it’s raining and over 80% humidity.
  • Geckos and lizards in the house, scurrying behind cabinets or on Leo’s bedframe.
  • Finding bats, whip scorpions, cockroaches, and lots of other fun bugs on our floors.
  • Not drinking the tap water, or using it to brush our teeth. Instead we used bottled or filtered water.
  • Different plugs and different voltages (?). We already killed our American blender cause we plugged in it the wrong outlet.
  • Cooking with a propane stove top and baking with an oven that sits on top of the propane stove.
  • Church services are loud, the call to prayer is louder! The call to prayer used to wake us up at 4am daily, but now we are beginning to sleep through it.
  • Chickens and roosters run free in yards and streets.
  • The average monthly wage is $60-$80 / month. The church across the street from our house runs a Compassion child development center for kids in our neighborhood.
  • An average meal costs around $1.40 CAD.
  • The people here LOVE sugar, fried foods, and cigarettes.
  • Everyone speaks J-v-nese (their heart language), but will speak to you in the national language.


Cultural observations:

  • Don’t show the bottom of your feet to anyone, even when sitting, as it’s equivalent to flipping someone off.
  • Don’t pass anything to someone with your left hand. They’ll be offended and most likely refuse what you’re giving them (even money at the cashier’s). That’s the hand that many use in the washroom.
  • To hail a bus, hold your arm out with palm faced down. When you want to get off the bus you say “kiri” to the bus driver, which means “to the left”.
  • When you need to go between groups of people, bend down, put your arm out in front of you, and apologize. Better yet, squeeze behind the people you are trying to move around.
  • Closing a door loudly means you are angry. If the front door accidentally slams shut you need to yell out “maaf”/”sorry” to your neighbors.
  • Always take your shoes off before walking on someones’ front porch or entering their house – unless it’s a dirt floor and they say you can leave them on.
  • When shaking the hand of an elderly person, to show them respect you need to hold your right arm with your left hand, and bring their hand to your forehead.
  • Standing with one or two hands on your hips means you are angry.12308448_10153462462268409_3275820630935163254_n
  • When walking down the street and passed people don’t walk with your head high, but slightly bend over to be polite.
  • Don’t talk loud. If you have something important to tell people, say it softly to get their attention.
  • If you are lounging around your house it’s okay to wear shorts, but if you are visiting someone or going shopping you need to wear capris or pants.
  • Women need to wear shirts that cover their shoulders. If you are going to a special event or to church, it’s even more appropriate to wear shirts with 3/4 sleeves. Women also need to wear shorts, skirts, and pants that are knee-length or longer.
  • BUT if women wear a certain J-v-nese shirt, that is typically sheer, it’s culturally appropriate to wear a spaghetti strap underneath – or for elderly woman, just a bra.
  • Even though it’s pretty hot here, people will wear jackets or sweaters when outside as they don’t want their skin to tan or get darker. A lot of skin products like lotions include UV whitening to help lighten your skin color.
  • Dogs are viewed as unclean by the majority of people.
  • Women won’t breastfeed until newborns their milk comes in (they think the colostrum is bad).
  • Wherever you park there is usually a parking attendant who will help you park your motorcycle or car and help you back out into traffic, for a fee of 10c CAD.
  • When a guest comes to your house it is expected to serve them hot tea or soda and cookies. They won’t eat or drink it until to say “please drink” or “please eat”.
  • Helmets are required on motorcycles for adults, but not for children and babies.

Leo on motorbike


  • We haven’t started any grammar classes yet, so the other day when I was looking for Leo I was telling people “Where is I am a boy.” instead of asking them “Where is my boy?”.
  • We didn’t know what time church started so we arrived at 7:30am. Church ended at 8:00am, and when we asked when it started they said 6:00am. Whoops!
  • Bringing people food, but forgetting to tell them to please eat it. Or starting to eat food before given permission to eat it.

Well that is as many as I can remember off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are so many more. Stay tuned for more cultural observations!


2 Comments on “Cultural Observations #1

  1. Thank you for posting this! It is so interesting to see and hear what your family is doing! Thinking of you often!!!! Also remembering you to our Dad!

  2. Thanks for that. That was really interesting. Something most of us will never know. I hope you guys are all doing well. I couldn’t live with those bugs or geckos.

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