Ten Cultural Differences My Kid Learned from Traveling

One of the fascinating aspects of having visited as many countries as our son with autism has, is the opportunity to form his unique perspective of how the world differs from his suburban Los Angeles enclave. In fact just last week, he compiled his top ten cultural differences he learned from traveling.

#1 Is THAT a toilet?

Parents, both current and expectant should remember that the shape and even the function of toilets worldwide vary, considerably!
In Turkey—and many Arab nations—toilets (especially in poorer areas) are frequently replaced by a hole in the floor. Meanwhile, in Japan, the modernized public stalls are equipped with electronic water jets and heated seats while the traditional ones are facing the ‘opposite’ way compared to the European ones.
Ten Cultural Differences My Kid With Autism Learned from Traveling toilet

#2 Pay-per-use


While American stores and restaurants let most patrons use their facilities free of charge, in Europe, these same utilities often come with a price tag.
My son was puzzled when confronted with the cleaner’s tip jar and the dirty looks he got after he didn’t comply.When traveling, especially from the States, remember to keep a few quarters handy for the unexpected bathroom rendezvous.


#3 Why is there a water fountain in the bathroom?

While bidets are a staple in many European bathrooms, my son mistook it a “water fountain” and was excited to discover it in our hotel bathroom.Luckily, he didn’t get to try it out!


Ten Cultural Differences My Kid With Autism Learned from Traveling bidet

#4 Siesta Time?

American-born and raised, my son had grown accustomed to stores and restaurants staying open most of the day even on weekends.maintaini. So, imagine his surprise to see whole cities shut down for a few hours—in the middle of the day, no less—from restaurants to entire malls for siesta time.

#5 Food, best served cold

Living in the USA—where macaroni and cheese are just a microwave away—restaurants are seldom closed, and restrictions (past those about health) are rarely imposed. As such, my son with autism was in for a shock when he visited Israel; unlike in America, the Israeli “Shabbat” laws (not laws per se, but the Orthodox majority imposing their beliefs) prohibit the cooking of food from Friday to Saturday night in hotel restaurants. Not to say that he went hungry-he managed,  to get by, replacing his usual morning omelet with a plentiful array of cold and pre-prepared warmed up items.

Ten Cultural Differences My Kid With Autism Learned from Traveling buffet

#6 Lunchtime Siren Call

One of the most bizarre encounters on our travels involved our visit to the Central American country of Nicaragua on a cruise. While waiting in a town square café and sipping soda, we flinched at the sound of an air-raid siren blaring through the streets, horrified at the thought that war was upon us. When we asked what had happened, we were baffled to hear from the guide that the siren was used to alert the locals it was time for lunch!

#7 Where’s my bread and butter?

Like many other restaurant-goers, my son is an avid bread eater, especially when it is freshly-baked or a specialty. While most diners in the United States serve complimentary bread and butter, many establishments in Europe supply bread by request only and charge an extra fee for it.


Ten Cultural Differences My Kid With Autism Learned from Traveling kids in Mx

#8 Pushy salespeople

Frequently on travels, my family and I  have encountered aggressive merchants of all ages, using any method imaginable to convince you to buy their trinkets, including having toddlers as salespeople. My kids sometimes felt guilty or, at least, uncomfortable when faced with such tactics, ending up buying some unwanted souvenirs.

#9 Wait, no air conditioning?

While air conditioning is ubiquitous in our home country, the United States, many countries—even European—lack any acclimatization room system. In many countries, older hotels may require even a central cooling system; in others, there may be strict restrictions as to what time of year and to what extent they utilize their air conditioning (and for the winter, heating).


Ten Cultural Differences My Kid With Autism Learned from Traveling crosswalk

#10 How do you cross the street?

Unlike the States, several countries drive on the left side of the road so, or son had to practice looking to the right when he crossed.But that didn’t quite prepare him for what we were faced with in Tokyo.In the Shinjuku area the main thoroughfare, there were several intersecting crossroads with people crossing simultaneously in different directions -a situation that we all found extremely confusing.
 Post updated October 18, 2015




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Margalit Sturm Francus
A reformed dentist who gave up pulling teeth to show her son the world! Need tips on how to #travel with #autism? Follow me on Instagram & Facebook
Margalit Sturm Francus

Margalit Sturm Francus

A reformed dentist who gave up pulling teeth to show her son the world! Need tips on how to #travel with #autism? Follow me on Instagram & Facebook

0 thoughts on “Ten Cultural Differences My Kid Learned from Traveling

  • July 26, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Do you not think that that is part of the pleasure of travelling outside of the US – to experience all these different situations. Why does everything need to be available 24/7.

    We frequently travel to Spain, Portugal and Italy and love ‘siesta’. When travelling to Morocco/Greece/Africa – we just accept that bartering/markets are part of the culture.

    Air-conditioning – of course it doesn’t exist in most European countries and why should it!

    Ice – it’s something we have never understood that has to be so necessary – in a lot of African / Mediterrean countries – it is far safer not to use ice! If a drink is well chilled – why need ice!

    The joy of travelling to new lands is to embrace and enjoy the differences not point them out as something ‘unpleasant’ or ‘difficult to accept’.

    • Margalit Sturm Francus
      July 26, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      This article was not meant as a criticism to the differnt cultures and life styles but more of a documentation of what might surprise American kids abroad.With that said I agree that an intrinsic part of travel is exiting what one might perceive as one’s comfort zone in order to try new things and that’s was one of the reasons we started traveling with our own kids.
      One of the reasons I posted this was to educate parents of special needs kids about these differences so they can adequately prepare their kids when traveling of their existance .
      Last but not least I respectfully disagree with you about how air conditioning is unnecessary.Yes,I know mankind survived many years without it but it is wonderful when it is available.


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