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Yin and Yang: East and West Cultural Differences

Things to know about cultural differences before traveling to Asia

Toilets, Markets, and Traffic

Just over 3/10 into the trip, there have been so many cultural (and strange) differences. For example, in many parts of Asia, you can’t throw toilet paper into the toilet. It could clog the drain and mess up the plumbing (out of habit I still throw it into the toilet occasionally).

Then there is stuff like bargaining in the street markets that have everything from clothes to jewelry to ornaments to food for a reasonable price. I’d hate to be a Vietnamese and come to America, hoping to wager prices at a grocery store.

Something you’re very likely to notice in Vietnam is that there are very few cars except for taxis. The locals just use motorbikes. They even carry large vases, eggs and all kinds of stuff on the back of their motorbikes.

You will also hear horns constantly beeping in traffic. But it doesn’t mean they are being rude; it means,

“Dude, watch it. I’m on your tail and trying to get around you.”

Taxis, motorcycles, and bicycles all practically race on the road, all beeping at each other to communicate.  The “sidewalks” have motorcycles and bicycles lined up on them, so you have to walk through the chaos.


If you ever buy street food and are looking for a place to sit, you will probably find steps or a sidewalk curb to sit on. But here, everyone squats. They squat while eating, working, and using their form of a toilet: a squatter. On a squatter toilet you basically put your feet on the foot grooves, squat, and do your business into the toilet hole beneath you.

Family rooms

Then there’s the fact that in most hotels, if you have a family bigger than two or three, you will probably need two rooms. The hotels and guest houses usually have one queen or two twin beds in a room, so we’re lucky if we can find a family room.  A family room typically has a queen and two single beds, but they are hard to find.

Betel Garden Homestay Hoi An
Family room

Hygiene, etiquette, and height

Almost everywhere in Asia, the tap water is not safe for us to drink. If you need to brush your teeth, which should be at least twice a day, you must use bottled water. The only things I use the tap water for are showering and washing my hands.

Also, you take off your shoes when entering a hotel or property. Never in Asia should you wear your shoes inside a house. The answer to that is a stern look from the owner.

The last difference is that at home, I am considered pretty short for my age. My whole family is kind of short. But here I am tall. Why? Because Indochina people are short. I mean, I’m taller than most adult women here.  As for my Mom and Dad, they’re GIANTS. At our last hotel, they had to duck in the shower because the shower head was lower than their heads!

Two American girls with two Vietnamese women in Hoi An

There are obviously tons of differences between home and Asia. These are just a few of them though. There’s still the fact that people look at my light brown hair and fair skin here like it’s a rainbow, because all locals have naturally dark hair. So far, three random people have had their pictures made with me because I look so different!

We stick out like a banana tree in a grape vineyard. I think our cultural differences make our world a much more interesting place to live!

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