Crazy Cultural Comparison
I am so glad the people on this world like to wave and shake hands. Wedge:
Well, what if their usual greeting for visiting dignitaries was to throw paint?
Characters from a foreign culture compare (and contrast) their everyday habits and social rituals with the corresponding behavior of the host society.
The outsider is usually a Funny Foreigner
from Cloud Cuckooland
or an Amusing Alien
. Odd courtship customs or mating rituals are a popular topic, especially for otherworldly beings and their Bizarre Alien Biology
. For awkward handshake/greeting actions see Cross-Cultural Handshake
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Anime & Manga
- In Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, while Kaere is half-Japanese and ostensibly half-Eaglelandish, it's hard to determine what country she lived in, as she frequently makes bizarre/outlandish claims about their customs.
- In Kyo Kara Maoh, Yuuri's unfamiliarity with the fantasy setting results in humorous shenanigans one way or the other, be it what constitutes appropriate male undergarments to accidental proposal of marriage. His descriptions of Japanese culture often bemuse his advisers. Then, once he's acclimated to Shin Makoku, he's got to greet foreign delegations. Two greeting customs so far have been to flash shiny bald heads, and to stand on one foot with one arm akimbo and the other raised straight above the head while sticking out your tongue.
- In Alyosha!, it is an Estolakian custom to kiss lightly in the lips close friends and family as a greeting or to show gratitude. Amerian (sic) and Japanese give it other meaning.
- Axis Powers Hetalia does this on occasion, usually between Japan and America as the creator lived in the US for a few years.
, why are you taking a picture of a cake?
- In the comic strip Curtis, the title character's best friend is named Gunk and hails from Flyspeck Island. He often mentions odd native customs and has a pet chameleon who can turn invisible. It should be noted that Gunk is a blond caucasian boy — his "otherness" comes from his crossed eyes, and the fact that most of the major characters are African-American.
- In one strip of The Far Side, a farmer unwittingly dooms humanity when he tries to shake hands with an alien visitor whose head has an unfortunate resemblance to a human hand.
- Spoofed in Dilbert. A group of Elbonians (the strip's go to people for all Funny Foreigner jokes) is offended by the actions of Dilbert's company. One of them starts shouting "WALLA WALLA WALLA!", only to be informed "We don't do that". The first one offers a fist bump instead.
- In Embers by Vathara, there is a brief comparison of marriage rituals in the Fire Nation and Water Tribes... including the fact that, in some parts of the Fire Nation, women can kidnap/shanghai a man they like into an impromptu wedding. Sokka finds this startling because in civilized countries (the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom) it's always the man that captures the woman.
- This is the central theme of This is the Life: A Tale of a Human in Equestria. Most notably is when the titular human walks in on his roommate naked and panics before remembering they don't wear clothes anyways, and when Big Macintosh holds out his hoof and the main character pauses to hope he correctly assumed it was for a brofist.
Films — Animation
- The "Bongo" segment of Disney's Fun and Fancy Free, revolves around Bongo, a circus bear who escapes to the forest and encounters wild bears for the first time. He becomes smitten with a female bear, but when he tries to approach her, she slaps him. He is hurt and confused by this, but then finds out that is how bears in the wild express affection.
Films — Live-Action
- Mork and Mindy: Even though Orkans are physically identical to humans, they sit on their faces while pointing their buttocks at visitors. They also prefer to drink from their fingers instead of their mouths:
Mork: How do you [humans] drink?
Mindy: We drink with our mouths!
Mork: How do you talk and drink at the same time? Must be drool city!
- Nickelodeon's All That has several sketches with Ishboo, a Funny Foreigner with various odd customs:
- When someone sneezes, one must shout "Walla Walla Woo!" and hide behind furniture in a panic.
- One should bark like a dog while proposing a toast.
- It was customary to give your psychiatrist a live lobster on your first visit.
- Note that it was implied that "Ishboo" was just a normal person messing with people because he could get away with it.
- In Series/Zoey101 Micheal ends up taking care of a foreign exchange student Ollie Biallo whose strange mannerisms irrate him to no end.
Ollie: It is so pleasant to meet you! (kisses Michael twice on the cheek)
Micheal: What are you doing?!
Ollie: I am sorry! In my country, that is how a person greets a new friend!
Micheal: Yeah well, in this country that's how you get punched in the head!
Ollie: (thinking it's a joke) (laughs) "Good one!" Oh, you make me laugh!
- Perfect Strangers
- Balki does the Mypos' "Dance of Joy" upon hearing good news.
- According to Myposian law, when the king dies, succession goes to the person he falls on.
- Perfect Strangers was essentially built on this trope. Expect at least one instance an episode. Some of them, like the Dance of Joy, became running gags that by the end of the show's run seemed more or less normal in comparison (to the extent that Larry did the dance with Balki a few times).
- Taxi: Latka and Simka have displayed various customs from their unnamed foreign country:
- Failure to share your possessions is punishable by shooting.
- A woman accepts a marriage proposal by grabbing the suitor's nose.
- Weddings require the bride and groom to wear each other's clothes, and to answer three questions to be married. The last question is a trick question to test the couple's devotion.
- In their country, you elect a president by holding a party and the last person to show up is elected.
Latka: As they say in my country, the only thing that separates us from the animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual.
- One episode of Northern Exposure has the Eskimo Indians celebrating Thanksgiving as "The Day of the Dead". In addition to more conventional parades and costumes, there was also the custom of throwing tomatoes at white people.
- On Seinfeld, George's dad gets fed up with the commercialization of Christmas that he invents a new holiday called "Festivus". It includes a father-son wrestling match and an airing of grievences with other family members.
- Doctor Who
- Most of the alien races on Hyperdrive. In one episode, Commander Henderson causes a diplomatic conflict by not allowing the Glish ambassador to rub his genitals on his face.
- Babylon 5
- A hilarious example in with a race that seals every deal with sex. Ivanova is a little reluctant to do this but doesn't want to cause an incident. She manages to trick the diplomat by insisting on doing it the "human way", which involves her dancing around the guy, chanting Stock Phrases from the entire lifespan of a typical (dysfunctional) relationship, starting with first meeting and ending with infidelity and "you don't love me any more!" Needless to say, the alien diplomat is confused but accepts it.
He accepts it because he has been shown to be so sure of his culture's superiority to other cultures, he refuses to even bother to learn anything about lesser cultures. He goes along with Ivonova's song-and-dance sex ritual because he didn't want to admit he didn't actually know how humans had sex. His aide, however, knows exactly what Ivanova has done — and he is not only amused, but chooses not to reveal her deception (at least in part because his boss treats him with the same disdain and rudeness that he shows to everyone else). Oh, and Word of God is that if Sheridan had been the one conducting negotiations, he too would have been expected to have sex with the Ambassador. At least they're equal opportunity about it.
- A less hilarious example concerning differences in proper first contact protocol on warships triggered a genocidal war in the backstory: when the Minbari ships approached, they did so with their gunports open, intended as a gesture of honesty (albeit one that their leader realized was incredibly stupid just half a moment too late). The humans — or rather their trigger-happy idiot captain — mistook it for an act of aggression, and tragedy ensued. And by tragedy, we mean that the Minbari then and there decided to pursue a genocidal war against the humans in revenge for their aforementioned leader, and were very close to achieving their goal when, for reasons impossible to describe here, they just said, "Oh, forget it. Let's actually try and be friends!"
- The crew of the Enterprise causes a faux pas with an alien representative, who leaves in a huff, apparently disgusted by something. Eventually, Mayweather finds out that they find eating offensive. When asked how they do it, the alien explains that it's the same, but eating in the presense of others is a disgusting act for them.
- Played straight then arguably inverted in another episode, which sees Archer preparing for an elaborate apology involving chainsawing a log. Then we find out the reason he needs to apologize: he brought his pet dog with him, and said dog urinated on a sacred monument.
- They also don't like you urinating on their sacred monuments; crazy backwards culture...
- In Deep Space 9, a Cardassian scientist repeatedly snipes at Miles O'Brien, expressing surprise that he's a good engineer. It's later revealed that her sniping is the Cardassian equivalent of flirting, which Miles doesn't find out until his retorts have her throwing herself at him at and asking him to marry her. This also goes a long way towards explaining why Dukat has such a hard time believing Kira isn't interested in him, since from his perspective she's sending out very mixed signals by belittling his advances. Meanwhile, Garak and Bashir have been bickering over literature for years.
- In another episode O'Brien, Odo, and Sisko have to pretend to be Klingons to expose a Changeling infiltrator on Qo'noS. In addition to altering their appearance, Worf has to tutor them in proper Klingon behavior, which serves as a nice window into the differences between Klingon and human social cues. Klingons do NOT turn away nervously when insulted, and they do NOT whisper. Klingons also see nothing wrong with punching someone right in the face in response to an insult, though hitting someone with the back of the hand invokes a Duel to the Death. Naturally Sisko has by far the easiest time acting Klingon.
- An episode of My Name Is Earl involved an incident where Nescobar Aloplop received a lap dance from a stripper, who then got into an argument with Catalina, because Nescobar Aloplop is one of her regular "clients". His response:
Nescobar: Wives, please, there's no need to argue. I have enough seed for both of you. The thin one, I will lay with you for pleasure. The thick one, you will birth my sons.
- And then he was informed by staff at the strip club, "Sir, just because a woman sits on your lap does not mean you're married to her."
- Discussed in Red Dwarf. The crew have woken up with broken legs in casts, and don't remember how it happened. Rimmer, a firm believer in aliens (even though none exist in the Red Dwarf universe) immediately assumes it is this trope, and that breaking their legs (and completing a jigsaw puzzle) was a greeting. The Cat remarks: "I'd hate to be around while one of these guys is making a speech".
- In Homestuck, the differences between the Trolls and the humans are many. For one example, a bucket is considered inappropriate to leave lying around, as it is actually used in troll reproduction.
- In the Danny Phantom episode "Double Cross My Heart", Gregor the Hungarian greets everyone with a kiss, claiming it was a common greeting where he's from. It turns out he's actually Elliot from Michigan, pretending to be a foreigner.
- Fentruck in Doug is an exchange student who celebrates American holidays via trappings of other holidays: i.e, Halloween is the event with the big rabbit that hides eggs, while Christmas is celebrated by wearing scary costumes and asking for candy.
- Don't get started with Rolf from Ed, Edd n Eddy; this was a large part of his schtick.
- In Teen Titans, Starfire has a few strange Tamaranian customs, such as The Pudding Of Sadness and The Poem of Gratitude. In an inversion, she did not realize for a while that kissing people on the lips is a gesture of intimacy on Earth; Tamaranians do it to learn new languages!
- Gunther on Kick Buttowski does this constantly as his family is composed of actual Vikings from an amalgamation of all the countries in Scandinavia.
- Nearly every human finds dogs' usual method of greeting one another either hilarious, disgusting, or both. To dogs, sniffing the glands in another dog's behind is simply a convenient way to find out about the other dog's state of health.
- It's instructive to observe the differences in greeting rituals between cats and dogs, particularly ones that live together and normally get along fine. Cats tolerate having a cold, wet nose pushed into their backsides but the feline head-bump greeting usually makes dogs uncomfortable.
- In some traditional South East Asian cultures it was formerly considered an act of friendliness to give someone the wet betel quid out of your mouth. Several 18th and 19th century accounts describe European envoys' need to overcome their disgust at this.
- In American culture, eye contact is considered an essential politeness. In many other cultures it is considered very rude. Many traditional Native Americans have a very hard time with this, and call it "the staring". This is often the basis of misunderstandings.
- This was one of the contributing factors to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Korean-owned shops were targeted because African-Americans were offended by what they didn't realize were Korean cultural norms, such as avoiding eye contact and leaving change on the counter rather than handing it to customers.
- At the opening and closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic Games, many of the European and South American athletes happily stuck two fingers up at the cameras as they celebrated. Apparently no-one warned them exactly what this means in the UK.
- When used with the palm toward the person doing it, it's the V-for-Victory sign from World War II (and photos exist of prominent Britons such as Winston Churchill using it this way). When used with the palm away from the person doing it, it has a similar meaning to the US gesture made with one less finger. They're kind of similar, except the palm-inward variant implied "I don't mean you, I mean the bloody Boche".
- The palm-inward gesture is supposedly much older than Churchill's V-sign, though oddly enough they both had their origins in warfare: the original gesture is said to have been invented by English archers in the Hundred Years War, to show the enemy the fingers that would soon be drawing a longbow and sending some nasty, pointy arrows hurtling in their general direction. note
- When the palm is 'towards' the person doing it, it's rude, and the palm away version is the Victory sign.
- The Thumbs-Up gesture is generally accepted to have generally positive connotations in America, Asia, and Europe. But in much of the Middle East, it can be considered very rude.
- Personal space norms vary wildly from culture to culture. For example, Americans typically consider intruding on someone's personal space to be a threatening gesture. For Afghans, it is considered a sign of trust. This can cause problems when American troops encounter Afghan civilians, especially considering that at least some of those Afghans do want to harm the soldiers.