Janson: 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.
- 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.
America: Dude, why are you taking a picture of a cake?
- A personal favorite:
- Gate: A diplomatic meeting nearly ends in catastrophe after the Japanese delegate (a woman) goes for a final handshake with the princess. Except that in the princess' culture, it's how you seal a betrothal ceremony.
- In fact this is a constant problem for all sides. In particular Japan follows modern diplomatic protocol and thus things like proportional response are taken as signs of weakness or incompetence. When Japan blows up a senate building in the imperial capitol, for example, the Empire's leadership doesn't understand why it would be done while the building was empty.
- 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.
- 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.
- In The Last Starfighter, as Alex and Grig fly through the tunnels of an asteroid, Grig mentions that it reminds him of home. That leads to a chat comparing their species' differences in families, dwellings, and games...which inspires Alex on how to hide as the Ko-Dan Armada goes by, then make a surprise attack on them.
Grig: I live below ground with my wife-oid... and six thousand little griglets.
- Borat is full of (fake) Crazy Cultural Comparisons. When interviewing some politician, he claims that it is customary in Kazakhstan to bring a gift a cheese, which he shares with the guy. Then he adds the cheese was made with his wife's milk. Ugh.
- The Green Beautiful (French: La Belle Verte) is full of these comparisons as one member of an advanced human race from another planet comes to visit the earth and struggles with the "archaic" habits of hour time.
- The whole "spitting as showing respect" thing was a major scene in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.
- Dre in The Karate Kid (2010) claps at the end of his crush's recital. However he's in China at the time who generally find a respectful silence to be the proper thing to do.
- Orson Scott Card recommended this trope in How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy as an excellent method of demonstrating how truly alien an alien culture is. As one example, he suggests "a culture where sex is as casual as blowing your nose" but the concept of ownership or holding anything back from the collective "is as outrageous as pederasty" would be to us. In such a culture, some poor tourist is "going to get his face slapped and not have the faintest idea why."
- Frank Herbert
- Played seriously in Dune. When Stilgar the Fremen meets with Duke Leto, he spits on the table. As the Duke's men are about to attack Stilgar and probably all be killed, Duncan Idaho tells them to "Hold!" He then thanks Stilgar for the gift of his moisture, spits on the table himself, and explains that doing so was a Fremen gesture of respect (since water is so scarce on Arrakis).
- In a later book, Children of Dune, spitting could also be interpreted as a mortal insult, implying that you weren't worth any more water than that/that you were so offensive in the spitter's sight that they were willing to waste precious water to insult you. One assumes they figure out the difference between the two gestures by how angry the spitter seems to be.
- Paul also makes a social blunder when first inducted into Stilgar's tribe of Fremen. He is given some water tokens (Fremen currency) but he hasn't mastered how to carry them without them jangling all the time, so he asks his female companion Chani if she would carry them for him. Unknown to Paul, this is a highly romantic gesture in Fremen community, generally only done to your betrothed. Stilgar, however, recognizes that Paul's just ignorant of the custom, and tells Chani to just do it and ignore the romantic implications. (Though she does end up Paul's lover.)
- In the Sword of Truth books there is a tribe called Mud People who greet each other by punching as a sign of respect to the other's strength. And Richard is foreverafter known as "Richard with the Temper" after knocking down the Mud Person who greeted him (the custom was just explained to him, and he didn't know what would be a proper punch). It was considered a sign of great respect.
- It's noted that they're pragmatic about it - within the village, it's a symbolic slap on the cheek, but when warriors meet outside the village (or there is another special occasion), they try to knock each other's teeth out.
- The Mud People also have a very different idea of what is and isn't appropriate to compliment. Kahlan is flustered when one woman compliments her breasts, because in the Mud People culture, it just means she'll make a good mother. In another book, she tactfully cautions a Mud Person looking to woo a woman from another nation to only compliment things that aren't covered by clothes.
- Common in The Wheel of Time between various Western cultures, the Aiel, and the Seanchan, sometimes to the point of serious Culture Clash. Other times it's played more lightly:
- The Aiel have taboos against public displays of affection but not public nudity, which leaves both sides wondering what the other is getting so flustered about. Westerners are just as shocked by Aiel Polygamy as Aiel are by Western men proposing to women. Aiel and Western humour are so opaque to each other that even their Chosen One gives up in embarrassment after trying to tell a joke. The list goes on...
- Seanchan obey a complex social hierarchy and get quite irritated when Westerners don't pay attention to it. A Seanchan princess gets driven to distraction by Mat doing unconscionable things like not using her royal title, looking her in the eye, questioning her word, accidentally proposing marriage to her, and so on. Mat, meanwhile, can never quite convince himself that the Seanchan belief in omens is the Serious Business they make it out to be, even when he sees them basing major political decisions on it.
- Perrin's relationship with the Faile Bashere gets a lot easier once her father tells him that shouting matches are normal and acceptable for Borderland couples to resolve their disagreements, and by staying calm and composed when Faile tries to start one, he's inadvertently treating her like a small child.
- Harry Turtledove likes this trope.
- In the Darkness Series, there are constant cultural comparisons between the various racial groups and countries - some fairly unpleasant, as its a World War II analogue using Fantasy Counterpart Cultures. The one that sticks out is the fact that the people of baking hot Zuwayza commonly go naked except for a wide-brimmed hat and sandals. Most foreigners consider this bizarre, but the ambassador from Algarve goes native - though he still gets funny glances from the Zuwayzi as Algarvians are all circumcised.
- His Worldwar series is full of examples of these between humans and the Race, mainly to do with the fact that the reptilian Race have a mating season and think the 'perpetually aroused' humans are bizarre.
- Just to show that Stanisław Lem never does anything halfassed, he turns one of his last novels, Wizja Lokalna (Observation on the Spot) into a veritable feast of complex and multilevel cultural jokes and comparisons. Craziest of which is the discussion of the mating rituals during Ijon Tichy (the protagonist) visit to some university — both sides are thoroughly baffled by the experience: locals by the closed and intimate nature of Earthlings' reproduction (for them it's the most public thing possible), and Tichy by the outlandish theories they invent to give this behavior a logical explanation.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe
Janson: I am so glad the people on this world like to wave and shake hands.
- Discussed in Starfighters of Adumar:
Janson: Well, what if their usual greeting for visiting dignitaries was to throw paint?
- The Essential Guide to Species mentions one alien race that venerates mathematics, and who greet each other with quadratic equations. Except foreigners, whom they greet with really long math problems. Fortunately for Leia, the foreigner being greeted, her brother Luke (who was present) is good at math and telepathic.
- Used liberally in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.
- Vimes' joke title of "blackboard monitor" earned in primary school doesn't go over too well with the Mountain Dwarves, who venerate the written word.
- The more "modern" dwarfs, like the Low King in The Fifth Elephant, politely opt to treat it as a position of great honor, since only a very trustworthy person could be allowed to erase things. However, one of the more traditional/conservative dwarfs in Thud! addresses Vimes by the title in such a way as to make it clear it's one of the worst insults he can think of.
- Said dwarf also dislikes newspapers, despite the fact that the printing engine is a dwarfish invention.
- Trolls show affection by bludgeoning one another with rocks. It almost causes a riot when one troll "blows a kiss" to an (also troll) admirer in a controversial political situation.
- Trolls also see hitting each other with rocks (less fancy rocks) as a casual friendly greeting. On the other hand, sticking your hand out at a troll is a sign language for a very bad remark about his mother. It took a very long time for trolls and humans to work all this out.
- Dwarves can't be having with gender. A dwarf is a dwarf, and the tricky part of dwarfish courtship is — very tactfully — figuring out what reproductive organs are underneath the leather and chainmail. Then some cosmopolitan dwarves start wearing skirts and rouge and there's a whole other kind of feminist movement started. Though opinion is split on if it's a better allegory for feminism, gay rights, transsexualism, or if it's just dwarves.
- Dwarfs also have a custom involving paying the parents of the dwarf you marry the sum of what it cost them to raise your new spouse, as part of the (predictably long and complex) dwarf marriage process. This often freaks out humans, until they complete the explanation of the rest of the customs, which include a much larger gift from the parents to the couple to help them get started, and the fact that a dwarf who works for his parents is due wages like any other worker (which can come out to a tidy sum, since it gets paid when they leave the family to start their own). The reason behind it is to ceremonially pay off past debts, and start a new life free and clear. Once this is all explained, then it's just dwarfs.
- The D'regs of Klatch (Bedouin analogs) will happily rob or slaughter anyone they meet, but if said individual becomes a friend, it's customary for the tribe to invite them in and guarantee their safety for three days. The most feared man in D'reg culture is one of their own who executed a murderer one hour short of the limit.
- Vimes' joke title of "blackboard monitor" earned in primary school doesn't go over too well with the Mountain Dwarves, who venerate the written word.
- A source of drama and tension between wizards and goblins in Harry Potter. The concrete example is Godric Gryffindor, a heroic character who is surprisingly considered a thief by goblins, thanks to cultural differences. According to goblin customs, the owner of a magic item is always the maker, not the buyer. When you buy something crafted by a goblin, from their viewpoint, you're renting it until the day you die, and the item should be returned to the maker (or the descendants) after your death. Godric Gryffindor bought a magic sword from goblins, but left it hidden in Hogwarts after his death. It was fine according to human customs, but in the goblins' eyes, he was a thief.
- Played with in Kazohinia. The Behin Colony's strange customs are the main source of conflict in the second part of the book. This wasn't the author's intention however, as the book itself was intended as mainly promoting communism and criticizing traditional human culture by comparing it into a madhouse.
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Line of Delirium, it is the inhabitants of a human colony who think the act of chewing is disgusting and shameful and must be restricted to one's own presence. Apparently, they've never heard of intravenous feeding.
- A couple of times in the Circle of Magic universe by Tamora Pierce:
- The city-state of Tharios has extremely rigid views on death, considering dead bodies to be polluted and demanding intense magic rituals to cleanse any site where they are (as well as a Fantastic Caste System) thanks to a nasty plague that helped render the Vestigial Empire vestigial. Tris, Niko, and Keth—foreign visitors—don't just disdain this for the injustice and interference in police work, but the very idea of trying to keep death at arm's length.
- The Gyongxe have a tradition they call sky burial. It's an extremely poetic way to say "not chasing the vultures away from war dead."
- Game of Thrones: Talisa, being from Volantis, finds the Westerosi bedding ceremony "a very strange custom."
- Mork & 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 Zoey 101 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.
- The show 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:
Latka: As they say in my country, the only thing that separates us from the animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual.
- 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.
- 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
- In the episode "The End of the World", the Mox of Balhoon greets the Doctor and Rose by spitting in their faces.
- The Doctor gifts air from his lungs to a few of the aliens. These aliens happen to be sentient trees that need carbondioxide to live. Doctor basically gave them a light snack.
- And yet the only female among them responds with "how intimate".
- 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
- There's a hilarious example with a race that seals every deal with sex. Ivanova is naturally a little reluctant to do this but also doesn't want to cause an incident. Since the diplomat refuses to learn anything about lesser cultures due to his belief in his own culture's superiority, she manages to trick him by insisting on doing it the "human way". This involves her dancing around the guy, chanting stock phrases from the entire lifespan of a 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.note He does, however, leave her a note reading "Next time, my way."
- 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!"
- Star Trek: Enterprise:
- 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...
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- 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.
- In the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Mal accidentally gets married because what he thought were general celebrations on some backwater planet actually included a wedding ritual. Of course, his blushing bride turns out to be a dangerous con artist who has married and scammed (at least) dozens of other men all across the system.
- In the same episode, Wash invokes this trope, mentioning (several times) that he once visited a planet where people juggled baby geese as the main form of entertainment.
- 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 Teenagers from Outer Space, most player characters will be aliens with whatever strange customs their players can come up with (since there are no "standard" races), so it's fine to play this trope to the hilt. Hilariously, humans get a shot at it too in the form of the "Fake Out" ability; because humans come from Earth, which is the coolest, most interesting and happening place in the universe, any native human must probably know just how to act, talk and behave in order to be cool, interesting and happening, and you should listen to them if you want to fit in. Thus, if a human tells an alien to wear golf pants, greet the teacher by farting, and always carry a trout, then clearly they must know best. (At least until the alien finds out they've been had.) Another popular one is to tell the cute space babe that humans greet each other by kissing... which can have unexpected consequences.
- 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 (it's 6000 verses long). 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.
- What's more, a cat's peaceful purring is often interpreted by dogs as a growl or snarl. Conversely, when a cat shakes its tail, it wants to signalise displeasure or bad mood, whereas dogs could be fooled into thinking that the cat is in fact elated and wants to play.
- 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 with the back of the hand outward as they celebrated. Apparently no-one warned them exactly what this means in the UK.
- 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.
- The standard greeting when meeting people in the Furry Fandom is hugging, and handshakes are seen as overly formal (and possibly a sign you dislike the person). This is done by anyone regardless of sexuality. In regular society, however, hugging can be seen as overly friendly - and possibly sexual - unless you know the person well (such as family or long-time friends).