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Crazy Cultural Comparison

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Janson: I am so glad the people on this world like to wave and shake hands.
Wedge: Why?
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.


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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.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers does this on occasion, usually between Japan and America, as the creator lived in the US for a few years. One example:
    America: Dude, why are you taking a picture of a cake?
    Japan: I have compursive need to take picture of everything.
  • 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.


    Comic Strips 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In Embers (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.
  • A non-humorous example in the Doctor Who fic "The Other Has My Heart"; when the Eleventh Doctor turns himself into a human to escape his latest enemies, his new identity's history interprets his 'marriage' to River Song as an affair as that is the closest context their relationship has from the perspective of a 1940s culture.
  • 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.
  • In The Smeet Series, a few aspects of Sobrekt culture are found odd (sometimes outright ridicule) by the Irkens, most notably that when a Sobrekt is defeated in combat, the opponent (regardless of gender) is seen as a potential mate afterward.
    • There's also the fact that physical touch of any kind is considered intimate and reserved for the spouse, so a simple friendly hug is considered as romantic as a kiss on the lips.
    • They prefer to eat their meat completely raw. According to Captain, it tastes far juicier when not cooked.
    • Sobrekt have no trouble in walking around naked in public, as they have no external reproductive organs to hide. This can be uncomfortable for other species.

    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 
  • 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 of 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's Dune:
    • 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 the film version, it's the Duke himself, who recognizes the gesture for what it is. In the miniseries, it's Paul.
      • Paul 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 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.
  • 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 it's 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 half-assed, 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's 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.
    Wedge: Why?
    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. After the events of that book the Low King gave it to him as a real official honor as both a joke and a jab at the reactionary faction.
    • 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 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.
      • Dwarves 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 dwarves being dwarves.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Imperial Radch series, the Radchaai don't do gender at all. This causes issues with all of the other human cultures in the setting. There are also bits about how the Radchaai do not care at all about being naked, but appearing in public without gloves on their hands is taboo.
    • Then there are the Presger translators, who are Cloud Cuckoolander Artificial Humans who were created to have fixations around eating each other. Which may have something to do with being created by Starfish Aliens.
    • Shows up to a lesser degree with the Radchaai only drinking tea while other human groups variously prefer coffee, sweet cordials, or warm salt water. Ann Leckie likes this trope.
  • The sequel novels to Stargate Atlantis feature one section providing a Wraith perspective on the Atlantis expedition's social structure. Given the matriarchal nature of Wraith culture, the Wraith regard Elizabeth Weir and Samantha Carter as the equivalent of the ‘queen’ of Atlantis, with Teyla as a junior queen. Linking to this perception, Major/Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard is regarded as the shared consort of these queens (Carter is also believed to have another consort in another galaxy, a clear reference to her Ship Tease with Jack O’Neill) in his role as the military commander of Atlantis, while the expedition's most recent leader of Richard Woolsey is seen by the Wraith as a “blade” (a term often used for a Wraith commander) who rules Atlantis on the behalf of his Queen after Carter returned to her galaxy.
  • 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".
      • Sky burial is in fact Truth in Television, and is practiced in a number of Chinese provinces and Tibet (the latter of which Gyongxe was modeled off). Basically, the concept is that the body is only an empty vessel anyway, and vultures eating the leftover body is only natural. note 
  • In The Dark Profit Saga, Dwarves are a One-Gender Race. No one knows how they reproduce and attempts to find out usually result in beatings. The Dwarves themselves find the concept of romance uncomfortable, probably because they have no cultural reference point. As such, they tend to treat attempts by others to discuss their romantic feelings for someone else the way another person might react to a graphic depiction of a sex act.
  • Inverted in Brave New World with the Noble Savage John experiencing culture shock at the hedonistic, consumerist society of the World State, where drug use and promiscuity is the norm, and monogamy, pregnancy, and mourning the death of a loved one are seen as perversions.
  • A lot of the aspects of the Kesh culture in Always Coming Home are alien to us, most prominently their attitude to property and wealth. When Stone Telling describes the Condor people, with customs closer to a western society (a highly conservative one), she treats them as madmen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Talisa, being from Volantis, finds the Westerosi bedding ceremony (where the newly-married couple are carried to their bedchamber and stripped of their clothes on the way) "a very strange custom".
  • In an episode of QI, Susan Calman recalls a time during Christmas when she thought she ordered four onions, but ended up with four sacks of onions. To get rid of them before her wife came home, she went around to her neighbours offering them onions and pretending it was an old Scottish tradition.
  • 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 Michael ends up taking care of a foreign exchange student Ollie Biallo whose strange mannerisms irritate him to no end.
    Ollie: It is so pleasant to meet you! (kisses Michael twice on the cheek)
    Michael: What are you doing?!
    Ollie: I am sorry! In my country, that is how a person greets a new friend!
    Michael: 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:
    • 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 grievances 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:
    • "Acts of Sacrifice" has 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 captain — mistook it for an act of aggression (also, the extremely powerful Minbari sensors overloaded the flimsy human sensors and jammed the hyperdrive, making it impossible to tell if the weapons were charging), 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:
    • In "Vox Sola", 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 presence of others is a disgusting act for them.
    • Subverted in "A Night in Sickbay", which sees Archer preparing for an elaborate apology to those same aliens 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:
    • In "Destiny", 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 "Apocalypse Rising", 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.
  • Firefly:
    • 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 this 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".

  • Mission to Zyxx is an improvised show that follows a team of interplanetary diplomats visiting new worlds. Approximately 70% of the jokes in a given episode revolve around either pointing out oddities in the guest star's behavior or inverting the trope by pointing out ways that this supposedly-bizarre alien is in fact more civilized and mature than the crew (Pleck in particular is usually the butt of this type of joke).

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
    • Skunks usually warn would-be predators away by performing a complex dance, involving standing on their front paws and stomping the ground. As in the above example, dogs may interpret this display as a sign of playfulness, encouraging them to approach rather than warding them away. This might explain why Fido so often comes home smelling of skunk musk.
  • In some traditional southeast 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.
    • A similar misunderstanding was among 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.
    • Several Native American cultures also consider it rude to point at something with one's handnote , and use nodding or facial motions instead.
  • 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).
  • In Japan, it's traditionally believed that one can gauge a person's soul by looking into their eyes. This proved to be a problem after the war, when the American naval officers, in particular General MacArthur, kept wearing sunglasses. This tended to unnerve the Japanese. Naturally, this has changed over the last half a century.
  • The most difficult problem for Americans in Japan when dining out is resisting the urge to tip the wait staff when dining out. Americans consider not leaving a tip at all to be extremely rude, while the Japanese consider leaving a tip to be extremely rude. Both cultures see it as sending a message about the wait staff's skill though: Americans believe that it's done to show gratitude for quality service, while in Japan, it's perceived as giving the server charity because they are so terrible they'll be out of a job soon and will clearly need the extra money.
  • Smiling at random strangers as done by Western people, especially Americans, feels weird to Eastern Europeans who tend to keep serious neutral expressions. A smile from a stranger, especially in urban environments, is typically taken to mean that this person wants to scam you or otherwise waste your time, knows you from somewhere even if you're sure you've never met them, or is just plain stupid to find a reason to smile in this grim everyday life. This trend is slowly dying down over the recent decades. Conversely, not smiling at strangers is interpreted by Americans as being as if you have a Lack of Empathy or soul and is considered unnerving by many Americans who are not used to the customs of certain other countries. This divide also exists within America and is part of why people from some areas (most famously New York) have a reputation for being unfriendly.