New York: experiencing a different culture

January 1, 1970

by Maartje

Travelling has always been one of my passions. I love to learn about new cultures, the way people live and what a typical day in the life is like. Born and bred in the Netherlands, the United States has always been a country of interest to me. Even though the States have a western culture, the differences between the north of America and Europe are huge. For example, if you order a large milkshake at the McDonald´s here in the Netherlands, it would be a size small in the States. This is just one of many aspects where you can find yourself in a funny or even weird situation because you are not used to the way of living abroad.

Empire State Building

Visiting the United States

It has almost been one and a half year since I visited the city that never sleeps, but I will never forget those six days I spent there. One of the reasons for that, is that I went with my grandmother. She took me on a vacation because I graduated from High School. To be able to travel with your grandma is an adventure that I wish everyone could experience. Luckily, my grandma is very active and she still is in a state where she is able to travel and explore. Since my grandmother is much older than that I am, she has another vision of the world. She sees things in a different way than I do.


Going out for dinner

The amount of food, for instance, is one of the things where you can clearly notice that we both have had a different way of growing up. There was one evening where we decided to go out for dinner and eat some pizza. We ended up in a small, but very busy restaurant. I cannot recall the exact name, unfortunately, since it is an absolute recommendation. As soon as we sat down, we ordered a drink and enjoyed a good Italian beer. Looking down at the menu, we saw so many good options that we decided to both order a different pizza and split them. Since we were both hungry, we thought it would be a good idea to order two large pizza´s. Then the waitress came and noted our order. She asked us a few times if we were sure we wanted to have two large pizza´s. Being this our first time in the States and absolutely not having a single clue about the portion sizes, we did not understand her confusion. However, as soon as we got an eye on our order, shock was the only emotion that we had. A large pizza here was indeed very large. Or better said – huge. In this restaurant a large pizza would normally be shared with two or three persons, because one pizza took up our whole table. The waitress had to relocate another table next to ours for the second pizza. For the whole restaurant it was obvious that we were foreigners. After the shock passed by, the only thing we could do was laugh and eat. Of course, as you can imagine, we could only finish one pizza with a lot of effort. Our waitress came up to us and asked if we would like to take a part of the left-over pizza with us in a doggy back. We did, and the day after this occurrence we ate pizza for lunch in Central Park.

Growing up with famine

While eating the pizza in Central Park, my grandma and I talked about the previous evening. The enormous amount of food was quite a big deal for her. She was aged around ten when the Second World War started. Therefore, she experienced famine and grew up in an environment where food was scarce. This caused her to always be mindful when it comes down to food and the amount of it. She rather pays an extra visit to the supermarket because she bought too little food than to have to throw away anything. Therefore, she felt very guilty when we left the restaurant and there still was half the pizza on the table.


Different lifestyles

This clearly shows how different her lifestyle is compared to a lot of Americans. Whereas she is used to little amounts of food, the overwhelming quantity of choices and volumes of the plates was something she could not get used to. I do not mean to say that either way of living is correct or false. I want to show you that even though both countries are part of the Western civilization, there are numerous differences that do cause trouble in some occasions.  This does not only apply to the Unites States and the Netherlands – but to all of the Western countries. Since we all have our own way of living and our own habits, we cannot expect a foreigner to understand all of it in one single day. We cannot expect someone to change and adapt within a month. It takes time to get used to cultural differences, and sometimes people will never understand a certain aspect of someone else´s country.

Culture clashes

This, however, does not mean you do not have to show any respect. Your culture is perfectly normal for yourself, and the same applies to anyone from another country. Most clashes between two cultures arise because people feel like their way of living is superior to other´s. Not being able to at least respect another culture is a habit that will not do any good to you when you travel. You do not need to understand a certain habit, but it will help you if you at least tolerate it. In this way the locals will open up to you, talk to you and they might even show you why they do the things they do in that particular way.


Travelling will help you grow

Travelling will help you to experience life in a different way than you are used to, and it will broaden your vision of the world. In many ways, travelling and experiencing a new culture will have more positive effects on your life than negative ones – as long as you remind yourself to open up your mind and enjoy your time.


By Maartje

Aged only 18 but already planning on travelling all over the world and exploring new countries. I am currently taking a gap year and living in Spain. Originally I am from Holland, but I feel more at home abroad. Writing, languages and reading are my main passions and becoming a digital nomad is something that I am considering.


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