381. Discussing Cultural Differences (with Amber & Paul)

In this episode I’m talking to my friends Amber and Paul about cultural differences, particularly in the ways we communicate with each other in different countries.

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You should know that there is a bit of swearing in this one as well as a few dodgy jokes and references to previous episodes of the podcast, which you should probably listen to before you listen to this one in order to understand a couple of references and in-jokes. The previous episode is number 380. As for the swearing, I see it as just evidence of the fact we are all talking in a totally relaxed, genuine and natural manner, like we normally do in this social situation.

I just want to say that our aim in this conversation was to compare different cultures and not to criticise other cultures. We’re just expressing our own personal experiences from our point of view. Since we all live in France and we’re from England, there are quite a lot of comments about differences between French and English culture. If you’re French I’d love to read your points of view on many of the things we’re talking about and I am sure that you could make loads of similar comments about life in England – like, why the hell do we have separate taps in the bathroom? Or, why do girls go out on a Friday night with hardly any clothes on? Don’t they get freezing cold? And why do Brits drink so much? These are all things that might seem strange to visitors to the UK. So, I’m well aware that all cultures and behaviours can seem strange from the outside and it’s all just a matter of context.

In fact, I have already done several podcast episodes all about culture shock experiences of people moving to the UK (specifically London) from foreign countries. Check out the links to listen to those episodes.

192. Culture Shock: Life in London (Pt.1)

193. Culture Shock: Life in London (Pt.2)

I am sure you have points of view on this that you would like to express, so feel free to leave comments on the page for this episode. Don’t forget to join the mailing list on the website to get easy access to the page for every new episode when it is uploaded.

So without any further ado, here’s a podcast about cultural differences with Amber and Paul.

Discussing Cultural Differences

Luke’s Intro

Although we are all the same, we’re also different.

Ways we’re the same:

We all fall in love, go to the loo, get hungry, get tired, like laughing, listen to LEP.

But we’re all different – individually we are all unique, but we are also different as groups, tribes, nationalities or cultures.

Although it’s bad to generalise, it seems that cultures – like ethnicities or nationalities, tend to have certain shared behaviours and customs that mark them out as different to others. For example, although the English and French share a lot of things in common there are certain things which mark us out as different. Not just the language we speak, but the way we behave and the things we think are important. Like the way we queue.


So anyway, that’s just an example of culture shock I suppose. But it shows that there are cultural differences. Of course there are! Everyone knows it.

If you’ve ever been abroad or had contact with other cultures you’ll know that sometimes it’s incredibly obvious that our cultures are different. Sometimes it’s shockingly obvious, sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes it’s just weird, but we have to remember that they’re just differences and while they can be confusing, frustrating and also funny, ultimately we need to find ways to look beyond these differences and not let them become a barrier to things like communication, understanding, business, diplomacy and relationships.

In this episode I’d like to have a discussion about cultural differences that we’ve noticed around the world. These could be different types of behaviour, like certain customs and habits, or just different values – like, what people seem to think is important, and how those values reveal themselves in the way things are done.

Amber & Paul

What are your credentials in terms of your cross cultural experiences?

  • How long have you lived in France?
  • Have you visited many other places? Which other places have you been to?
  • Have you had cross cultural experiences?
  • Have you been in a relationship with someone from another culture?
  • Have you done business with people from other cultures?

I have a list of different behaviours and values. Just stuff I’ve noticed or heard about. Well go through the list.

We can answer these questions:

  • Where do they do this?
  • Do we do this in the UK?
  • Do we consider this to be weird behaviour or not? Is there a reason for this behaviour?
  • Do you have any experiences of this? Would you like it if we introduced this into our culture?

The list: (please note that we are not talking about ‘two-taps in the bathroom’)

  • Kissing or hugging someone when you meet them (Paul did a successful video about this)
  • Looking people in the eye
  • Indirectness/diplomacy/politeness (or hypocrisy) vs directness/straightness/clarity (or rudeness) – e.g. certain cultures tend to be indirect when giving negative feedback, other cultures favour direct negative feedback
  • conflict vs non-conflict
  • Smiling in public




  • Eating early vs eating late in the evening
  • Having milk in tea
  • Eating scorpions / spiders / toads / frogs
  • Eating with your hands / chopsticks / a knife and fork / not your left hand
  • Burping or farting after eating
  • Girls wearing miniskirts in the middle of winter
  • Hawking / spitting in the street
  • Saying “good morning” or “good afternoon” in shops/post offices before you can get anything done
  • Kissing in public
  • Begging
  • Crossing the road – waiting for cars to stop vs just walking into the street vs using pedestrian crossings
  • Driving on the left
  • Queuing in an organised and patient way vs Not queuing – “every man for himself” (or something in between)
  • Public transport – following the rules vs no rules (e.g. queueing, letting people off before getting on, etc)
  • Falling asleep on public transport
  • Talking to strangers on public transport
  • Having a strict attitude towards health and safety (e.g. wearing safety belts in cars) vs Having a relaxed attitude towards health and safety (e.g. not wearing safety belts, overtaking on corners)
  • Bribing police or other people
  • Having more than one wife, or having affairs
  • Saying “yes” in order to save face
  • Having carpet in the bathroom
  • Wearing shoes indoors
  • Sitting down to go to the toilet vs Squatting on the floor when you go to the toilet (or any other toilet related comments)
  • Putting The UK at the centre of the map

Is there anything else you’ve found to be weird or different?

  • Ptholome

    Hi, Amber,

    Do you know this actor/writer/comedian named Lorànt Deusht? despite his name he is French and an interesting guy. He wrote several books and this one could interest you: 2016 : Métronome 2. Paris intime au fil de ses rues, Michel Lafon, 2016, 431 pages.

  • Ptholome

    More? :)

  • Olga Litvinchuk

    There is so much I wanted to say, but unfortunately I had no time or access to Internet on telephone.
    Every time I went home, I felt myself tired.
    Sorry for that.

    First of all I wanted to say that boyfriend is jealous. He says I spend too much time to your podcasts. And get to know the news from you.
    And it is truth. I got to know about Brexit situation from you or about the death of David Bowie and who he actually was and about Muhammad Ali.

    What I wanted to say about cultural differences.I’ve got a lot of examples. From Polish cultural shock to Italian.

    I visited some expos so I understood how difficult cultural shock can be.
    1) The distances in front of people:
    You how it is important to behave yourself in a right way with foreigners.
    I got used to strange behaviour. But I understand that it’s a part of their culture. Nothing you can do with it. You should just respect it.
    For examples, the Italians are very close to everyone in comparison to cold and strict the Germans or Swedes.
    I can say that I like more the behaviour of generous open and ambitious Italian than concealed Swedes.
    2) smiling nationalities.
    When I was a freshman I understood that the Americans have absolutely another view on smiles and have other pleasant intonation. Do they hide their teeth sometime?
    Even if the topic is not funny they usually smile and have this Full Rise intonation.
    I can say that Belarusians are not smiling nation. There is one thing that Russian people say:
    If Russian smiles, he makes it sincerely.
    So when I’ve been to that Expos I could not understand why everybody so smiling. Maybe there were some free cakes? I didn’t know.
    3) The most important item. How other nationalities express their thoughts. When I had course in business english I understood that British like to avoid saying straight something negative and something not pleasant. Of course we Belorussians or Russians can say something with double meanings but often we say direct what we think and what we want.
    For example, I consider it normal to leave if you have got a reason or if you don’t want to stay.
    4) Another important item is simple, free view on many usual things. And it’s a very serious difference between European and non-european countries. What I mean? I mean that Belorussian never drops even package, he tries to use it again, he never leaves his unfinished dinner in the restaurant. And many nations laugh at us. for example, last year I’ve been to Rimini, touristic city in Italy, my friend was very hungry and eat my pizza.
    For us it’s ok that eat someone’s dinner. But from European point it’s not appropriate. Why? Why? Why? How can I refuse to my friend? She had no free money, why not?
    5) The way people dress.
    When I’ve been to Belgium, I decided to buy something for me that is why we wend with my boss on shoping. O was disappointed when I saw all the dark dresses. That is not the way I want to look.
    I like short skirts, high heels, bright colours! I’m girl! But everything looked like in Tim Burton’s films!
    6) Religion.
    First cultural shock was when I was 17 years old and I’ve been to Poland first time in a camp. Everything is based on Catholicism there. The way people think, the way people live, God is in everyone’s house.
    And it was comfortable for me because I was and am religious too but too many religion scaried me to death.
    7) Marriage and dates.
    I am surprised how it’s easy to get anyone’s number in USA, for example. And what role number plays in their life. If anyone gets girl’s number if it like he absolutely will have bed with her.
    But my mother told me in childhood not to open the door to strangers and not give my number to strange boys. Of course, I am joking and exaggerating too much but I think you understand my point.
    And the approach to marriage. In our country 25 years girl considered to be old maid/. I’m exaggerating but partially it’s true. Our parents from USSR and they have another rules.

    Luke, there are so many items. I experienced cultural shock each time. Foreigners for me like aliens, it’s curious for me to learn them. Curious to hear your thoughts on everything. But I see that you get used to strange behaviour and you seem to be tolerant.

    Funny moments: once I bumped into Chinese girl with my head. You know their habit to bow when you give your business card:))
    It was funny.

    and how once one American boy said: Belorusian/ Ukranian/ Russian girls are so high! It wasn’t usual for him to see girls looking down at him))

    small photo shock.

    cemetery in Brussles.

    uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5bc4cfca4208e85a1e18a73508c5939b4bfad52ac8561d1f5c5247284b57f2ca.jpg uploads.disquscdn.com/images/76c8e9c0a59244f5c09f055aff67314f073bba8c3830ea1578e6ac5fa3225071.jpg uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b9ae00b855e13afeb4ac715723b60f2c03ce2f4505dbb8ecdfc5ef0b8953cf38.jpg

  • Celia

    Interesting and funny episode!
    I am spanish, and we are a bit more direct/less polite than you, brits… We may sound rude to you, I guess…
    I lived in Vancouver a few years ago and I remember the first time I was asked “How are you today?” at the supermarket. I took the question seriously and started giving all sort of details about how I felt…
    In Spain we merely say “Hello… do you need a bag?”
    But in some things, for example, queues, I fill exactly like you, Luke… it pisses me off (sorry) when, in a shop, there is one of those ticket dispensers in which you take your number, buy they don’t work or they don’t use them… I was at the butcher´s a couple of days ago, it was packed, we had to ask “Who is last?”, remember who is the one before you… and watch for a couple of girls that seemed to be about to jump the queue… what a stress!

  • Oanh Diệu

    Couldn’t catch the joke about Russia. Could anyone explain it to me?

  • Ptholome

    Monkey see, monkey do, not need to ask questions.
    In France I had people who never spoke me anymore because to shake hands, every morning to one hundred co-workers was something I couldn’t stand, So I said: Bonjour, bonjour, bomjour… And I was making ennemis forever without been aware.

  • Agnes

    Hi Luke,
    I’ve been listening this podcast few times and going to listen to over and over. So glad to hear various things of matter and cultural differences. We live in our own culture and don’t even realize how it might look like in other cultures. Some nationalities have really strong connection to the culture, very strong customs, and we visit them, we have to know about it, not being surprised and feel awkwardly.


  • Culture is formed through generations . It is bonded by external behavior and internal mind . It carries self-centered assurance of a country . It is an active transformation of lasting identity. You never really understand a foreigner until you consider he/she from his/her point of view .

  • denise


    Well, about the first topic (Kissing or hugging someone when you meet them), here in Brazil it is very common, but I really don’t like it. I mean, it is a cultural thing, but I feel weird doing this all the time. About wearing shoes indoors, oh God, this is very natural here too, and I don’t care about it (although I prefer to walk barefoot all the time). I sleep on public transport. No comment! One thing I hate and wasn’t mentioned is that here we cannot just say “no” to people when they invite us to do something, because after people ask “why,” or think the person who said “no” is rude. Nonsense at all.

  • Catherine Bear

    Hi Luke, Amber and Paul,
    Wonderful! Just great. Enjoyed every minute. Thumbs up!!!

    As I first moved to Germany from Russia, the first cultural shock was related to the gender relations. Russian men I considered to be more gentlemen-like and attentive. The second one was related to the behaviours towards older people. I used to stand up in public transport and order my seat to older people. But they usually refused. I felt awkward all the time and remained standing.

    In class, students would speak very loudly and interrupt each other and the teacher as a common thing. I needed some time to get to used to it and be more outspoken.

    Another issue is the degree and the social value of aggression and violence. In Russia, it is (was) normal that boys be more aggressive. Showing your strength, fighting in conflict situations, swearing was quite normal and sometimes even more valued than just to discuss things when trying to come to a peaceful solution.

    These are the most important differences to me between German and Russian cultures. There are certainly more.


    • Mariia

      Luke!!Thanks for all your podcasts! I’ m an English teacher from Russia,Tver! Find your work really useful and informative (most of the time). Could you do a podcast about Global English vs British English. What should we learn today. Are the ways we learn the language changing? Would be so grateful!!!

      • Catherine Bear

        Dear Mariia,

        Oh you addressed your question to me, I see. I hope, Luke will see it as well.

        Interesting question about language changing and Global English. I would recommend you to watch to some David Crystal’s videos on YouTube, for example here:


        You will find on that channel other videos featuring him as well, also on the so called Global English.

        Enjoy your teaching! :)

        Luke, I would wish if you could invide David Crystal to the LEPland one day and talk about how English is changing today and other stuff. That would be nice! :)


      • Mariia

        Oh..so sorry for putting my comment in the wrong place!))) Thank you!!!I’ll definitely watch it!))