The Expat Woman

Food Related Culture Shock in the US

Food Related Culture Shock in the US image

When you move to a new country, culture shock is inevitable. The good thing is it definitely broadens your horizons and enriches your experiences.

Here are some things that took getting used to in the US when I moved here from India. Since there are so many, this one is focused on food, drink, and everything related to it.

1. Size


One of the first things that hit me when I moved to the US is how everything is bigger here.   Supermarkets, food portions, candy, and drinks were massive compared to what I was used to in India. The first time I visited Costco, a warehouse chain, the sheer size of the store and the variety of products sold in Buik made me dizzy. 

2. Meal Times

Meal Times

In India we eat dinner late, usually between 8pm and 9pm. When I moved here it surprised me that people were eating dinner on an average around 5pm. And when it comes to holidays like Thanksgiving it can be as early as 3pm and it’s most often the only meal of the day besides maybe a light breakfast.

3. Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving Meal

The traditional feast includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans and pumpkin pie. As someone used to the rich, spicy flavors of Indian cuisine, I my first Thanksgiving meal was a huge culture shock. Like with most things in life, over time I have come to enjoy the dishes and can even cook a few of them.

4. Root Beer

What in the world?  When I had Root Beer for the first time, it felt like I was drinking flavored cough syrup. I thought it was only me but when I asked other folk who had moved here, they had the same reaction. 20 plus years later, I now do enjoy the drink with some ice on a hot day or a root beer float.

5. Ice

Ice seems to be an American staple. Non-Alcoholic drinks at restaurants have more ice than the drink. Even water or a cold latte. 75% ice and the rest is water or beverage. And the glass is first filled with ice and then the beverage is poured over. Even though I come from a country where it can get really hot, we would at the most use a couple of cubes of ice. I had to learn that I had to ask for no ice or just a little ice when I ordered a beverage or water. Even at home or at parties, ice comprises the majority of the drink. And talking about ice, there are ice machines everywhere, at the gas stations, motels and hotels, grocery stores.

6. Food Choices

The sheer variety of food products available at American grocery stores was overwhelming. In India, while there are plenty of choices, the options in the USA seem almost limitless. From numerous brands of a single product to a wide array of gluten free, keto, vegan and organic options, the abundance was both exciting and daunting. Navigating through aisles filled with countless cereal brands, different types of milk (from almond to oat to soy), to percentage of fat, and extensive frozen food sections took some getting used to.

7. Sugar

Sugar treats are everywhere and in everything. From Donut Sundays at church to the chocolate and candy advertised and available in abundance for Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas. Also almost every processed food has sugar in it. Check the labels if you don’t believe me.

8. Potluck

The following image shows a plate with someone serving food at a party. It supplements the adjacent text that explains how potlucks in the US were a culture shock to the author.

Before coming to the US, my understanding of the word “Potluck” as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary, is the regular meal available to a guest for whom no special preparations have been made. In India if someone dropped in to visit, you could offer them a “potluck” meal which was any leftovers or food you had cooked for your own lunch or dinner. So when I was invited to my first potluck party in the US, I was confused because they asked me to bring  a dish. In India when you host a party, you provide all the food and drink and don’t ask guests to bring anything besides themselves of course.

9. Birthday Celebrations

Image of a cupcake with candles to support the text about how having to pay for the person celebrating their birthday is a culture shock in the US.

The way we celebrate a birthday in India is, the celebrant would treat his/her friends at a restaurant. So like the US potlucks, this was a big surpise for me when we, the guests, had to pay for ourselves and the celebrant.

10. Tipping

Image of glass jar with the label tips and full of dollars

I think this one comes as an expensive shock to anyone new to the US. You are expected to tip whether it’s restaurants, bars, taxis, and even for services like haircuts, dry cleaning and hotel staff. The expected tip usually ranges from 15% to 25% of the bill. If you don’t tip it’s considered rude, cheap  or apparently sends a message that you didn’t like the service provided.  In India tipping is less formalized and generally not as substantial.

Have you experienced food culture shock when you moved to the US or anywhere else in the world? Do share in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Nyna is the Founder and CEO of The Expat Woman, a global platform focused on connecting, supporting and empowering women who have moved abroad or plan to relocate. She is also a LinkedIn coach, consultant, trainer and speaker. LinkedIn played a huge role in my professional journey abroad, helping me build a network of powerful expat women and allies.

Pin It on Pinterest

Get your Free Ticket

Online from Nov. 7th to Nov.9th