Crazy Cultural Comparison

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    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?

    Alice is being introduced to Bob, a recent arrival from the land of Tropestan. She offers to shake his hand, but instead of reciprocating, he gives her a puzzled look. When Alice asks him how people in Tropestan greet each other, Bob demonstrates... by spitting in her hair.

    Crazy Cultural Comparison is the trope when characters from a foreign culture compare (and contrast) their everyday habits and social rituals with the corresponding behavior of the host society. Unlike Culture Clash, this usually occurs in friendly situations and is mostly played for laughs. Errors in etiquette often occur by accident, since the outsiders are just acting "normally".

    The outsider is usually a Funny Foreigner from Cloudcuckooland or an Amusing Alien. Odd courtship customs or mating rituals are a popular topic, especially for otherworldly beings and their Bizarre Alien Biology.

    To qualify for this trope, the weird custom shown should have a corresponding "normal" version in the host culture (e.g., "How do you do <X> in your country/realm/planet?"). Oftentimes, the "comparison" doesn't have to be made directly between two characters; it's enough for the outsider to simply do something "strange" and let the audience make the comparison themselves.

    This is a sister trope to Funny Foreigner, as a Funny Foreigner will often invoke a Crazy Cultural Comparison. On the other hand, it's entirely possible to have a Crazy Cultural Comparison with someone who just happens to be from a very different background.

    Also see Culture Clash and Foreign Queasine. A Fantastic Anthropologist will use this as a key source of humor. Compare and Contrast Blue and Orange Morality.

    Examples of Crazy Cultural Comparison include:

    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.


    • Much of Yakov Smirnoff's comedy is based on this trope.

    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.

    Fan Works

    • 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.

    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 get past the Ko-Dan Armada undetected.

    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 Khazakstan 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 whole "spitting as greeting" thing was a major scene in Ace Ventura 2.
    • The aliens from Scary Movie 3 greet each other by getting the person they're greeting in a choke hold. They say goodbye with a Groin Attack.
    • Parodied, like most things, in Airplane! when Ted Stryker, upon meeting the African tribesmen he and Elaine would be working with for their time in the Peace Corps, teaches them how to shake hands.


    • 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.
    • In the Sword of Truth books there is a tribe of mudpeople who greet each other by punching to demonstrate strength. And Richard is foreverafter known as "Richard with the Temper" after knocking out the mudperson who greeted him before he knew the custom.
      • It's noted that they're pragmatic about it - with their elders, it's a symbolic tap to the shoulder, but between warriors, they try to knock each others's teeth out.
    • Happens every now and then in The Wheel of Time. Most of the time it's the Aiel culture that gets compared to the Western, but we also see comparison between Western/Seanchan cultures, Western/Ogier cultures, and different cultures within the big "Western" block.
    • 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 Two 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 Stanislaw Lem never does anything halfassed, he turns one of his last novels, Wizja Lokalna (Observation on the Spot) into a veritable fest of the complex and multilevel cultural jokes and comparisons. Craziest of which is the discussion of the mating rituals during his visit to some university—both sides are thorougly baffled by the experience: locals by the closed and intimate nature of Eartlings 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 species 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 eraser" earned in primary school doesn't go over too well with the Mountain Dwarves, who venerate the written word.
      • 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 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.
    • 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.
    • A similar taboo to the one in Star Trek: Enterprise is mentioned in Sergey Lukyanenko's novel Line of Delirium. In this case, 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.

    Live-Action TV

    • Mork and 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 grievences 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
      • A hilarious example in with a race that seals every deal with sex. Ivanova is a little reluctant to do this but doesn't want to cause an incident. She manages to trick the diplomat by insisting on doing it the "human way", which involves her dancing around the guy, chanting Stock Phrases from the entire lifespan of a typical (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. He accepts it because he has been shown to be so sure of his culture's superiority to other cultures, he refuses to even bother to learn anything about lesser cultures. He goes along with Ivonova's song-and-dance sex ritual because he didn't want to admit he didn't actually know how humans had sex. His aide, however, knows exactly what Ivanova has done—and he is not only amused, but chooses not to reveal her deception (at least in part because his boss treats him with the same disdain and rudeness that he shows to everyone else).
      • 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!"
    • 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.
    • In Deep Space 9, 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.
    • Firefly
    • 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."

    Web Comics

    • 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. 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.
    • 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.
    • In one mild version during the American Revolution several Americans asked Frenchmen what they did in France only to receive the reply "soldier." A large number of Americans apparently thought of soldiering as something you did in emergencies, kind of like an extended posse, and just hadn't troubled themselves before about what redcoats did before.