Culture Clash

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Cultures do not evolve identically. Even ones with similar backgrounds and languages have something they disagree about, and it just gets worse the more alien the two cultures are. Naturally, this has great potential for writers who want to introduce conflict to the plot, or just want to show off their worldbuilding skill.

Some tropes associated with Culture Clash:

See Values Dissonance, for when this happens to the audience. Also see Crazy Cultural Comparison, a milder form of Culture Clash played for laughs. There's also Pop Culture Isolation. Often an element of Fantastic Racism.

Examples of Culture Clash include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Space Runaway Ideon, when humans first encounter Buff Clan, they try to call a ceasefire by raising a white flag. Unfortunately, in Buff Clan culture, a white flag means the resolve to fight until death. Much bloodshed ensues.
  • Played for humour in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, Kaere, a returnee is offended by various gestures that "In her country" mean odd things. Also Maria is a reverse example; seeing negative things in Japanese society as positive things. Her reaction to a pedophile accosting a little girl; "People in Japan are so nice to little kids".
  • Major part of the background of the Skypiea arc of One Piece. Montblanc Norland comes to an island plagued by disease and worshiping a snake-god. He proceeds to cut down their sacred trees and slay their god(dess), all in their own best interest. Though his actions were for the better, his refusal to consult with them or even explain himself demonstrates an arrogance that eventually alienates him, setting up the requisite tragic backstory.
    • That part of the backstory however ends on a better note. It's when the geyser starts acting up that things go awry for real.
  • Interestingly subverted in Ai Yori Aoshi, for the character of Tina Foster—a blond, blue-eyed American who grew up in Japan. Being Caucasian, she's never really accepted by her classmates, due to the highly ethno-centric nature of Japanese society, despite having been raised there from a very young age. Returning to America for high school, she discovers that she is culturally much more Japanese than American, and finds herself an outsider again. Her overreactions to this result in her clashing with both cultures, and prevents her from making any close personal connections in either Japan or America, until she meets open-minded protagonist Hanabishi Kaoru several years prior to the beginning of the story.
  • Played for laughs in Ouran High School Host Club: commoner Haruhi's life is so different from her ultra-rich schoolmates that they might as well live in different countries, and the experience goes both ways (witness the hosts' befuddlement over "commoner wisdom" such as instant coffee.)
  • In the Ramen & Gyoza volume of Oishinbo, one of Shiro's superiors takes some out-of-town Chinese colleagues to his favorite noodle shop; only to have them stop dead when they see the restaurant, accuse him of deliberately insulting them, and threaten to break off relations with the Tozai News. Turns out the restaurant's name uses an old Japanese word for China that many Japanese see as no worse than old-fashioned, but the mainland Chinese consider highly insulting. Good thing Shiro has the connections to set things right.
  • In Kyou Kara Maou, Wolfram insults Yuuri's mother, so Yuuri slaps him. Wolfram's brothers beg Yuuri to take it back. Yuuri, who thinks he's just insulted Wolfram back, swears he never will. Turns out that's how they propose marriage around those parts. The engagement stands for almost three straight seasons, and by the third everyone either considers them married or has forgotten about the proposal altogether. It can sometimes be hard to tell.
  • There is a major culture clash between Ichigo and Byakuya in Bleach's "saving Rukia" arc.
  • One of the prevalent themes of Ikoku Meiro no Croisee.
  • The Yuri Genre manga Flower Flower revolves around this. Two princesses from separate countries are wed but their culture clash. This leads to some interesting situations.

Fanfiction[edit | hide]

  • In Embers by Vathara, failure to do a comparison is shown to have incredibly painful results... and arguably, this is one of the major reasons this story was written. A full chapter was dedicated to what the four elemental nations each mean when they say 'truce', each of which was different, and had different cultural reasons behind it.
    • In the Water Tribes, a truce is decided upon by the women, who get together and decide that their men have wasted enough time and effort fighting, or are needed back home. Once they've determined that the men are rested and recovered, the truce is revoked and they go to war again.
    • In the Earth Kingdom, the local King (or the Earth King, if it's a big enough deal), will declare a truce only as a final ceasefire, when either they or the enemy is thoroughly crushed. Truces aren't temporary... they end the war, and breaking the truce starts a new one.
    • In the Fire Nation, the ranking officer can call for a truce at any time, but they will hold that truce without fail. They will not break a truce, but will revoke it and inform their enemy of the revocation before they attack.
    • The Air Nomads don't have truces. They may stop fighting, or work together with an enemy for a while against a common foe, but there's nothing binding about it, and they can change their minds whenever they want, without informing anyone. This has led to them being generally liked but not trusted, and in Embers, has led to HUGE problems between the nations.
  • As a Crossover, the Naruto/Justice League Crossover "Connecting the Dots" has lots of this, particularly in the Thou Shalt Not Kill department


Film[edit | hide]

  • Avatar.
  • The Last Samurai
  • Detective/action movie Black Rain contains a ton of this when two NYPD detectives catch a rogue Yakuza member in New York and have to escort him back to Tokyo. In some ways the film is more even-handed than some works, as it shows the detectives feeling out of their depth and threatened by a different culture, but it also shows how they seem to the Japanese, which ranges from the Japanese police viewing them as bumbling amateurs, (one of the detectives being a xenophobic Cowboy Cop while the other is a Life of the Party sort) who let the Yakuza captive escape, to many others seeing them as Funny Foreigners.
    • More subtly, there is also something of a generational culture clash going on among the Japanese. Most obviously this is the case with Sato and the other young Yakuza who follow him in opposing The Don Sugai, but there are other small hints of this, like Japanese detective Mas reprimanding his son for what he sees as his son speaking out of turn to Nick.
  • Red Sun involves samurai coming to The Wild West, and includes a scene where Charles Bronson's cowboy character laughs at a samurai and says that he's wearing a dress.
  • East Is East is about a Pakistani father struggling to come to terms with his sons being drawn more to British youth culture than his own Islamic values.
  • In Bride and Prejudice some of the conflict between William Darcy and Lalita is because they both make cultural assumptions about the other.
  • Outsourced centres on this theme as an American sales expert is sent to India to train call centre workers and only becomes successful once he starts adapting to his new home.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy uses this as its central theme. The main focus is on the Bushman Xi venturing out into the world of modern South Africa, and getting into many misunderstandings due to his not knowing anything about its society's workings, and vice-versa. Said misunderstandings range from hilarious (accidentally sticking up somebody) to serious (getting locked up in prison).


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Around the World in Eighty Days, the custom of suttee strikes the visiting Englishman (and the audience) as a horrible, horrible idea (though he doesn't act on his feelings until he learns the victim is unwilling.)
  • In Cloud of Sparrows, Emily asks Heiko what a geisha is, and is shocked when Heiko explains that the closest English word would be 'prostitute'. Heiko considers her profession an honourable one, and can't understand why Emily freaks out so badly.
  • This is a big theme in most of Dave Duncan's books, but particularly the Seventh Sword series where a pacifist from present day America is launched into a fantasy world with a samurai style warrior culture. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy is a showcase for this trope.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, Ezsrah takes Gaunt's sword. He regards it as an essential part of his duty, to carry out a bludtoll; the Ghosts regarded it as robbing the dead and are shocked that anyone would do such a deed.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar Tetralogy the reptilian invaders known as the Race have numerous issues of culture clash: Aside from the part that Tosevites went from rusty plate armor and spears to using primitive landcruisers (and I'm not talking about the Model-T) and firearms. Even worse, they were engaged in active research on jet killercraft and explosive-metal bombs! All of this in the blink of an eye turret between their probe visiting and the Conquest Fleet arrival (about 800 years, they arrive in 1942) there is also all that biological weirdness. For starters, they're big and ugly, they stand up at too steep of an angle, have no tailstumps and these weird multi-colored strands on their heads. Speaking of colors, their strangely smooth and non-scaly skin comes in as many colors as their head-growths. Don't even get me started on their bizarre mating habits, it took the more liberal members of the Conquest fleet nearly the entire 40 years (20 local years) between the end of hostilities and the arrival of the Colonization fleet to reach a personal understanding that, for them, being capable of mating at all times of the year is just natural. (Note: an American Tosevite who has become an expert in Race/Tosevite relations commented to the insanely radical Shiplord Straha that, to him, Straha is "more hidebound then a Southern Democrat with 40 years seniority" after the Shiplord called himself a Radical. This occurred before the end of hostilities in the Local Year 1944.) Their exclusive mating agreements are something only such a screwed up race such as the Big Uglies could find enjoyable. Speaking of mating issues, that herb Ginger should be wiped out, it causes nothing but trouble.
  • Shogun has plenty examples of this being about an Englishman in 1600s Japan. A rather blatant example is when certain Japanese taking care of him, after being commanded to cater to his every need, politely ask him if he'd like sex with one of the girls looking after him. When he declines embarrassed, they ask if he'd prefer a man.... and then whether he'd prefer a boy!
  • A minor example occurs in Chen Yi's house in Lords of the Bow. Khasar tries to figure out chopsticks, before getting frustrated and shoving them into a bowl of noodles so they stand vertically. To the Chin, this is quite insulting.
  • Three Worlds Collide by Eliezer Yudkowsky.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, Dejiah Thoris tries to appeal to John Carter, and fails.

As her gaze rested on me her eyes opened wide in astonishment, and she made a little sign with her free hand; a sign which I did not, of course, understand. Just a moment we gazed upon each other, and then the look of hope and renewed courage which had glorified her face as she discovered me, faded into one of utter dejection, mingled with loathing and contempt. I realized I had not answered her signal, and ignorant as I was of Martian customs, I intuitively felt that she had made an appeal for succor and protection which my unfortunate ignorance had prevented me from answering.

    • In At the Earth's Core, David Innes fights for Dian. He does not realize that after it, he could take her hand to claim her as his wife, take her hand and let go to free her, or do nothing to make her his slave. He does nothing. She is not pleased.
  • In Chris Roberson's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Ravens novel Dawn of War II, when the Blood Ravens are looking for aspirants among refugees, one speaks to the old woman who is in charge of one group, to try to get a boy from her. She contemptuously refuses to speak to him because he hasn't show her his face. He considers and unhelms rather than use force. That granted, she only asks whether the boy will have a chance to survive if they take him, and being told so, tells him to take him.
  • This is a huge, huge aspect of The Wheel of Time world. Although the world apparently shares one language (with many, many different accents and dialects), almost no other aspects of culture are universal, or even necessarily common among neighbors!
  • Both averted and subverted in a scene in Frank Herbert's Dune. A young Paul Atreides receives "watercounters" (a symbolic currency) as a result of a duel with a Fremen fighter shortly after being accepted into the Fremen tribe. Not understanding their meaning, or how to carry them properly to reduce their noise; he asks his assigned mentor Chani, a female of similar age, to hold them for him; not knowing that doing so was a Fremen courtship ritual. Averted in that the Fremen recognize his cultural difference and accept it as a neutral, purely practical request. Subverted in that it was actually a prophetic act by the increasingly-prescient Paul, who had already foreseen becoming mated to Chani as part of his destiny, although he didn't fully realize who she was at the time.
    • It's nothing compared to the earlier introduction of Stilgar to Duke Leto's staff. Stilgar spat on the table in front of the Duke—which, among water-obsessed Fremen, was regarded as a gift of one's bodily water, and thus an expression of the respect Leto had just inspired in him.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Thirteenth Child, when Brent tells Eff that the feathers are a symbol of how high they can fly without magic, Eff declares that you can't fly without magic. He laughs and says he sees he will find this very educational in more than one respect—he meant metaphorically.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Turk and Paige get into a furious argument when Turk discovers that she is partly descended from genetic modified Reds and Blues; Turk himself is a Red, traumatized by his upbringing in a society where Reds are property.
  • In Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series, much is made of the differences in culture that have evolved between Hold, Craft, and Weyr over the centuries since the original settlement of Pern. Holds are charged with the management of the land and contain the majority of the population, supplying food to the more specialized Crafts and Weyrs. By nature they are highly conservative and resistant to change. Crafts are the professional tradesmen, operating on an apprenticeship system and preserving the skills of the Pernese people. Weyrs are the dragons and their riders, charged with fighting off the periodic Thread incursions that would otherwise destroy most of the organic life on Pern. There's also a very significant culture clash in the main series between the modern dragonriders and the Oldtimers that Lessa brought from the past to battle Thread.
  • Honor Harrington uses this in several books and cultures. Grayson/Manticore Manticore/Andermanni, Manticore/Haven, and now finally Manticore/Solarian League.
  • A girl rescued by the Five-Man Band in Black Dogs is disliked by almost everyone because of her inability to follow the customs of the Funny Animals that make up most of the band. She shows her teeth when she smiles and laughs (a sign of aggression), pulls away from their touch (displaying disgust) and tries to intervene in a battle for dominance (suggesting that they are unfit for leadership). One of the more aggressive characters is goes into a near homicidal rage when she is around.
  • In The Secret Garden, Mary expects to be dressed by the servants since she had been in India "It was the custom." The English maid finds the notion silly.
  • In the second book in the Petaybee series, the ordinary Petaybeans take issue with the customs of the cult that raised 'Cita.
  • The women of the Dales and the invaders in Jane Yolen's Great Alta Saga. Garunian society is extraordinarily patriarchal, whereas that of the Dales is anything but.
  • In the Incarnations of Immortality series, the Sassy Black Woman version of Atropos laughs at Japanese culture a bit. Also, Mym, a Hindu, is a bit offended by Western culture and the fact that its version of the afterlife is the "correct" one.
  • Some of the most interesting parts of the Ring of Fire series are about how Germans see modern Americans.
  • Rudyard Kipling has a fondness for this trope. Several of his short stories are light comedies about this.
  • New Jedi Order is all about this on an epic, Anyone Can Die scale. To elaborate, the two sides of the conflict are the familiar galactic civilization from the movies and the Yuuzhan Vong, who each see the other's society as repulsively, irredeemably evil (the fact that the Vong are a religious extremist, totalitarian dictatorship obsessed with both feeling and inflicting pain is understandably off-putting, while to them the galaxy's rampant use of machines and especially droids is as horrifying as if they'd been using zombies, and a hideous slap in the face to their gods to boot). Of course, it's eventually revealed that the Vong's Complete Monster of a leader set the whole thing up as part of a (literally) insane plan to become a god. Nobody was happy about that.
    • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, this is one of the main sources of conflict between the Mandalorians and the Jedi. Besides being a Proud Warrior Race, Mandalorians are extreme Mama Bears and Papa Wolves who treat protecting family as sacred as their love of battle. They find the Jedi practice of taking Force-sensitive children away from their families for training and the Jedi philosophy of forming no attachments to be repulsive.
  • In John Barnes A Million Open Doors, when the hero, from a planet founded on the ideals of the medieval troubadors by way of the 18th century Romantic movement becomes an assistant to the envoy to a culture dominated by Rational Christianity, best described as the love-child of John Calvin and Ayn Rand.
  • From The Kingdoms of Evil: Everyone and everywhere.
  • The war between the Steampunk and Psychic Powers fueled Sharonans and the Magitek powered Arcanans in David Weber and Linda Evans Hell's Gate series stems from this. Also on Arcana itself the three main civilizations are a Proud Warrior Race, a caste system with magicians on top, warriors in the middle and everyone else as serfs and a mildly hedonistic republic.
  • In Jorge Luis Borges short story "Averroes' Search": This is why Averroes, an Islamic philosopher, had Pop Culture Isolation and never could understand the terms tragedy and comedy. Truth in Television too.
  • Elizabeth Bathory vs. all Slovakians in Count and Countess.
  • The Clans and the Tribe in the Warrior Cats series are rather similar, but there's enough difference in them that they can clash at times - especially when the Clan cats insist that the Tribe try to live like them in order to drive off intruders.
  • In Michael Scott Rohan's The Singer and the Sea, Mastersmith Olvar, from a land where every smith is also part mage, searched far across the ocean to find a group of refugees fleeing an evil Power. When he reached them, their leader, young Telqua, made a few wisecracks about how bulky he was (most of it muscle) compared to her (practically starving) people, and how he wasn't very skilled at moving stealthily. And then she took to pinching his arm every now and then, and seemed puzzled, even hurt, when he glared at her for it. Eventually, he figured out that pinch was meant as a caress....


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • This happens quite a lot in the Star Trek franchise.
    • Happened to the crew in Star Trek: Enterprise quite a few times. A milder example would be T'Pol suggesting to Captain Archer and Tucker that the crew's recently lowered efficiency might be due to lack of sex. A more severe case was the aliens who were shocked and offended by the Enterprise crew eating in their presence.
    • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye", the first Holodeck Malfunction episode. The simulated 1930's people mistake Captain Picard's Starfleet uniform for a bellhop's uniform and laugh at him.
      • Data's uniform was mistaken for pajamas when he went back in time to the Wild West.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has a Cardassian woman who misinterprets Happily Married Miles O'Brien's brush-offs as flirting.
  • On Babylon 5 a cultural misunderstanding was the cause of the Human/Minbari war - to the Minbari, opening the weapons hatches on your ship is a polite greeting; to Earthlings, it's a declaration of war.
    • It's a little more complicated than that. Sheridan warns his superior officer that sending a captain with a bad record of First Contact situations to meet an advanced, mysterious race is a bad idea. He is ignored. When the Minbari fleet approaches the Earth Force fleet, their powerful scanners jam half the systems on the human ships and are misconstrued as a weapon. The opened gunports are simply the last straw to the aforementioned Captain Jankowski, as, with their sensors jammed, they are unable to tell if the weapons are armed (i.e. they would detect an "energy spike"). Minbari leader Dukhat realizes opening gunports in front of a new race is a mistake but doesn't have time to order them closed.
  • In Season 9 of Smallville, Clark Kent now wears a black version of his future costume, as a homage to traditional Kryptonian garb, but Green Arrow says it looks ridiculous. Pretty funny coming from a guy who wears tights.
    • To be fair, that black outfit that Clark was wearing was quite unpopular with much of the fanbase, and the showrunners were taking pains to make it clear that it was only temporary.
  • In one episode of Stargate SG-1, Jack tries to teach Teal'c boxing, but Teal'c dismisses the footwork as "dancing". Of course, in a show with aliens, pretty much every episode has culture clash.
    • Strange, as any martial artist knows that footwork is at least as important as everything else. Someone like Teal'c should definitely know that. On the other hand, he probably never tried to "float like a butterfly."
  • In the last episode of MASH, Klinger proposes to his Korean girlfriend by saying he'd like her to wear one of his wedding dresses. She is initially shocked that he wants her to wear a funeral dress.
  • One story from Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction? featured a man finding himself in the Wild West. He is accused of walking around in his underpants, even though he is wearing sensible sneakers, hiking shorts, and a t-shirt.
  • Behind almost every plot and joke in Outsourced (TV series), which is based on the premise of an American manager heading up a call centre in India.


Theater[edit | hide]

A spanish officer (uncovering): Who are these men who rush on death?


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, among the Echani repeated duels constitute a courtship and possibly foreplay if the proper rituals are observed. Of course, your female Echani party member doesn't tell you that.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Harkovast features numerous clashes and misunderstandings between the different cultures, particularly in this [dead link] chapter.
  • In Templar, Arizona. Mose is betrothed to an 11-year old girl whom he only knows from letters and photographs. His friend-with-benefits Tuesday is utterly apalled by this.
  • In Endstone, deer don't kiss.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Greek Ninja, everyone suffers a bit of a culture shock upon arriving to Japan. Specifically, Dawson almost walks into a house without taking his shoes off.
  • In several v-logs and behind the scene looks, Benzaie is puzzled by many American customs.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the BattleTech animated series, the Clans believed that if you were captured, you had to serve your captors. The Inner Sphere believed that if captured, your first duty was to escape. This was the cause of much culture clash—the Inner Sphere suspected their captive of attempting sabotage... and upon finally being honorably freed by her clan, the prisoner was disgusted by the Inner Sphere's lack of honor, more convinced than ever that they were Exclusively Evil barbarians who had to be forcibly "civilized" by the Clans. This is actually an aspect of the Tabletop Game lore which they decided to highlight.
  • In Samurai Jack, The Scotsman and his family repeatedly mock Jack's outfit, saying he is wearing a basket on his head and a dress, and mock his katana for being small compared to their claymores. When Jack tries to greet them by bowing, they ask him why he bent over and stared at the ground. On the flip side, Jack cannot stand bagpipe music and most Scottish cuisine.
    • Which was quite out of the norm for the character. Having trained under many masters and nations around the world in his youth, Jack was shown to be quite open to the lifestyle's and customs of the peoples he encountered. Perhaps the music and food was just that bad?
      • Cartoons tend to pitch the idea that most people not from Scotland hate bagpipe music. And Shaggy and fellow Big Eater Scooby Doo refused to eat haggis after learning what it's made of.
    • Or since Jack is from the past and is now in the future, customs may have possibly changed.
    • Alternatively, perhaps Scotland was one of the few places he didn't go to, considering it's hard to go further from Japan than there.
  • In Batman: The Brave And The Bold, both Jonah Hex and Batman's old sensei mock Batman's costume.
  • The House of Mouse episode "Mickey and the Culture Clash", where Mickey reads a letter in the newspaper saying Minnie wants a more 'sophisticated' boyfriend. He tries to be more fancy, but then finds out it's all a trick by Mortimer so he can steal Minnie away from Mickey.
  • Pretty much the premise behind Mike Lu and Og: Her urban city ways against their strange island customs.
    • The titular trio are even the headline image.