We Asked Latino Expats What Their Biggest Cultural Shocks Were When They Moved To The U.S

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As an American who has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, I’m already familiar with culture shocks. So now, I wanted to delve deeper into what shocked expats, when they first arrived in the U.S. I asked several friends who are first and second generation expats from Latin America what surprised, confused or jumped out at them as they immersed themselves into American culture.

While everyone has their own individual character and personality, cultures are different and moving to a new country, you will quickly pick up on the major differences. We have asked people from Latin America what they find to be the most shocking, if you were to ask someone from another region in the world you might find the answers to be the complete opposite. 

Political Correctness

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Image Source: Ben Garrison

“I went to Victoria’s Secret and I heard a woman say that they didn’t make ‘full-size’ bras. I was so confused because for me, ‘full’ was the opposite of ‘empty,’ so did that make a woman who was a smaller size incomplete? I asked the sales assistant, and she told me that it was a way to avoid the word ‘fat.’ For latinos, without any problem, we refer to our defects, disabilities, or non-flattering descriptions. We call a spade a spade, but North Americans have so much more tact.” –Patricia, Chile

Lack Of Human Warmth

Americans (especially in NYC) are cold. Cold meaning extremely terse and direct. Though it takes longer to get to the root of things in Latin America, respect is highly valued. One would never cut off another person simply because the answer is not being provided immediately.”  

“Social interaction is common and promoted in Latin cultures. Everything from the structure of the seats in a public transportation vehicle to the proximity of people is different in any other country than in US. Here, it’s shunned upon to interact with strangers. Choose the seat furthest away from an individual even if they’re the only two in a car. In Latin America, it’s a more inclusive atmosphere. Even if you’re strangers, you welcome everyone and learn about them, include them in your own social circle of friends. Here, there’s pride in exclusivity. It’s us versus them.” –Byron, Guatemala

Cultural Diversity

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Image Source: Tucker Photography

“It was shocking to see so many people of different colors. Mexico itself is a very homogenous country where we’re all relatively ‘equal,’ or similar, so seeing so much diversity all of a sudden was foreign to me. Everyone wants to label everyone too, without much in between. You’re either latino, white, or black.” –Jimena, Mexico

Family versus Friends

“In the U.S. it seems like family is family and friends are friends, but they don’t mix. In Colombia and in Latin America, your family members are also your closest friends.” –Daniela, Colombia

Dinner Habits

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Image Source: The Onion

It surprised me how early people eat dinner here and how families don’t eat sitting together at a table every night. Instead, they eat in front of a TV or at different times or places throughout the house.” –Mariana, Argentina


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“When I started at a university in the U.S., I was so surprised by how tremendously independent all the students were. My classmates had bank loans in order to study, bought their own cars, and paid for their portion of the rent—something so different from what I was used to. We latinos never grow up because it’s more comfortable not to and because we’re raised to be eternal adolescents. That really made an impression on me.” –Patricia, Chile

Lack of Respect

Respect in Latin culture is of utmost value, whenever there’s an elder in the room you direct them with the proper ‘you’ and you speak in the language most comfortable for them despite of location. In the U.S. there’s little interaction, no ‘formal’ you, and if they don’t speak, English that’s the end of the conversation. –Byron, Guatemala

Huge Food Portions

“I couldn’t get over the huge portion sizes when I moved to the U.S. You go out to eat and the dinner itself is enough for two people. But then people want appetizers, drinks, even dessert. I couldn’t move after my first meal here.” –Sonia, Venezuela

Personal Space

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Image Source: Richard Yeh

People in the U.S. love and protect their personal space. Shortly after moving to the U.S., I got introduced to someone – an American girl at my high school. As it is customary in my culture, I shook hands with her and tried to give her a kiss on the cheek. She immediately pushed me away when she saw that I was getting too close to her and made feel like I had done something highly inappropriate.” –Wilson, Honduras

No Sharing

In Latin culture, as a collectivist culture, sharing is a highly regarded virtue and an assessment of character. It also speaks of parental influence i.e the family and how educated they are. In the U.S., sharing is seen as weakness. There’s more of a ‘quid pro quo’ and everything has a cost. –Byron, Guatemala

Now Watch The Cultural Shocks International Students Face In America:

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American culture shock for international students.


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XpatNation is a Social News and Lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences on ex-patriots living in The United States. XpatNation brings together the voices, thoughts, perceptions and experiences of the people of the world who have made the USA their home. Using their insight and unique understanding of the global world we live in to discuss culture, lifestyle, Geo politics and the day to day on-goings of this proud and powerful nation.

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