60 People Reveal The Biggest Culture Shock They’ve Ever Encountered


Traveling to another country is often very exciting and fun; however, it can often be followed by culture shock. There are so many different people and traditions in the world that it's not surprising they often catch us off guard. Some countries are more introverted and people there keep to themselves, while in other cultures it's often normal to say 'hello' and smile at strangers.

With this in mind, some online users asked others to share the weirdest and most shocking differences they noticed in cultures, and many chimed in to share. We have gathered answers from many threads, and here are some of the best ones. If you have anything to share, make sure to do so in the comments down below.


As a Swede, people here are in general pretty good at not interacting with strangers, looking out for themselves etc.

I was in Thailand during the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami, and in the aftermath, holy f**k -- so many Thai people were always helping me and my family, making sure we were well fed, had dry and not too dirty clothes to wear, helped us locate each other as we had gotten separated.

I will NEVER forget how amazed I was. It was neither my first nor my last trip there, but the fact that they were so kind and thoughtful and selfless even during a time of crisis, it showed the world to me and it has given me a permanent faith in humanity.

Image credits: Ahlvin

We spoke to Dr. Gleb Tsipursky about culture shock and he had lots of great facts to share: "Culture shock is a phenomenon that individuals often experience when they are suddenly immersed in a culture that is different from their own. It's a natural response to the unfamiliar, a reaction to being out of our comfort zone. It's akin to being a fish out of water, where everything you've known and understood about social interactions, behaviors, and norms is suddenly turned on its head."


In Japan, the level of trust is incredible.

I went to a convenience store with no staff. You simply pick your items, drop your cash into a box, and get your change. There is an open box of money in the middle of the store.

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I'm Black British, but I never felt my race mattered until I went to America.

Image credits: SFSylvester

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky continued on why people experience culture shock in the first place: "People experience culture shock because our brains are wired to seek familiarity and comfort. When we are thrust into a new environment where the language, customs, social norms, and even the food are different, it can be disorienting and stressful. This sudden change can cause anxiety, confusion, and even feelings of isolation."


I grew up in Japan and moved to the U.S. when I was 9.

Before we moved, I'd only learned about the U.S. from what was on TV so I imagined it was this awesome suburban utopia where everyone was nice and all the houses had huge lawns and school was super clean and awesome. I had so much to look forward to and you could imagine how excited I was to move to the greatest country in the world.

But we moved to Alabama

Image credits: Pi-Guy


When a large Maori man asked to touch noses with me in greeting. The dude looked pissed until I manned up and was the first to touch noses. Then he had one of the best smiles I've ever seen on a mountain of a man. It lit up the entire cultural center.

Image credits: TheNaud

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky also shared some tips and tricks: "For those experiencing culture shock, I would recommend the following: First, do your research. Understand as much as you can about the new culture before you immerse yourself in it. Second, keep an open mind. Different doesn't mean wrong, and there's often much to learn from other ways of life. Third, find a support network. This could be people who are going through the same experience or locals who are willing to help you navigate the new environment. Lastly, take care of your mental health. It's okay to feel overwhelmed, and it's important to acknowledge these feelings and seek help if needed."


Mine was also in Japan.

I was walking down a main street in Kyoto on a sunny summer day. Up ahead I see a police car and a policeman and a long folding table on the sidewalk. As I approached, I saw the policeman was flagging down certain drivers with his gloved hand. The drivers pulled over, quietly got out of their cars and calmly took a folding chair at the table.

The police officer produced paper work for the drivers to sign. They each read the paper and signed it and bowed respectfully to the cop. Then they got in their cars and drove away. I watched for a while longer and realized these drivers were being pulled over for traffic infractions. There were cops blocks ahead checking speed, then radioing the cop at the table with descriptions and instructions.

I could not belive it. I kept think about how this might work in America. Every single driver would be screaming in protest. "This is b******t! I wasn't speeding! I'm not gonna sign this! This is B******T!" Blah blah blah.

But the Japanese? They knew they screwed up and meekly and respectfully took their punishment (a small fine). That, my friends, was culture shock. It was even weirder than all the weirdness I saw in Tokyo. And there was a lot of weirdness in Tokyo.

Image credits: CitizenTed


in america, strangers smile at you when you make eye contact. back in my country, you'd get beaten up.

Image credits: thehonestone

"Culture shock can be both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, it can be stressful and challenging. On the other hand, it can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth. It forces us to question our assumptions, adapt to new environments, and develop a deeper understanding of the world. So while it can be uncomfortable, it's often an invaluable part of the journey of exploring new cultures," continued Dr. Gleb Tsipursky.


In India, they do this head-bob that's part nod, part head shake. After 3 months of living there I still had trouble deciphering it. Sometimes it means yes, sometimes it means no, and sometimes it means "I don't have enough information to give you a reasonable answer at this time."

The Indian head-bob is the magic 8-ball of nonverbal communication.


Originally from India, went to Finland on student exchange. First night there, I'm at a party and everyone is going to a sauna. I'm prepared with my bathing suit and all, and then bam - find myself in a mixed gendered sauna, with all the people I've been hanging out with all evening, butt naked.

Then after 30 minutes of sweating, they all went rolling naked in the snow. Took me a while to deal with it, and finally get my swimsuit off.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky also shared a bit about his personal experience of culture shock: "As a globally recognized expert in behavioral science, I've had the opportunity to travel and work in various cultural contexts. One of my most vivid experiences of culture shock was when I first visited Hungary for a research project. The social norms were different - the directness of communication, the importance of tradition, and the strong sense of national pride were all new to me. At first, it was disorienting and even a bit overwhelming. However, as I spent more time there, I began to understand and appreciate these differences. I learned to communicate effectively, to respect and appreciate the traditions. It was a challenging but ultimately enriching experience that underscored for me the importance of adaptability and open-mindedness when encountering new cultures."


I spent most of my life in big cities. I moved to a small town in rural Ohio for 3 years for a job. (just outside Amish country)

Billboards EVERYWHERE saying that I am going to hell or the true worship day is Saturday and Satan changed it to Sunday.

Image credits: JoyfulStingray


When I joined the military. During basic training I learned a lot of things from my own country that didn't cross my mind. For instance, being from a good area from the northeast, I didn't think racism waa as present as it really is in some parts of the country. It really threw me through a loop.

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Moving to Bulgaria from England. In Bulgaria shaking your head means "yes" and nodding means "no". You don't even realise how hard it is to reverse a lifelong habit until you try, it's really disconcerting. (Also, if you screw up you look crazy, imagine asking someone if they want a bag for that and having them nod at you while saying "no".)

Edit: I hate repeating words.

Image credits: Destructopuppy


In Chinese tradition, it is rude to slurp your soup
In Japanese tradition, it is polite to slurp your soup
Im Chinese that came across Japanese friend slurping soup, soo things got pretty strange until I asked him about it and he explained

Image credits: Zephabee


Born in Korea, moved to US when I was 6. Realized pizza and hamburgers and hotdogs aren't the only things Americans eat.

Image credits: hanatwothree


Went on vacation to an East Africa with my wife, who is East African. I was out an about in town and dudes were glaring pretty bad at us. It was usually me, my wife, and her female cousin in the car.

When we went to the market guys were yelling into the car rude stuff and my cousin actually looked shocked and sad "It was **untranslatable!.** My wife basically told me that the people thought I was on a sex vacation.

We also went to drop off some beans and rice to their grandmother and when it came time I lifted the 50 kilo bag (about 110 pounds) and through it on my shoulder everyone burst out laughing because Mzungo (white men) don't work around those parts and because, given the stature of the people (most of the men are like 5'6 and I am 6'1) it was quite the act of strength.

And there was the one time a poor drunk woman kneeled before me babeling and grabbed my hand and rubbed in against her face. When I asked what is going on my wife said she may have never seen a white person (we were well away from tourist locations) in person and was trying to touch my white skin.

Image credits: TheScamr


Coming back to the UK after 8 years. So many high functioning alcoholics. I thought that was just a high school and uni thing. Nope.

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I am from south-central Texas. Until I was 24, I had never left the state.

Anyway, I get to Las Vegas (of all places) and *Oh my f*****g god, my entire family is disgustingly obese. We should be embarrassed.* Seriously, I am not sure if some sort of convention was going on, but holy cow, everyone was *tiny* compared to us.

Anyway, I got home, felt like s**t and lost 40-ish pounds.

**EDIT:** Whoa. My highest rated comment ever and it's, of all things, about how I used to be a whale.

Image credits: ThisCityWantsMeDead


When I first moved to Ohio, I was in a convenience store buying a drink and I asked to buy some stamps.

The lady behind the counter said "Please."

I responded, "... may I buy some stamps, please?"

She looked really confused and sold me the stamps. Apparently in this town when someone does not hear you they say "please" and you are suppose to repeat yourself. I thought you just had to be super nice to people at all times.

Edit: Because people are asking, this is in Cincinnati. I hear it all the time.

Edit 2: Because people are asking, the reason she was confused is because the first time I mumbled, "Can I have some stamps" and the second time I mumbled "Can I have some stamps, **please**" with a massive emphasis on the please. She was confused at why I was being so forcefully nice all of a sudden.

Image credits: Dicktremain


I'm a homeschooled Christian. I went to a water park.

To the people asking how I even Reddit: I really only go on askreddit.

Image credits: anon


In University, in London, I went to the communal kitchen in just a pair of shorts. When I entered a female Muslim floor-mate started screaming like crazy and ran out. I felt awful.

Until she came back a minute later with her headscarf and started *profusely* apologizing for not wearing it in the first place. I'm standing there mostly naked as she apologized for being rude for thinking she could just hop across the hall and make some food in a few minutes without her headscarf on, and how she should have known better.

Once, she let me in her room, just the two of us, though the door stayed open. We talked about our culture and the differences (we'd bonded a bit over the headscarf thing). That was super, super racy for her and I appreciated what it meant for her (very friendly, very open, very progressive).

Image credits: gasplikeaperson


Grew up in a small town in the Midwest. My highschool had zero dropouts, pregnancies, arrests, etc. I never even saw drugs.

Then I get hired as a cop in a ghetto area of a big city in Florida. Blew my mind.

Moved back home 8 years later. Best decision ever.


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I stepped off of an airplane in Japan and was suddenly, utterly, illiterate.

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As a British person I once went to France and when I ordered tea they gave me some sort of Lipton monstrosity with lemon instead of milk!

Of course, I was straight back on the nearest ferry home.


While in New Delhi, my boyfriend (Finnish) and I (American) were invited to a New Year's Eve party at a hotel, by the manager of the hotel. It was great - a dozen people, drinks, music, fun. After midnight, people start dancing. A young man comes over and asks my boyfriend to dance. He laughs and declines, saying that he's sure I'd love to dance. So I get up and go to the dance floor with him, and proceed to dance about 2 feet away from him. Not touching, just dancing in front of him pretty much. Everything seems fine.

But it's not. For the rest of the night, people are apologizing to my boyfriend for how he's been insulted. It's so horrific that his woman was treated like that-claimed like meat. People mostly avoided me for the rest of the evening, with the exception of the hotel manager who apologized profusely and actually gave me a Rajasthani puppet that he'd used in a performance earlier in the night - as a token of how sorry he was about my humiliation. We left quickly after that.

The next day, the owner of the hotel sees us on the street. He comes up to us and tells us he heard about the way we were insulted and disrespected at his hotel and how unacceptable it is. We try to explain that it was my fault for not understanding what the dancing meant, but he cut us off. He wanted us to know he'd FIRED the manager for allowing that to happen. We tried to get him to listen to our side but he was having none of it.

TL,DR: I got a man fired and ruined his life because I danced at a party.

Image credits: zombieattackfox


When I was a kid we didn't have a lot of money, but my parents worked hard to give me the best life they could.

I remember one weekend, when I was about 7, my dad had gotten an odd job to help this guy with some landscaping and to clear out some old furniture. My mom was working and we couldn't find anyone to watch me, so he brought me along, because the guy had a two kids I could play with.

When we got there I couldn't believe how big the house and property were. We had recently moved out of a basement apartment and into a house, which I thought was huge, but their house was at least twice the size and they had a giant lawn, a swimming pool, and a tennis court.

I had never seen anything like it, aside from TV shows and movies, so it felt a bit surreal. The family was really nice though and I had fun playing with his kids. I remember as I was leaving he gave me a baseball, which I still have to this day.


My family went to Italy a few weeks ago (am American):

After having lunch, we asked our waiter where the bathrooms were. My mom and I had to go pretty bad. We rushed to the bathroom, only to be stopped because you had to PAY to get into the public bathroom! In a restaurant! Granted, not everywhere was like this for the rest of the trip, but this was the first day, so we didn't have too many small bill Euros on us and we were very surprised.

In America, it's a law that if you served consumable stuff, you have to have a public bathroom (no matter how gross it is). The bathroom was very nice, it was just weird to have to use a change machine while doing the peepee dance.

EDIT: Just to clarify, there was a turnstile blocking the stalls, as well as a change machine and bathroom attendant. A few people are speculating we got scammed, but we put the money into the machine, we didn't give it to any person, so I don't think it was a scam, just a semi-public restroom that we probably could have gotten out of paying if we had convinced someone we were restaurant patrons.


Coming back to the USA after being deployed for a year. When the plane hit the tarmac and I was able to walk outside I nearly dropped to the ground and kissed the grass.

Never realized how good we have it in the US.

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Went from the US to Brazil.
Was incredibly surprised how easy it was to get laid there.
Everyone is so much more open with their sexuality, and it's not strange if they tell you that they think your attractive.

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When I went to Germany it was weird that girls were like getting away from me when we greeted. In Latin America, you greet girls with a kiss on the cheek. It's weird, cause I never really considered it a cultural thing until one told me. Before that I started to think, "Jesus, am I THIS ugly over here??"

Image credits: KnownSoldier04


I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life in a small town in Texas. The population was around 2000 people and my high school graduating class was 67 people. (And that included 3 towns bussed into my school).

The day I graduated, I joined the Marine Corps and my first duty station (after boot camp) was Camp Pendleton, CA.

The first weekend I was there, a group of us went to LA. I have never been in a town bigger than Lubbock, TX until that point.

Big culture shock.


I was black man at a Dane Cook show.


I was teaching a class in South Carolina (I live in Minnesota) and sat down to eat lunch with all the guys I was teaching. Took a bite of my sandwich and noticed no one else was eating yet. I paused for a minute and one of them piped in that they were ready to say grace. I had never experienced group prayer before lunch, especially in the workplace. Definitely a shock for me.

Image credits: JillLars


My father and I went to japan on a business trip, and we went to some fancy restaurant. Our waiter was extremely polite and very attentive so my dad left a generous tip for him. After the waiter saw the tip he threw a fit, and I mean he really did he started screaming randomly at what appeared to be the manager, and other workers. Apparently he took it as a sign of disrespect because he thinks we thought he was extremely poor, and left him the tip to help him out with his "troubles" needless to say never tipped in Japan again..

Image credits: anon


I've traveled to 50+ countries on six continents, and for me it's never so much that you get culture shock going into things so much as getting out of it. It's the moment where after 4 months in the 3rd world you suddenly fly to Europe and realize you can drink the tap water and gorge on fresh produce without worrying about how it was prepared that always gets to me.

For me though the craziest was flying from Zimbabwe to Johannesburg in 2009 at the height of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe (where I'd terminated several weeks of wandering around southern Africa). At the time you had to take in all your currency to Zimbabwe that you wanted to spend because there was literally no money in the ATMs or at the banks if you wanted to buy something, and many times you just relied on the barter system altogether. The issue was though that even if you *had* the money there at the time more often than not you just couldn't buy what you needed as it literally did not exist- for example we traded an old pair of tennis shoes for what was ~US$150 in souvenirs, and the guy we traded them for was *so* excited because his wife hadn't gotten new shoes in years as the shops literally hadn't had any for a year or two. Hell I couldn't even do my simple souvenir I buy everywhere I go- a postcard- because they just hadn't printed them in years as there was no paper to print them on.

So with that, I fly to Johannesburg (phone calls to Jo'burg to verify the seat as of course there's no computer running, and a mechanical scale) and damn, those few hours waiting in the transit lounge absolutely floored me like nothing else has in many ways. They had ice cream! And sushi! And the Economist! Hell, it was *this week's* Economist instead of a s****y gossip rag from two months ago someone was selling for ten bucks!

TL;DR: I find it's easy to get used to the unusual, but coming back to the normal and realizing what you've adjusted to is what always shocks me.

Image credits: Andromeda321


Nobody makes eye contact or smiles at you in public in England without a legitimate reason. I am so used to smiling at every stranger I see in America.


I'm Mexican, fiance is American(white) her family cooks tortillas in microwave instead of heating them on stove top. Por que!?


I went to Colorado for a week this past winter. I'm from Miami and the daughter of Cuban/Nicaraguan parents. Seeing that many white people in one place was something I had never seen before.


Moving from war-torn Chechnya to Brooklyn, NY.

I never really understood that life was more than death, that it actually had a purpose.

I never understood that people live their whole entire lives in relative peace and prosperity, simply going to their day jobs all day and partying and drinking all night, without a care in the world.

I lived in Grozny as it burned to the ground in the 1990s, my mother was killed and my sister was horrifically injured, and I spent my time as a homeless 10 year old attempting to survive and somehow get food.


American university campus culture.

Compared to Canada, people are simply WAY more excited about absolutely every little minute aspect of their school - especially sports teams, fraternities and sororities. Back home, people simply did not give a s**t about any of those to nearly the same degree - you go to class, hang out with friends, maybe catch a game if you're bored and there's nothing better to do, but it's really not a big deal. Being a varsity athlete in the USA made you like a god, being a varsity athlete in Canada makes you annoying if you bring it up too often in conversation.

It was like hanging around some church that you're not a member of. Everyone would dress the same, do the same things, chant things and get extremely worked up about stuff that means absolutely nothing to you. Also, the classes were way easier, which I suppose gives a lot more free time for those other activities. I can't even count the amount of times I spent exchanging awkward glances with the other international students expressing feelings of "are these people serious?".

Edit: Also, Legacy admissions are a thing in the states. Seriously, what in the name of f**k? How can anyone justify putting up with that b******t going on in schools?


Moving from east coast North Carolina to rural Kentucky.

You're not popular if you don't wear camo or drive a truck.
Most people look forward to "taking over the farm" when they grow up
Everyone is f*****g related


From California, visited the south..... Racism, so much racism. Also really great barbecue,


I was pretty sure I was the fattest person in Singapore when I went to visit. The women are so tiny. That was interesting. Then, I saw all of the other western tourists at the hotel and I didn't feel so bad. It is amazing the difference in size. I also experienced a distinct lack of personal space. Crammed into places with all sorts of people rubbing up against me. It took some getting used to.


Studied abroad in Australia, cheapest 30 rack of beer I could find was $35 for the Aldi store brand, and cheapest cigarettes were at least $20 a pack. Lots of boxed wine and not smoking while drunk on that trip.


I'm from Canada, and I visited Germany recently. There wasn't much that really shocked me, except all the nightclubs there are like 4-5 rooms. I'm talking completely separate, without different music and drinks and everything. You would take 3 steps past the entrance, and not be able to hear the music from the previous room anymore, which was an engineering marvel to me. Also, it seemed like button up shirts were somewhat out of style in the parts of Germany I was. The majority of people wore much more relaxed clothing.

Oh, also credit cards are rarely accepted in Germany. I can go weeks without cash in Canada, but I wouldn't have survived even a day without cash in Germany.


German men don't chat while they eat.

Image credits: SpaniardCooks


Met a Navajo shepherd while hiking in Utah, he didn't speak English. It had never occurred to me that not all Native Americans know English


I spent a month in Kazakhstan. I was ok until I had to use a turkish toilet. Also the way people shove to get on trains. I was great the entire time but those two times overwhelmed me.


Saudi Arabia.

I went when I was a child and we lived there for a while. I actually spoke a bit of it when I was younger. Can't remember a word now (it was 20 years ago).

Women had to be covered head to toe. Hair must never be seen. A woman couldn't drive. A woman couldn't be seen without a man who is related to her. Prayers went off at odd hours of the day.

My mother ruled the house at home and was our driver for the most part. It was strange.

Another story: there was a woman who worked with my dad who was single. According to my parents, Saudi stamped "prostitute" on her passport because of it.

Image credits: anon


Three words: "bless her heart". I'm from the midwest, and this blew my mind because people back home, while tactful (if they have manners), are usually pretty straightforward. For the most part, there isn't much beating around the bush and cattiness is reserved for high school girls, so the southern belle culture took some getting used to. It was also a challenge to learn how to disassociate thick drawls with intelligence.


"Can I take this beer outside?" "Dude, you're in Germany, of course you can." American me was not prepared for that.


I once went to Thailand for a biochemistry conference and I went into my reserved hotel to witness couples (gay and straight) f*****g in the hallways. I asked room service about it and he said "oh that? tha's normal!"

EDIT: to anyone wondering it was the 13th FAOBMB International Congress of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in
Bangkok, Thailand, on November 25-29, 2012


Cheek kissing in France. I almost headbutted someone trying to do it.


I'm from the Western United States and I liked to go on weekend drives to get away from civilization. Now in Europe, it is literally impossible, there are people, towns and history everywhere.

I also miss 24 hour grocery stores, nobody works when I get off work.


India, my parents are Indian but I had never gone until last year. The traffic laws are non existant, you have bikers, pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaws food carts and cows on roads with no lanes. Yet no one is ever phased by it.


Going to the US was quite a big shock for me. I had lived all my life in France and had only visited some other places throughout Europe, but living in the US was very strange.

I didn't manage to overcome the cultural barrier and my conversations with locals felt quite artificial and shallow.

Edit: To answer you guys, I didn't mean shallow like we could not talk about super interesting political stuff like the war in Palestine. I meant I had trouble grasping who these people were inside, I didn't feel like they shared enough information or I didn't feel like they opened their true selves. They were just trying to be friendly.


Backpacking through Europe with 2 other Brazilian friends in 2010. We were in Berlin and met three really nice girls in our hostel, two Czechs and one American. We chatted up a little during breakfast and, after discussing both our plans we agreed that we'd go on about our days and meet at 8:00pm at this square near the hostel to go out and have drinks or something.

Me and my friends arrive back at the hostel after a day of intense walking, lay down for a bit, take a shower, etc. We left the hostel at 8:00 and arrived at the meeting place at 8:20pm. The girls weren't there. We waited until 9ish and decided to go without them, bummed that they had stood us up.

On the other day, we meet them again at the hostel and it was really awkward, because they were pissed at us and vice-versa. One of the czech girls finally says that they arrived at the square at 7:40 and waited for almost half an hour before leaving. That was when it hit me: we South Americans have a completely different notion of time. For us, arriving 20 minutes after the established time was perfectly ok, but they thought it was rude and left thinking we weren't coming.

Oh, well, after it was settled we had a good laugh and actually went out with them that night. Pretty cool girls.


I went to Indonesia once and they are so liberal about their smoking laws. Heck, I don't even think a law exists. You'll find children and teenagers who smoke and adults inside the mall or a restaurant.


UAE: Abu Dhabi and Dubai

* Dudes hold hands, just being buds holding hands in the mall.

* Falcons are a huge thing, you can take your falcon on the plane if you buy him a ticket and he has his falcon passport. (Not a joke, they actually have falcon passports)

* There are certain people there that if you make eye contact with you can be sent to jail immediately.

* No addresses, "yes can I get a pepperoni pizza" I'm the second building to the left of the huge falcon statue.

* The Burj Khalifa looks like the tower of Mordor.


Moving to Alaska a year and a half ago. I'd met a few Texans, but the love, affinity, and pride Alaskans have about being Alaskan is quite the culture shock. Especially since I'm from Georgia.


The drinking age difference between the US and the rest of the world is really mind-boggling sometimes.

I'm American, and I spent a semester abroad in Austria, where the drinking age is 16 for beer and 18 for hard liquor. One of the weirdest experiences was being in a bar and seeing a bunch of 16-17 year olds sharing a bucket of sangria and smoking.

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