Shopping habits around the world that will shock expats

  • couple at mall
Published on 2024-04-05 at 10:00 by Natallia Slimani
The video of an American being amazed by shopping malls in Australia recently took TikTok by storm. In it, the young woman is amazed that malls in Australia have delis, grocery stores, and even a pharmacy. The comment section featured a lot of surprised Australians who couldn't believe that malls in the United States were different.

And this got us thinking: What other surprises may shopping malls across the world have for an unsuspecting expat? So, we did some research. Here are some shopping habits from across the world that you may find interesting.

Bargaining in Asia, Africa, and Latin America

If you come from a country where the price you see on the label is the price you pay, you may be in for quite a few surprises when shopping in some Asian, African and Latin countries. It's common practice for boutique stores, as well as street markets, to set or quote prices that are intentionally higher than what they hope to sell their goods for. The expectation is that you (the customer) will initiate a bargaining dialogue that will bring the price down. Buying something at the initially quoted price would be rather unusual here. Moreover, bargaining is not seen as something unwanted – it is a perfectly socially and commercially acceptable norm.

As one expat describes their shopping experience in Bali, Indonesia: “I had my eye on a wooden mask at one of the street markets. The shop owner told me it was $15, which seemed reasonable to me. So I went for my wallet — but my friend stopped me, chatted for a minute with the shop owner, and we walked away with the same mask for $5. I was shocked.”

Siesta breaks in Spain and Italy

Spain and Italy are both known for some of the best Christmas sales in Europe. But there is one thing you will need to keep in mind for an efficient shopping spree: many stores in these countries close their doors in the middle of the day for a siesta. Siestas can start and stop anytime from 2 pm to 5 pm. During this time, the store in question may be either completely closed or operate at limited capacity as most workers will be taking a break. It may be best to schedule your shopping outings outside of these hours — mornings would be the safest time. "For me, this was one of the biggest surprises after relocation from Shenzhen, China to Alicante, Spain. I was used to 27/7 convenience stores and around-the-clock shopping centers, but Spain was different. It actually made sense to check the store's working hours before heading out. Shopping is best planned for mornings and afternoons", says Natallia, who currently lives in Turkey.

Late-night shopping in the Middle East

If shopping in Spain and Italy will have you working around siesta time, shopping in the Middle East may have you after bedtime. Many countries in the Middle East get really high temperatures during the day, especially in summer, which makes shopping not during the daytime not only uncomfortable but also dangerous. Because of this, businesses tend to adapt by opening later in the day and staying open well into the night when it's cooler.

Additionally, during the month of Ramadan, the layout of the day changes for most people. As Muslims fast from dawn until sunset, many activities, including shopping, shift to the night hours. So, during Ramadan, a lot of stores and even malls and supermarkets stay open till late — and you may see people heading out on a shopping spree way into the AM hours.

Rafel spent one Ramadan in Algiers (Algeria), and late-night shopping remains one of his most vivid memories: “It's like the city came to life after midnight. My friends and I would just get in the car and drive, stopping by different stores and cafes; we'd be out till 2am with the rest of the city.”

Sales tax in the US (except for Oregon)

When shopping in the United States, there is one important thing to keep in mind. Unlike most countries where tax is included in the price tag, most US states add sales tax at the register, meaning the price you see is not the final price you will pay. The tricky part is that sales tax varies substantially from one state to another and can range from 0% to 10%. Naturally, this can lead to some awkward moments at the counter, as the final amount you will be asked to pay can be considerably higher than what you are prepared for.

Shopping malls doubling as community centres in the Philippines

In the Philippines, shopping malls are not just for shopping. These are typically large buildings featuring everything you might possibly ever need, including a medical clinic and a church. Malls here encourage visitors to not just stop by — rather, they want you to spend a whole day within their walls.

Shopping culture in China

Shopping in China is a unique experience, and it can be anything you want it to be. You can dive right into the perfectly organized mess of the local street markets that open in the morning. Or, you can indulge in a leisurely air-conditioner stroll in one of the ultra-modern shopping malls that China is famous for. But what may be of most surprise to you is the country's obsession with online shopping: over 4,000 parcels are generated every second in China. It is not uncommon for the average office worker in a big city to receive several online deliveries a day, with a lot of them delivered right to their place of work

Extra: The world's most interesting shopping malls

If you want to look into the sightseeing side of shopping, save these malls for a future visit.

The famous Dubai Mall is more than just a shopping space. Inside, you will find an indoor aquarium, an Olympic-sized ice skating rink, and over 1,200 retail stores. Dubai Mall is the epitome of luxury and entertainment and a city landmark in its own right.

If you are ever in Minnesota, make sure to stop by the Mall of America. This is the biggest mall in the United States and comes with an indoor amusement park, an aquarium, and even a mini-golf course. While here, you may also want to swing by The Grand Canal Shoppes in Las Vegas. This mall brings a slice of Venice to the desert and features canals and gondola rides amidst luxury retail outlets and restaurants.

The Berjaya Times Square in Malaysia is a massive complex that also brings together shopping and entertainment. It has an indoor theme park with full-size roller coasters.

In the heart of Bangkok, you will find Siam Paragon, a luxury shopping mall with high-end brands, a huge aquarium, and a multiplex cinema.

In Tokyo, Ginza Six is a shopping landmark that is not to be missed. It's a huge luxury shopping mall with high-fashion boutiques, upscale dining, a rooftop garden, and even the traditional Noh theater with daily performances

West Edmonton Mall in Canada is one of the largest malls in the world, and it includes an indoor waterpark, ice rink, and amusement park.

As one of the largest shopping malls in Africa, Morocco Mall will have you in a massive indoor 360-degree, 1 million-liter aquarium tunnel called Aquadream that is home to over 40 different types of fish.

Global Harbor in Shanghai looks more like a modernized palace than a shopping mall. And, yes, you can live there. Architecturally, the mall building is a take on neoclassical design reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Inside, it's a 270,000 m² shopping space that also includes a hotel and apartment towers.