I can remember it like it was yesterday. The first time I went to an airport to actually fly outside of the country. Even before airport security stepped up to 11 after 9-11 it was still a nerve racking experience. Getting up at 5 in the morning and driving on an empty highway. Then you see the sign for the airport and it becomes rush hour instantly. Wheeling your bags through what seems like an eternity of brightly lit hallways until you see it. The longest line of rushed individuals who all had one thing in common and didn’t even know it. We were all going to a place where we would inevitably stand out by a feature we had never even thought of. We would stand out every time we talked and every time we smiled. What brought us together as Americans and what was about to set us apart from our destination was our teeth.
One of the most perplexing cultural nuances that always stands out is dental hygiene. My first trip abroad was a truly enlightening experience. I should say an en-whitening experience and no, I don’t mean that in any racial context. I am talking about teeth! Really you don’t have to go far to tell. Any country will do. I first noticed that almost no one ever had white, straight teeth outside the United States. Heck my first trip abroad was to Canada and I could spot any of my traveling companions out simply by finding the bright white smile in a crowd.
When I first noticed the difference I immediately wondered why no one was taking care of their teeth. Then it got me wondering if I was paying too much attention to my own teeth. I was raised to brush twice a day at least. I would say that is the cultural standard where I am from. The thought of cavities and the pain they bring not only physically, but financially is the general motivation to brush and scrub the pearly whites.
To be honest, I am not sure that it really matters rather your teeth are white and perfect looking or crooked and darker than a cave stalactite. I will say this though, if you want to stand out in a crowd in a different country, just do a whitening treatment. Not a single soul will think your local. I figured I would pass my mental dental musings on to give some awareness of the biggest cultural difference you might not ever notice.