• Culture shocks are a huge topic of conversation on TikTok. 
  • Americans who’ve moved to Europe often share the most shocking things about their new environments. 
  • One thing has stumped them in particular — and it all has to do with laundry. 

Americans living abroad have racked up millions of views on social media sharing their experiences and thoughts about moving to a new country.

A particularly popular format is “culture shock” videos, where expats talk about the biggest things that surprised them about their new home country after moving from the US.

Americans living in Europe sometimes report relatively well-known differences as culture shocks, including siesta culture in Spain, where an afternoon nap is customary, and differences in tipping expectations.

But there’s at least one slightly more unexpected culture shock that many American expats can’t stop talking about — hang drying clothes instead of using electric dryers.

People seem shocked by the difference in laundry drying customs

While some Americans in Europe have pointed out that there are dryers available in the countries they’ve moved to, they say it’s more common in their experience for people to hang their laundry out to airdry.

Some Americans have also filmed themselves navigating a drying rack, which they said they weren’t used to using in the US.

“I never hang dried anything before, maybe like some swim trunks, but that’s about it. I’m very much used to dryers,” said one American creator living in Spain in a TikTok post from October 27 which has received over 1.2 million views.

Another TikToker who had moved from the US to Italy said he initially disliked not having a dryer, but went on to say that “it’s actually not too bad.”

“You save money on electric cost and it fits and feels like it would out of the dryer. So thanks, Italy, for humbling me and teaching me,” he added.

Meanwhile, it seems that some Europeans are pleasantly surprised by dryers in the US.

On December 13, an American TikToker appeared to shock her friend from Germany by revealing that there was a communal dryer in her apartment block. The friend said in the clip that in Germany people have to buy their own washers and dryers even if they’re renting an apartment, and added the communal dryer was “perfect” for people who can’t afford their own machines.

In a November post, a Latvian creator said that after being used to hanging clothes on a drying rack, he’s noticed that the process of doing laundry is considerably quicker in the US because he can use a dryer.

“It’s very convenient and it’s great,” he said.

There are a few theories as to why hang drying seems to be more popular in Europe

TikTokers’ assessment that dryers are way more common in the US seems accurate.

In 2021’s American Housing Survey, 84% of respondents said they had access to a dryer at home, echoing a 2018 research paper in the Applied Thermal Engineering journal that listed the proportion of US households with clothes dryers at over 80%. A 2023 article from the European Commission stated that the number of household dryers across the European Union was around 60 million, which amounts to around 30% of a total of 200 million households, according to 2022 EU data.

There are several reasons why there are fewer dryers in Europe than the US, according to Ruth Schwartz Cowan, a history and sociology of science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who authored “More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave” and “A Social History of American Technology.”

Among the reasons she mentioned over email correspondence with BI were that European kitchens and bathrooms are often smaller, so a washer can fit, but not a dryer. She also said that as the housing stock in Europe is typically much older, it’s sometimes difficult to vent a dryer to the outside.

Hang drying may also be a preferred choice in some countries because of cultural ideas about cleanliness and comfort, according to Kirstin Munro, an assistant professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York and author of “The Production of Everyday Life in Eco-Conscious Households.”

Munro said she previously conducted research interviews with a total of 41 eco-conscious households in the UK and US, and said UK interviewees told her that they felt a machine-dried towel doesn’t dry them properly or feels sticky, so they had a preference for line-dried towels. US households had a preference for machine-dried towels.

Munro said she found that, “With the US households, even the households who are trying to reduce their use of energy, the majority of the ones I spoke with still tumble dry their laundry.”

This discrepancy is down to historical norms, Munro said, which differ across geographical regions. At the end of the day, “What you’re used to becomes normal,” she said.

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