America is the land of the free, but whenever we travel to other countries, we should follow their customs. Even these seemingly harmlessly common things in America can be seen as acting rude in other countries.
You’ll find whenever you travel to other parts of the world that people often like to do things a little differently. Some of the things you’re used to doing on home soil can sometimes be considered unacceptable and rude in other places. Many of us want to see as much of the world as possible, but if we’re not aware of the local customs, then we might end up offending the locals.
There are things in the United States that most people wouldn’t even think twice about doing, but those actions can get you into trouble in other places. Even the most simple of things can be seen as an offensive gesture in some countries, and it’s best to do your homework before setting off around the globe.
We all try to avoid putting our feet in our mouths if we can prevent it, but sometimes we come from two completely different cultures. While these things might be acceptable in America, they are considered to be rude in other places.
Being a ‘lefty’
Using your left hand in life seems like a necessity rather than anything else, but in some places, it can cause offense. Not every country in the world uses toilet paper, and so instead of finding something else, they use their left hands.
In countries such as India, Sri Lanka, and parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is very offensive to use your left hand for most things. It is seen as a slap in the face if you accept gifts, eat, or do practically anything with your left hand, and it’s best doing everything with your right.
Eating where food isn’t served
In Japan and Rwanda, it is considered very rude if you eat anywhere that doesn’t serve food. There are places specifically designed for eating food in, like restaurants and hotels, so eating in public is frowned upon.
Even if you’ve packed yourself some sandwiches, you should avoid eating them in public while in Japan or Rwanda if you don’t want people throwing you some shade. While people find eating on the bus to be a necessity at times, in these countries it’s rude and a big no-no. You’ll have to wait until you’re behind closed doors before having that snack.
This is ‘America’
We know it’s called the ‘United States of America,’ but there are more places in America than the USA. If you travel to South America as a U.S. citizen, it is considered politically incorrect if you claim you are from ‘America.’
To the people in South America, it can seem as though you are saying that they don’t count as part of America. It implies that only people from the USA should be considered ‘American’ and everyone else has their own identity. If you’re American and travel to South America, then make sure to say you’re from the USA.
Keeping your shoes on
If your feet have been jammed into your shoes all day, then you probably think you’re doing everyone a favor by keeping them on. You don’t want to release your smelly socks onto your friends or hosts, but in some countries, this is considered to be very rude.
Many people from Asia and Caribbean cultures expect people to take their shoes off when they enter into someone’s home. That way you won’t be dragging any dirt from your shoes all over their home. Some places will already have some slippers for you to slip your feet into upon your arrival.
Americans are known as being friendly people who are not afraid to hug folks they’ve only just met. Hugging and touching people is pretty commonplace in the United States, but in other parts of the world, it is seen as offensive and overstepping people’s boundaries.
Countries such as Korea, China, Thailand, and others in the Middle East expect people to respect their personal space, and being over-friendly can be a big problem. If you aren’t sure of the touching rule, the best thing to do while traveling in another country is to wait and see if someone approaches you first.
Sitting in the back of a cab
In the United States, it would seem kind of strange to jump into the front seat alongside the cabbie, but in certain parts of the world, it’s considered rude if you don’t. Who do you think you are, the Queen?
In countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and some parts of Ireland and Scotland its seen as thinking you are better than the cabbie if you jump in the back. It might not go down so well in the United States, where the cabbie will either sigh and move their stuff, or just tell you to get in the back.
Blowing your nose
It can be hard not to blow your nose when you really need to, but in some countries, the act is not only considered rude, but repulsive. It’s not exactly a nice thing to have to do in public, but it’s better than your nose dripping all over your face, right?
In countries such as Turkey, France, Saidi Arabia, and China, it’s deemed bad form to blow your nose in public. You’ll just have to try and keep your bodily fluids confined to your nose if you’re visiting those countries. We recommend avoiding visiting these places during the winter months!
Changing your meal
You might be used to getting your food order the way you like it, but in certain places, this is not what’s done by the locals. When you go somewhere like Italy or Spain, the food is already of a very high quality, and it’s rude if you ask for something like ketchup.
Asking for extra hot sauce, soy sauce, or even salt is often frowned upon in these places. To avoid making this error first check to see whether there are any extra sauces on the nearby tables; if there isn’t then try tasting your meal before adding anything.
Letting people help themselves
If you are hosting a party or event, it’s common to just tell people to help themselves. In some countries, this is seen as lazy hosting, and people expect you to be a lot more involved in making sure they have a good time.
Many cultures in Asia do not approve of the hands-off approach to hosting that is very common in the United States. Instead, they want to see their hosts making a real effort to entertain their guests. Telling someone to make themselves at home isn’t something that is done, and can actually make people feel more uncomfortable.
Being fashionably late
It is not uncommon in America for people to arrive a little later than an agreed time. If a party starts at eight, you know that hardly anyone is actually going to get there for that time. It’s common to be fashionably late and meeting times are more of a general guide in America.
In other countries, leaving someone waiting is considered very rude, because it comes across as though you value your own time more than theirs. This attitude is particularly common in Germany, and it’s important to be punctual when arranging to meet someone in the European country.
Being on time
On the other hand, in some countries it’s not the done thing to arrive on time. Showing up on time in Latin American countries, particularly Argentina, it’s frowned upon if you arrive at a dinner party on time.
It’s expected that you will not arrive until later than this time, and turning on at the agreed time is like arriving an hour early. The host may still be putting the final touches to their dinner party, and you’ve come along and made them have to rush around. The best thing to do is to befriend a local and arrive together.
Accepting a gift
If someone offers you a gift in America, it can come across as being rude if you decline to accept it. The same goes for an invitation or a favor. In other countries, things are a little more complicated, and you shouldn’t just accept whatever someone presents to you right away.
In Japan and China, you are actually expected to decline a gift that has been offered to you. It might seem strange but you do still get the present, eventually. In China, you are expected to refuse to accept the gift three times before it is acceptable to take it.
Laughing with your mouth open
When you’re in good company, there is nothing better than cracking some jokes and everyone having a good laugh. You have to be careful how much of a good time you are having in some cultures, and laughing with your mouth open is considered rude.
In Japan, it is seen as appearing horse-like and impolite to be so openly enjoying yourself in public places. In a culture that is often built around respect, going around laughing wildly is not appreciated. By comparison, a person laughing with their mouth open can be like someone eating with their mouth open in America.
Leaving your clothes on
In most situations, leaving your clothes on is considered a good thing, but in some places, it can seem as though you are coming across as a prude. In both Scandinavia and Turkey it’s expected that everyone who enters into a sauna will completely remove their clothes.
The expectation also extends to steam rooms and spas, so if you book yourself into a treatment, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. You won’t be alone though, and everyone else around you will also have gotten rid of their clothes so you can all be in the same situation together.
Showing your soles
The bottom of your feet in many cultures are considered to be the dirtiest part of your body. They are what connects you to the ground and showing the soles of your feet to other people can be offensive in certain places.
Countries with a strong Arab, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim presence generally consider the gesture to be offensive. Instead, it is best to keep your feet firmly placed flat on the ground when visiting these countries if you don’t want to go upsetting people all over the place. That means crossing your legs needs to be done very carefully.
Dipping one hand in your pocket
You might be feeling a little bit uncomfortable, and in a nervous impulse, you put your hands into your pockets. In some countries you need to be careful how many of your hands you put into your pockets and for how long you do it too.
In Turkey it is considered to be very arrogant to put just one hand in your pocket, and you will be offending people without even realizing it. Although perhaps you are deliberately trying to be arrogant, in which case you can leave your hand in your pocket and see how popular it makes you.
Being too casual
Casual wear is pretty common in the United States these days, and it’s often seen as fashionable in the right circles. In other countries around the world, it is seen as being sloppy, and it’s unacceptable. Unless you’re on your way to the gym you probably shouldn’t step out in public in sweatpants, flip flops, or even wrinkled clothes.
In many European countries as well as Japan, it’s not going to be appreciated if you do your traveling in casual wear. Instead, finding something comfortable but also fairly smart to make sure you aren’t being looked down upon by locals.
Guys flashing the flesh
When you are at the beach, it seems like the perfect opportunity to whip off your shirt and top up your tan. If you go to a beach in most countries in the world, you’re bound to see plenty of guys with their shirts off looking to enjoy the sun.
Not everywhere finds this behavior acceptable however, and in South Korea it is very rare to see a man not wearing a shirt. Even at the beach you are unlikely to see a man trying to get a tan and instead he will keep his shirt on the entire time.
In the United States, tipping can be a hot topic whenever you go out for dinner. Undertipping is frowned upon, but even overtipping can cause its own issues at the dinner table. While tipping is customary in restaurants across the globe, not everywhere believes in this seemingly generous convention.
Waiting staff in Japan and South Korea are proud of their jobs and find the notion of being tipped by customers as insulting. Instead, they feel as though they are getting paid to do a job and already take pride in doing it, so do not need the extra financial incentive.
Asking what their job is
When you first meet someone in the USA, it won’t be long before you ask them what their job is. “What do you do?” is a very common question among strangers not just in the States, but many countries. One country that finds that question almost insulting is the Netherlands.
People from the Netherlands don’t like to be asked that question because it makes it seem as though you only see them as whatever their job is. Not only that, but it’s also like you are trying to size yourself up against them, to see who earns the most money.
Opening your presents immediately
Whenever someone hands you a present, the first thing you want to do is open it and see what they got you. Then you can thank them for their kind gift and start enjoying whatever it is, or else rip open another as soon as possible.
In other countries, it is seen as being greedy if you immediately open up your present the moment someone hands it over to you. In most Asian countries, notably China and India, it’s not the done thing to just rip open whatever someone has bought you right away, and preferably you should wait a while.
In America, people refuse food to make things easier on the host. They’ve already gone through so much trouble, and people don’t want to put others out any more than they have to. In other cultures, it is seen as being very rude if you refuse any food that is offered to you.
In many countries, particularly Lebanon, you really shouldn’t reject anything offered to you, but rejecting food is definitely a no-no. Your host has gone to the trouble to make it for you, so refusing their offer is a little bit like throwing it back in their face.
In the United States, giving a simple thumbs up is a way to communicate your approval or acceptance of something without having to speak out loud. It’s a simple gesture, and everyone from kids to elderly people are familiar with the hand signal.
Not everyone approves of the thumbs up though, and in regions such as Western Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America it’s frowned upon. In fact, the gesture is to those cultures what the middle finger is to Americans. If you don’t want to make some enemies in these places, it’s best to avoid hand signals altogether.
Helping yourself to someone else’s drink
When you turn up to a party, if you come armed with a six pack then that basically entitles you to help yourself to anything else. As long as you bring something to the party, then it’s fine to nibble and drink away at what everyone else has brought.
It goes the other way, and people will often help themselves to whatever you brought along as well. In Norway, it’s rude to drink anything you didn’t bring along yourself. That is other people’s stuff and you are not supposed to touch it, instead you rely on whatever you brought along.
Eating your entire meal
If you are served a meal in America, the biggest compliment you can give to your host is polishing off everything that was put on your plate. It shows that you really enjoyed the meal, but in some other countries, it is polite to leave a little bit of food on your plate.
In countries such as Russia, the Philippines, and China, leaving food on your plate suggests to your host that you didn’t get enough to eat. It makes the host feel as though they didn’t provide you with enough food and can be a little insulting to people.