Minding Your International Manners—Are They Culturally Correct?

10-31-2016-56371282If you have to travel overseas for your company, you need to be sure that your international manners are correct according to the culture of the country you are visiting. The last thing you want to do is to offend or insult the people and the culture of the host country.

Ashley Rossi of SMARTERTRAVEL has identified 10 key gestures/behaviors, by country, that should be avoided when visiting these international spots.  Remember, what may be considered as perfectly acceptable and normal in the United States may be construed as rude or insulting to those in other countries.


Off Limits In

Using the “OK” Hand Symbol

Brazil, Turkey, Venezuela, and France – This gesture is considered vulgar in some of these countries, and at the very least, insulting in other places.


Can you believe it? Well, in some countries—Japan, South Korea, China, France, and Italy—tipping is a sign of rudeness, or you at least run the risk of implying that the owner doesn’t pay his or her employees an adequate salary.

Keeping Your Shoes On

If you are entering a temple, someone’s home, or restaurant, or hotel in many Asian countries, your shoes are best left at the main door! Ms. Rossi also advises that the toe of your shoes should face the door. Specifically, take your shoes off in Japan, Hawaii (Yep! One of our own states), South Korea, China, Thailand, and the South Pacific.

Spitting in Public

Actually, this should be outlawed everywhere, but apparently it’s okay in some spots in the US. If you go abroad, however, don’t spit in public in Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong. Ms. Rossi brings up another important point on ignoring these sanitation customs—you can be fined for spitting in public in these countries as well as fined for NOT flushing a public toilet, for sneezing and littering. Think Green, folks!

Blowing Your Nose in Public

Another closely related behavior to the one described above is blowing your nose in public, and that includes restaurants. This behavior is a “no-no” in China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and France. One more tidbit—don’t display a handkerchief in public.

Sitting in the Back of a Cab

Remember, you are not in New York or Chicago! If there is room in the front of the cab vehicle and you choose to sit in the back in Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, China, Ireland, and Scotland, you will be viewed as Somewhat Rude.

Eating With Your Left Hand

Having ambidextrous ability is not necessarily smiled upon in India, the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Africa. Why, you might ask? Well, many of these cultures embrace communal eating or eating with your hands. As such, there are strict rules—the right hand is for eating, and the left hand is “going to the bathroom.” What are we “lefties to do”?

Using Your Hands to Eat

Well, leaving those countries and regions that embrace eating with your hands, if you visit the following countries, observe the rule of using eating utensils for EVERYTHING, if you go to Chile, some parts of Europe, and Brazil. According to Ms. Rossi, you need to use a fork and knife on hamburgers, French fries, and even pizza!

Patting Someone on the Head

No, not even babies! Because the head is considered sacred and the highest point of the body, avoid patting anyone on the head in any country that is prominently Buddhist. These countries would include Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Laos.

Smiling at a Stranger

To avoid being considered rude, don’t make long eye contact with people while you are in South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia. Remember, smiling is considered an intimate gesture in these cultures. As a stranger, you don’t know the individuals, so your glances need to be short, unemotional, and discreet.

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