Elizabeth is an experienced traveler and writer with bylines in several popular travel publications. She currently co-owns a small digital travel publication and spends her free time writing, taking photos, and traveling.
As you embark on your next international adventure, it’s helpful to know the unwritten rules of cultural etiquette. While you might be the epitome of politeness at home, certain behaviors are considered downright rude in other countries.
From tipping in Japan to smiling at strangers in Russia, browsing through these nine cultural faux paux will save you from unintentional offenses.
Tipping in Japan
In Japan, tipping is seen as a sign of disrespect. Many service providers believe that excellent customer service is expected and shouldn’t be incentivized with extra money. This is because their culture emphasizes an innate sense of responsibility and pride in one’s work. So, if you want to show your appreciation, a simple thank you will suffice in most situations.
Chewing Gum in Singapore
It might be small and insignificant to you, but chewing gum is completely banned in Singapore. The government has outlawed it in an attempt to keep public spaces clean and free of “sticky situations.” Violators face hefty fines and even imprisonment (although they’ve relaxed the rules as of late), so if you love chewing gum, avoid doing it in Singapore.
Being Too Punctual in Argentina
It’s a good thing to be on time, right? Well, in Argentina, it’s considered impolite to arrive on the dot for a social gathering. Argentinians prefer to be fashionably late, so aim to show up at least 15 minutes after the agreed meeting time to avoid being the only one there.
Expecting Individual Bills in France
Splitting the bill is a common practice in many countries, but not in France. Asking for separate bills can be seen as rude. Instead, be ready to practice the art of asking for “l’addition, s’il vous plaît,” and pay for whatever you ordered. If you invited the other person out, be prepared to foot the entire bill.
Using Your Left Hand in India
Lefties, we’re sorry about this, but you might have to learn how to depend on your right hand when traveling through India. In India, the left hand is traditionally seen as unclean, primarily because it’s used for, ahem, hygiene purposes. Using your left hand to eat, greet, or offer money can be considered disrespectful.
Showing Affection in Dubai
Public displays of affection, such as holding hands, hugging, or kissing, can be a major faux pas in Dubai, a predominantly Muslim country. It’s best to keep your hands to yourself, especially if you’re unmarried or in a non-marital relationship.
Smiling at Strangers in Russia
This is a tough one, especially for anybody who grew up around Southern hospitality in the US, but smiling at strangers in Russia is seen as weird. This is because smiles in Russian culture are reserved for genuine expressions of happiness among friends and family rather than a casual greeting or sign of politeness. Smiling at a stranger can therefore seem insincere or even suspicious.
The “Okay” Gesture in Brazil
In Brazil, the “okay” hand gesture (when you put your thumb and forefinger in a circle) is equivalent to flipping the bird. It’s a vulgar gesture that can cause offense, so try to avoid this gesture altogether or use a different hand signal to convey approval.
Blowing Your Nose in China
Blowing your nose in public is somewhat offensive anywhere you go these days, but in China, it’s often seen as a gross violation of public sanitation and decency. If you’re sick while traveling, regardless of where you are, it’s best to excuse yourself and blow your nose in private.
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