HomeTrendingAmerican Customs That Won't Fly Overseas

American Customs That Won’t Fly Overseas

Each culture has its own traditions and customs that should be respected. In Japan, elders are regarded with the utmost respect. In the States, the same kind of social rule applies, but how many people go out of their way to help an elderly person? Well, in Japan they sure do!

America has a lot of its own customs, and some cultures just wouldn’t understand them, some might even take offense depending on what it is. Here are a few things worth learning about other cultures and what might offend them if you ever travel abroad.

If you’re headed overseas, keep in mind that you shouldn’t tip in certain countries! Places like Japan and South Korea specifically. Waiters over there will see it as a charity and take offense if you tip them.

If their service is impeccable then just tell them. In certain areas, tipping can give off the impression that they look ragged or that they need a charity like a homeless person.

Some countries really don’t appreciate it if you choose to sit in the backseat of a cab. Places like New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, and Ireland all have cab drivers that would much rather have you sit upfront with them.

The reason why this is the case is that in those countries they all believe in the rules of egalitarianism, this refers to the fact that everyone should be considered equal and thus deserves equal sitting.

Americans love coffee, we do! But when it comes to actually have coffee, we always have it on the go. Whether we’re running late for a meeting or just want to get home, we never take the time to sit down and appreciate the aromas.

Well in Italy, coffee is taken much more seriously, it’s seen as a way of life. So whenever someone gets coffee in Italy it’s preferred if they can sit down and take in the flavor while taking their time.

In places like Western Africa, Latin America, The Middle East, Russia, and Greece, if anyone gives anyone else a thumbs-up it’s not a good thing, it’s a very bad thing.

If you try doing it in any of the aforementioned countries it’s like giving them a certain hand gesture we all know in America. Here it may mean “nice job” but never use it if you’re outside of the States.

Here’s another hand gesture that is very positive where we live, almost everyone knows this symbol for peace. But if you go to the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, or Australia just be careful.

The peace sign is still recognized in those countries, it’s rather how you actually do it that matters. If you do it palm outwards then that’s fine. But if you do it palm inwards then it has a much more negative connotation.

Whenever we laugh we’ll generally show our broad smiles. But in some countries like Japan, you should try your best to keep your mouth closed whenever you want to have a chuckle. If you can’t do that then put your hand in front of your mouth as if you were yawning.

In Japan, it is considered extremely rude to laugh with an open mouth. Next time you’re going there, don’t forget this tip.

It’s become customary for most restaurants to let us change up our orders the way we want to. But even if this is normal in America this isn’t the case in other countries. Some foreign countries will be insulted if you try to change the way they’re making your food.

They are proud of what they make so they don’t like the idea of you tampering with what they know is best, they are the chef after all! Even adding some ketchup can lead to offense, be careful of those overseas!

Here’s a weird one that we bet you haven’t thought of before. Just by simply calling the United States “America” can cause offense depending on where you are.

Since technically, America is more than just our country, if you call it that when you’re anywhere in South America, the people there won’t appreciate it. If anyone asks you, tell them you’re from the United States.

This is a big one in the States. If you order food at a restaurant and aren’t happy with your meal you can tell the waiter and they’ll normally apologize and get you one that’s up to scratch.

If you’re in Great Britain, don’t try this! It’s very rude to complain about your meal on the other side of the pond. Complain to someone other than the staff, don’t send any of your meals back!

It’s not that much of a big deal if you’re a little late in America. You might get a dirty look from someone in the office but it’s something everyone will forget in an hour. But if you ever get a job in Germany, trust us, don’t be late!

In Germany, it’s considered very unprofessional to come in even slightly late, unless you have a good excuse you should always come to work on time. If you don’t, it sends a message that you’re time is better spent somewhere else.

Another major faux pas is arriving on time, or at least it is in some Latin American countries. When you’re visiting Argentina, try to arrive a little later than the scheduled time.

If you were to show up on time, it would be like arriving an hour early in the United States.

Even if you don’t use the term “doggie bag,” which is admittedly a little insulting, getting food to go in some European countries is frowned upon.

Taking food to go in these countries is a serious health hazard and could potentially lead to food poisoning. 

In the U.S. today, making the “OK” sign can be a little testy since it’s been used by some white supremacist groups. Even before that, though, some countries saw it as something super negative.

In France, making the “OK” sign could mean you’re calling something or someone worthless.

What do people in Turkey do with their hands? Well, they don’t put them in their pockets when chatting! Doing so is considered disrespectful and inappropriate.

In some countries, putting your hands in your pockets, especially when speaking to someone, is a way to express arrogance.

Using your left hand is considered taboo in several cultures. For example, passing something with your left hand in India is “unclean.” India isn’t the only one.

You shouldn’t use your left hand in Africa, Sri Lanka, and countries in the Middle East. It’s like slapping them in the face!

In many Asian countries, it’s bad form to open a gift immediately after receiving it while you’re still in front of the person who gave it to you.

India and China take it very seriously and doing this will make you look greedy. It’s best to wait a bit before opening your present.

We Americans love our personal space, and we know that we shouldn’t invade someone’s personal space. That won’t fly overseas. In most other countries, personal space totally isn’t a thing.

Sometimes, it’s due to preference, but for many places, it’s because of the population density. 

So, this one may be a regional thing in the United States, but it isn’t out of the ordinary for people to chat up a stranger while they’re at the store or waiting in line.

In other countries, however, it’s super off-putting – even if they ask, “How are you?”

This one may break the hearts of Americans. Those refills you get when you down your soda? Good luck on getting a free one while you’re overseas.

Most countries don’t give you free refills. Sometimes, a refill will just be ordering another drink. Even if you’re drinking water, be expected to pay. 

Smiling is a cultural thing for Americans. Somehow, it became the norm for everyone to smile at each other, but it isn’t like that elsewhere.

Smiling at strangers in another country could get you some pretty odd looks. 

Eating everything on your plate may be normal in America, but not so much in China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Russia.

When you’re visiting any of these countries, be sure to leave a bite of food behind. Otherwise, the host may feel as though they didn’t provide you with enough food.

While many people greet strangers in America, it isn’t taboo NOT to greet someone. That being said, you shouldn’t fail to greet someone when you visit France.

The first words out of your mouth should be, “Bonjour, Madam/Monsieur!” If you don’t, you’re signaling to the person that they’re below you. Yikes.

In American culture, when someone gives you something, you take it and say thank you. In Japan and China, it’s a cultural norm for a person to refuse their gift a few times before accepting it.

According to another custom that made this list, you’re not even supposed to open it right away, either!

When you’re getting to know someone, it’s common to ask them what they do for employment. It breaks the ice, but if you’re in the Netherlands, you just committed a social faux pas.

It can appear classist, especially since the Netherlands has a broad social welfare system. 

America has a few social rules about blowing your nose; mostly, don’t do it in a restaurant. If you’re in China, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey, you need to go to the bathroom to blow your nose.

Period. Clearing your nostrils in public is considered rude and repulsive. 

It can be tough not to show the soles of your feet in Arab, Muslim, Hindi or Buddhist countries, but you ought to try your best.

Even accidentally displaying them to another person is a sign of disrespect because they’re the lowest, dirtiest part of your body.

Unless someone has a new carpet or floor, you probably won’t take your shoes off while visiting another person’s home. It’s actually custom in most Asian and Caribbean cultures.

When entering someone’s home, you take off your shoes in the designated spot. Be careful; in some places, taking your socks off is also pretty bad.

No, we’re not talking about women; although, that’s also pretty taboo in most places. We’re actually talking about men!

In South Korea, it’s very rare to see a topless man – even at the beach! Men in South Korea wear a shirt when they’re getting their surf on.

This one may not be insulting, but you’ll get some weird looks. In America, we have grown to believe in “mi casa es su casa” – my house is your house.

However, in some Asian countries, telling someone to help themselves is uncommon, so it’d be odd if you offered su casa overseas.


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