American culture is dotted with many customs and gestures that Americans use without hesitation. Traveling abroad can be tricky, though, as what is considered perfectly normal in the United States is frowned upon in other countries.
Here are 25 American customs you should not pack when traveling abroad.
1. Laughing with your mouth open
Cracking up at a friend’s joke while exposing your pearly whites is perfectly fine in the United States. Not in Japan, though. It is considered rude and ill-mannered to laugh with your mouth open.
SPONSORED: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor
1. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn't have to be hard. SmartAsset's free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes.
2. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you're ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals get started now.
Where: South Korea, Japan
Tipping and, more importantly, undertipping is a long-standing contentious issue in the U.S. While in most countries abroad, tipping is not expected but appreciated, in South Korea and Japan, this gesture is considered bad etiquette and an insult. Servers in these countries are paid a standard wage, and a tip indicates they need additional financial motivation to do their job.
3. Ask for a condiment in a restaurant
Where: Italy, Spain, France, and Japan
America loves its condiments, and that’s no surprise. But asking for soy sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, or you name it in countries with elevated food culture like France, Japan, or Italy may raise some eyebrows. Asking for a condiment is considered an insult to the cook in these countries, as it implies you find the food bland.
4. Blowing your nose in public
Where: China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France, and Turkey
The sound of someone blowing their noise isn’t exactly music to the ears, but it’s generally considered acceptable anywhere in the world. In Japan, France, or the Middle East, however, refrain from blowing your nose in public, as these countries consider this gesture incredibly rude and repulsive.
5. Sitting in the back of a cab
Where: Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, parts of Ireland, and the Netherlands
Hopping into the back of the cab is something you do without thinking in the U.S, as traditionally, the front passenger seat of a taxi is considered the driver’s domain.
But if you are traveling to countries like Australia, New Zealand, parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, consider riding shotgun. Taking the back seat is considered rude and offensive in these countries.
6. Calling the U.S.A “America”
Where: South America
Saying you are from America instead of the United States while you are in any South American country is considered extremely offensive and politically incorrect.
7. Hands in pockets
Where: North Korea, Turkey
Keeping your hands in your pocket is something most of us do when engaging in conversation—because, let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t know what to do with your hands. Well, in countries like Turkey and Korea, putting your hands in your pockets is considered arrogant and disrespectful.
Where: Russia, Middle East, Greece, Latin America and Western Africa
Using hand gestures in a foreign country can be tricky. For example, the thumbs-up sign is the equivalent of the middle finger in countries like Russia, Greece, the Middle East, Latin America, and parts of Africa.
9. Doing anything with your left hand
Where: India, Sri Lanka, Middle East, Africa
Using your left hand for pretty much anything is considered “unclean” and taboo in countries like India, much of Africa, and the Middle East. In these cultures, the left hand is used for attending to bodily functions and only that. So eating or engaging in a handshake with your left hand is considered disgusting and disrespectful.
10. Expecting everyone to speak English
Where: Non-English speaking countries
English is one of the most popular languages around the world, and many people abroad know enough of it to engage in conversation. However, when you are visiting a non-English speaking country, assuming that everyone speaks your language is considered arrogant and disrespectful. Even though you are not expected to speak the language of the country you are visiting, showing courtesy by asking, “Do you speak English?” is greatly appreciated.
11. Being fashionably late
While being a couple of minutes late is the norm in the U.S, this is unacceptable in some countries like Germany, which have zero tolerance for tardiness. Being fashionably late in Germany is taken as wasting someone else’s time and thinking your time is more valuable than theirs.
12. Being on time
Where: Canada, Argentina, and most countries in South America
On the other hand, showing up on time in countries like Argentina or Canada is considered bad etiquette.
13. Men being topless
Where: South Korea
Showing some skin is perfectly fine for both men and women everywhere in the states. Whereas being topless for both women and men in South Korea is a big no-no. South Korean wear shirts even on the beach.
14. Accepting gifts
Where: Japan and China
In some cultures (like Japan), you are expected to decline gifts a few times before accepting them. It is even customary in China for people to refuse gifts three times before accepting them.
15. Drinking coffee on-the-go
Where: Italy, Portugal
Having your coffee on the go on your way to work is a usual sight in America. However, if you are heading to Italy or Portugal, you will see a few people drinking their coffee on the go. These countries have a slow coffee culture, where they enjoy the pick-me-up beverage in local coffee shops while talking with friends.
16. Eating in places that don’t serve food
Where: Rwanda and Japan
In Japan and Rwanda eating anywhere, that isn’t a restaurant or a bar is considered a huge faux pas.
17. Asking personal questions
While asking someone what do they do or where they live is a common conversation starter in the U.S., in countries with social-welfare systems, like the Netherlands, this is taken as pigeonholing someone and being classist.
18. Refusing food or drinks
Refusing food in the United States is a sign of showing modesty and a gesture to make it easier on the host. But not accepting food or drink in Lebanon and other Arab countries is considered incredibly offensive and bad etiquette.
19. Opening a present in front of the giver
Where: China and India
Tearing into a gift in front of the gift giver is perfectly normal in America. But in China, opening a present immediately is a poor form that makes you appear as greedy.
20. Doing the devil’s horn sign
Where: Portugal, Spain, Italy, and parts of South America
America’s favorite hand gesture after the middle finger has a very different meaning in some countries abroad. While, the devil horns hand gesture is generally accepted to mean “rock on,” in the United States, in countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal, and parts of South America, this hand symbol is used to indicate to a man that his wife is being unfaithful.
21. Wearing shoes indoors
Where: Germany, Austria, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, the Balkans, Poland, Japan, Turkey, Israel, and other parts of the Middle East and Asia.
Wearing shoes indoors may not raise any eyebrows in the United States. However in some countries keeping your outdoor shoes on when you go inside is considered not only bad manners but also unhygienic.
22. Being excessively loud
Where: Korea, Europe, most notably the Netherlands and Germany
You don’t realize how loud Americans are until you go abroad and get side-eyed by people on the train while talking with your group at a seemingly normal volume.
23. Crossing your fingers
In the United States, crossing your fingers means you wish someone good luck, but you should refrain from making this hand gesture in Vietnam. Crossing your fingers in Vietnam is accepted as means of mimicking female genitalia.
24. Making the beckoning gesture
It’s unlikely you’ll find someone in the United States who finds your gesture offensive if you call them over with your hand. In the Philippines, however, the hand signal is typically used to call dogs, and is therefore offensive to humans.
25. Finishing your plate
Where: China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Russia.
In America, eating your meal until the last bite might be normal and a good habit, but in China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Russia, it’s not at all so. If you visit any of these countries, make sure you leave some food behind, as otherwise, the host may feel as though they didn’t provide you with enough food.