We're all guilty of doing something that despite our (most likely) sweet intentions is taken the wrong way. Nothing a quick explanation can't clear up, right? Well, when we're traveling abroad, it's not always that simple. Many of our everyday actions that we don't give a second thought to can be interpreted as downright offensive in certain countries. Although we think we're minding our best manners, some of those so-called manners can be taken as impolite when traveling abroad. Just think of how we might scoff at a tourist who doesn't tip the waitstaff here in the US or feel burning annoyance when having to dodge visitors walking at a turtle's pace blocking your path. But it goes both ways, so it's key to do your homework before heading to faraway lands so you don't, in the words of Stephanie Tanner, come off as "how rude!"
1. Thumbs up
This nonverbal super-American sign of positivity is taken oh so negatively in South America and a slew of other places, including Africa, the Middle East, and Greece. So keep those thumbs tucked in for safety.
Why walk the extra eight feet to the crosswalk when the stars have aligned, traffic is clear, and we can just cross right here, right now? Not in Germany, folks. Sticklers for the rules, it's a culture serious about being orderly. You will get a ticket if you get caught averting the crosswalk.
Some foods just taste better when eaten with our hands: fact. Pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, and all other toddler favorites considered "finger foods" here in the US pepper the list. Not so in Norway! This is a country that always employs utensils . . for everything. BRB, figuring out how to eat french fries with a fork and knife.
Who knew that the stick duo meant as a vehicle for shoveling food could have its own book of etiquette? Your placement of chopsticks in between delicious bites needs to be well thought out to avoid being disrespectful or, even worse, inadvertently part of a funeral ritual. For instance, innocently sticking your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice may look like a cool sculpture but is considered an offering to the spirit of someone who has passed. Among the other rules? No spearing, crossing, pointing, or general tomfoolery.
5. Clean plate club
Depending on your geographic location, this elite club you were praised for as a youngin' can be interpreted on opposing ends of the negative to positive spectrum. In Italy, you best scrape that plate clean to avoid being rude. However, it's observed much differently in parts of China, the Philippines, and Thailand. If you've finished every last bite, it signifies you're still hungry, in turn saying you haven't been provided with a sufficient feed. In these portions of the world, it's best to leave that last enticing morsel.
6. Sole baring
In India, the Middle East, and most Asian countries, it's seen as a ginormous insult to show the soles of your feet or point them toward someone. Considering the disgusting crap we romp all over with the bottoms of our shoes on the regular, it makes total sense. Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist cultures perceive the feet as extremely unclean, which is why it's expected to remove your shoes before entering an establishment.
We may have been taught to never to show up empty handed when invited over to someone's home. Although this rings true, be cautious of what you choose to give if visiting someone's home in China. Whatever you do, do NOT bring a clock or a watch. It's considered horrible luck and, well, that's a fair bet to dampen the good vibes.
Seemingly a safe bet, paying someone a compliment could only be taken in a positive light . . . so you'd think. In the Middle East and some African countries, declaring that you just love their kitchen table means that you desire that item. Their strong hospitality culture makes them feel obligated to then offer you said item. As much as the fantasy of going on a compliment spree sounds fun, respect is crucial here — and plus, not enough luggage space.
9. Okie dokie
Giving the "OK" sign with our hands is not only considered slightly high on the nerd scale, but in Brazil and Germany, it actually means something that rhymes with bass + mole. Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.
10. Silence is not golden
We can't think of anything more annoying than loud eating noises — however in Japan and China, obviously audible slurping is a sure sign that you're thoroughly enjoying your meal. So, when in Asia, slurp as the locals do. Eating silently in this case will be the opposite of polite. Hats off to the chef.
11. Riding shotgun
We're not starring in a remake of Driving Miss Daisy here. However, at home we're used to hopping in the backseat of a taxi. In New Zealand, Australia, as well as parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, it's seen as rude not to join your driver up front. We're all friends here, right?
12. One hand in my pocket
Don't channel your inner Alanis Morissette when in Turkey and South Korea, as you'll come off as arrogant instead of that supercool '90s-style thing you were going for.