American Habits That Are Rude In Other Countries

When it comes to vacationing Americans, we are by far the ones with the most notorious reputations around. Naturally, some of us are the loudmouths or obnoxious people who question other countries’ customs. However if we’re not those type of people, we’re the travellers who aren’t familiar with the culture. And these subtle differences in cultures can grind against the natives’ gears, even though, they’re normal in the United States.

It’s why, for a traveller, it’s important to take some time to study and observe the culture. Reading articles like this and many others will serve you in figuring out what is good manners here and what isn’t in other places. Below, I’ll be sharing some of the habits that we do that are normal here, but not so much when we travel abroad.


Drinking someone else’s beer/alcohol

In the US, it’s normal to share it around. But Norway sings a different tune. With more restrictions on alcohol in general, taking a can from someone’s stash feels more like you’re stealing from them. If you’re going to a party in Norway be sure to BYOB or be happy with staying sober.



Asking about someone’s occupation

It’s a small-talk go-to question in the US, but it’s not so much in the Netherlands, a social-welfare country. You can expect many people being irked by this in other social-welfare countries too. By asking this question, you’re seen more as a classist than someone innately curious.



Taking the back seat of a cab

While many Americans prefer taking the back seat of a cab, it’s quite rude in some parts of the UK and anywhere in Australia. If you’re given the option of where to ride in a cab, take the shotgun. People here generally want to talk to you, and taking the furthest corner away from them can make you come off as avoiding them.



Blowing your nose

If you are travelling to places like Japan, Saudi Arabia, China, or France, blowing your nose is considered a gross thing to do for them. It’s better if you wait it out. To them, blowing your nose in front of them is akin to you sneezing in their face.



Wearing your shoes at home

If you’ve been travelling around, the last thing you want to do is kick off your shoes and let your feet breath. It’s considerate of you that you don’t want to stink up the place with foot sweat and shoe stink, but that’s not always the case in other places. If you go to Japan or the Caribbean, kicking off your shoes regardless of the circumstances is required.



Leaving a tip

Kicking over a few extra bucks to your server, waitress, delivery person, or other artists for various tasks may seem normal in the United States, but that’s not the case in various parts of Asia and Europe. The workers there are paid much better and offering a tip to them seems degrading to them.



Laughing with your mouth open

Belting out a laugh is good in any kind of situation when someone tells you a joke. You’ll be in good graces with people in Japan if you do that. However, it’s important how you laugh as well. In Japan, if you’re caught laughing and showing off your teeth in the process – it’s both rude and horse-like.



Cleaning off that plate

In the United States, our mothers taught us to eat up everything that was on our plate. It’s wasteful if we leave anything. That’s not so much the case in places like China. If we clear up our entire plate, it sends a message to the hosts that they didn’t give us enough to eat. So while you’re there, relax, enjoy your meal, and make sure you doggy bag some for later.



Helping yourself

If you’re having a meal as a family, it’s custom in the United States for the host to arrange several bowls and plates and then telling the guests to serve themselves. That’s not the case in Asian cultures. In most of them, the host is expected to entertain the guests they invite. This also means that they are the only one serving the food to you.



Opening gifts immediately

Every child – and certainly every adult – feels accustomed to tearing open a pile of gifts immediately when they are given. Birthday presents, Christmas presents, or any kind of gift at other events – it doesn’t matter. However, in Asian cultures, doing that sort of behaviour is considered rude, but also presents you as a greedy person.



Not turning down gifts

Of course, it’s instinct for us to accept gifts immediately when they are given. We’re not people who’d complain about free stuff, right? Well, in Japan that’s not the case. In Japan, it’s a sign of humility if we turn down a gift no more than three times before accepting it. If you don’t “refuse” the gift before, then you may get a few raised eyebrows.



Giving someone a hug

Everyone loves a hug. It’s a sign of affection and makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Well, that’s not the case. Pulling that off in places like Thailand, Korea, or China is not a good thing. An unwelcome hug is actually a serious violation of that person’s personal space. Even in America, we’re at a point where it’s better that we ask if it’s okay to hug the person before doing so.



Using your left hand for certain activities

Even if you are a lefty, you’re going to have to learn to do things with your right if you are travelling abroad. In mostly Middle Eastern countries, your left hand is used for wiping in the bathroom. As such, using it to shake other peoples hands or using it to eat is not cool at all. Washing your hands and sanitizing them doesn’t even give you a pass either.



Giving the thumbs up

While in the United States, the thumbs up is a sign of a compliment. It’s approval or a “good job” all in a single motion. That’s not the case in the Middle East. If you give the thumbs up to someone there it’s akin to you giving the middle finger to someone at home.



Showing your soles

Yes, they are the dirtiest part on your body, and for many people, showing that off will give you a few gasps. Particularly, those who are in Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu nations. It’s why Muslims will often wash their own feet before doing any prayers.



Eating in places that don’t serve food

While buying a slice of pizza and munching on it while you’re crossing the street seems like the cool thing that all the kids are doing, you won’t see it in Rwanda or Japan. Eating outside of a restaurant, bar, or house is a huge no-no in those countries.



Giving compliments

It’s an act of kindness and makes someone feel good for sure, but some African cultures see it as something different. To them, a compliment suggests that you want whatever it is you’re praising. To put it into perspective, think about how well the conversation would go if you walk into your friend’s house and tell them you want their couch.



Calling the US “America”

If you think back to grade school geography, there is both a North America and a South America. I’m serious. It’s literally called South America. So if you find yourself in South America, make a habit to avoid referring North America as “America”. Bestowing “America” only to the north won’t go over so well there.



Being somewhere on time

With most of our lives run by clocks, it’s instinct for us to be punctual and be at various events on time. That’s not the case in places like Mexico or Argentina. In those countries, not everyone has cars, so it can be difficult for them to make it at a specific time. On top of that, if you arrive on time, you may be walking in on the host still needing time to prepare. So arriving on time in that instance will only cause inconvenience to them and they may have to metaphorically shove you out the door.



Getting somewhere late

To make things even more confusing, some countries do not like people getting to events late. If you plan on going to Germany, you do not want to get carried away with slapping that snooze button constantly. If you show up even fashionably late to something in Germany, it gives them the impression that your time is more important than anyone else’s. Showing up late to a German event will only peeve off a few people.

It can be confusing and frustrating for some people to realize that some of our customs are considered rude in other places, but that’s what’s so interesting about the culture. Take some time to learn more about the customs and what is good manners there. Either way, now that you know these, you’ll definitely be in good graces of other people if you practice these habits in the respective countries.