Cultures are different: from East to West, literally everything changes when it comes to tradition and cultures. American culture is also different from other countries.
America does have a few customs or traditions in common with other countries, but there are many things which Americans do on a daily basis that may be offensive in other countries and cultures. Americans usually do not think twice about what gesture they are making, but be warned! It can be extremely offensive to others if you do the wrong thing in the wrong place!
But never fear! If you are going on a trip around the world and worrying about what you should and shouldn’t do, we’ve got you covered:
20 American Customs That May Be Offensive In Other Countries
Tipping is very casual in the United States of America, and it is like an unwritten rule. Americans love tipping, but that is not the case in all countries. Countries like Japan and South Korea have a different perspective towards tipping. They consider tipping an insult to their work: they love what they do and take pride in it, and they do not need any extra incentive, such as a tip, for their work.
2. Sitting in the back of a cab
In the United States of America, when you call a cab, you pull the back door and sit there It’s like an automatic reflex: it is nothing; it is a normal thing. However, this American thing can be little offensive ‘bad mannered’ in some countries. In Australia, New Zealand and some parts of Scotland, Ireland, and the Netherlands, it is considered rude if you sit in the back seat of a taxi. It is a matter of egalitarianism.
3. Giving a thumbs–up
Giving a thumbs-up is perfectly normal in the United States of America and most parts of the world. Giving a thumbs-up is a gesture of showing that you like something, or a gesture of your acceptance or agreeing to something without uttering a word. But it is not the case in Middle Eastern countries, a few Latin American countries and also in Russia and Greece. Giving a thumbs-up in these countries is the equivalent of giving the middle finger in the States! So if you are in these countries, try not to piss them off by showing them your thumbs!
4. Laughing with your mouth open
Laughing is very important to us, and we should laugh our hearts out. But not in Japan. Americans are pretty straight forward when it comes to laughing; they have a great sense of humor, and they show it as well. In Japan, however, laughing with your mouth open is considered to be extremely poor mannered. You might have a pearly set of teeth, but you may have some unexpected reactions to your ‘house-like laugh’. You might like to consider eating with your mouth open as the American equivalent to this.
5. Calling the United States of America, “America”
People from the United States of America introduce themselves as “Americans” when they are meeting other people, but it might be taken as an offence in South America. Saying that you are from America, rather than the USA, implies that the USA is America and South America is not worthy of the title. It is also politically incorrect. So when in South America, be careful.
6. Being Late
Many people run late due to varying different circumstances, and many are just fashionably late time after time; this may well not be taken seriously in the United States of America. However, it is a hell of a deal for the Germans. Being even a couple of minutes late in Germany is completely unacceptable. Making people wait is something which is not a part of German culture. If you are making someone wait, it implies that your time is more valuable than everyone else’s, and you might lose your credibility.
7. Having a hand in your pocket
Drinking your coffee and chilling with one hand in your pocket is extremely American. You may be surprised to know, however, that even this relaxing way is considered improper in some countries. In Turkey, having one hand in your pocket shows that you are arrogant. It’s the same in South Korea. You didn’t see that coming did you?
8. Using your left hand
Not every culture uses toilet paper to wipe after, ahem, ‘doing their business’. South Asian countries, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Middle Eastern nations use their left hand and water to clean up afterwards. This is why they do not use their left hand for anything else. Especially eating! So if you are visiting an Indian family, try to use your right hand!
9. Opening a present immediately
Opening a gift immediately shows greediness – maybe not in the USA, but definitely in China and India. China and India take their gift exchanging system very seriously, and in both cultures, tearing open the gift immediately or opening it in front of the gift giver is poor form. It implies that you are not a person with manners, and that you are greedy.
10. Wearing flip-flops or caps or wrinkly clothing in public
Casual clothing such as flip-flops, un-ironed shirts and, especially in the US, baseball caps are standard street and beach wear when the summer months roll in. However, in some parts of Europe and Japan, wearing caps and flip-flops can be seen as impolite and, occasionally, disrespectful. Wearing sloppy clothes or wrinkly clothes is also not viewed in a good light.
11. Showing your feet
It is not something that everyone in America does, but the point is that Americans won’t really kick up a fuss if you’re walking around in bare feet, or put your bare feet up on a stool or foot rest. However, this is kind of a biog deal in most Asian cultures, and in the Arab world. Showing someone your feet symbolizes disrespect towards that person. It is very prominent in Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist households.
12. Keeping your shoes on
American culture does not particularly require you to remove your shoes when you enter someone’s home. In most Asian countries, though, including Japan, China, India, and Pakistan, as well as in the Caribbean, you will be expected to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home. This is an unspoken rule, so don’t expect anyone to tell you to do it. Just do it!
13. Men showing skin
Women showing skin is uncommon in many countries, but men showing skin is also unacceptable in a few different cultures. American men love to be topless, especially when lying at the beach and drinking their favorite drink, but in South Korea, it is totally unacceptable for men to be topless. You will see most men wearing shirts or t-shirts at the beach. Keep your shirt with you when you visit a beach in South Korea.
14. Eating anywhere that does not serve food
In the United States of America, it is perfectly alright to eat while walking or sitting on the bench in a park. You can buy a burger and sit in the park with your hot coffee and a newspaper, and you can enjoy the moment. But in Rwanda and Japan, this is not the case. If you want to enjoy your meal, you have to eat where you got served. Eating anywhere that isn’t a restaurant, bar or eating joint is considered rude. Furthermore, if you are eating on the bus, or while walking, people will think that you are rude.
15. Public displays of affection
Public displays of affection are pretty common in the United States of America – at the very least, hugging and touching your loved one is a common occurrence in public. However, many countries have a different view of PDAs: in India, Pakistan, China and the Middle East, PDAs are seen as obscene and offensive. When visiting these countries, you should respect their public and moral values.
16. Asking certain questions
In Netherlands, asking questions like “What do you do for a living?” is not something from their social protocol. It is seen as insulting to the other party. In the USA, it is perfectly common to ask about someone else’s job or his work; moreover, it’s a very common conversation starter. However, in the Netherlands, people take their work very seriously, and will find it rude if you ask them about it.
17. Refusing food
In America, people refuse food to make it easier for their hosts: it can ease the burden of cookin g and preparing a meal for their guests. However, in the Middle East, it may be taken as an offence. In countries like Lebanon, it is very rude to refuse food offered by your host. Technically, rejecting anything can be taken as an offence but when it comes to food, it is incredibly rude to refuse. Make sure you keep eating when you are a guest in Lebanon!
18. Not declining gifts
Gifts are part of the American tradition: Americans love to exchange gifts. From Christmas to Thanksgiving, people just love gifts. In fact, it’s the same story all around the world, but in Japan and China, there’s a difference: while Americans are quick to accept gifts the first time they are offered them, in Japanese and Chinese culture, it is seen as a greedy behavior if you accept the gift the first time you’re presented with it. And it’s not just gifts: for invitations and any other offer, you should decline few times before you accept it. But don’t do it too many times, otherwise you might lose the gift entirely!
19. Finishing your meal
During dinner, finishing your meal shows that you love the food that your host prepared, and enjoyed it so much that you could not spare a single bite. In China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Russia, the story is little different: if you have polished off your entire meal, it means that your host has failed to provide you enough food, and you are still hungry! It’s all about respecting your host, so when you are visiting these countries, try to respect their feelings by leaving a little bit leftover!
20. Blowing your nose
Blowing your nose is something disgusting in the USA, but people do it public regardless, if they need to. But this disgusting habit is considered far ruder in several countries outside of the States. In China, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, blowing your nose in public is very rude and often considered repulsive!