20 Etiquette Blunders you Need to Know

20 Etiquette Blunders you Need to Know

Visiting a foreign country for the first time can be daunting, especially when their culture is worlds apart from your own. 

Everywhere you go, you’ll meet different traditions and customs.  

Having a (bit of a) grasp of the language is one thing but having the inside track on local etiquette will make sure you really fit in and avoid inadvertently offending anyone along the way.


1.  It’s perfectly fine to slurp from your bowl in Japan but don’t stick your chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice because that’s how the food is offered to the dead.

2.  Never use chopsticks to pass food to someone else in Asia.

3.  Portuguese people will be offended if you ask for condiments (even salt and pepper!) that aren’t already on the table because it signals to the cook that their food isn’t good enough.

4.  Splitting the bill in France is considered the height of unsophistication because it is discussing money over food.

5.  Filling your own drink in Japan is a clear sign that you’re an alcoholic so fill that of the person next to you and wait for them to reciprocate the gesture!

6.  Armenians play an odd version of ‘pass the parcel’.  If you empty the last of a bottle into someone’s drink, it’s their turn to buy the next round or bottle.

7.  Some countries in Africa as well as China and Japan don’t talk over food; leave conversation until everyone’s eaten.

8.  Give gifts in Japan, not tips.

9.  Refrain from chewing gum in Singapore: not only is it a big etiquette mistake, but it’s also illegal.

10.  Blowing your nose in public is a massive no no in Japan.  The whole idea of handkerchiefs disgusts many, so do what everyone else does and sniff until you’re alone.

11.  Never use your feet for doing anything apart from walking in Asia.  It’s considered the lowest part of the body so gesturing at something with your toes, or brushing up against someone with your feet is considered rude.

12.  In Asia, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, keeping your shoes on in someone’s house is a sign of disrespect. Taking your shoes off not only keeps the house clean, but signifies leaving the outside world behind. 
Tip: if you go in, and see a row of shoes, start taking yours off too.  If you’re still unsure, ask someone.

13.  Many religions and traditions see the head as the purest, most sacred part of the body so touching someone else’s is inappropriate. This is especially important in Bali, Laos and Thailand.

14.  Hand gestures mean different things all over the world. Pointing at someone in many countries is seen as an aggressive and rude stance. Making the ‘OK’ sign in some countries is akin to calling someone something that you regularly sit on...

15.  Be careful about what you wear as in some countries it’s disrespectful to have a large amount of skin on show, especially in places of religious importance. Cover up and respect the country’s culture.

16.  Lefties, be careful! In India, Africa and the Middle East, the right hand is used for everything from greeting, to touching and eating.  The left hand, however, is deemed unclean, and used for personal hygiene, so never use it for anything in public

17.  Brazilians have no issue with answering phone calls in the middle of a conversation.  It’s seen as bad-mannered to ignore one. While you’re over there, don’t expect punctuality as being 30 minutes late for anything is deemed normal.

18.  Business cards can be the source of many blunders around the world.  In western countries, it’s a very informal process, and it isn’t awful to bend them, or write on them. However, in other parts of the world, especially Asian countries, they must be treated with the utmost respect, and only passed with your right hand.

19.  When you’re in Hawaii, never refuse a lei (one of the beautiful flowered necklaces). Refusing it or taking it off in the giver’s presence is akin to a slap in the face. If you’re allergic, explain that to them and place it somewhere of high importance, such as in the centre of a table, or over a statue.

20.  Refraining from touching someone or kissing their cheek in Mediterranean countries will label you as a cold and distant person.  Physical contact is very important and a sign of welcome, closeness, and friendship.


A smile, though, means the same the world over.


Travel tip shared by Ben Wosskow