All The Ways You’re Accidentally Being Rude Abroad

All The Ways You’re Accidentally Being Rude Abroad

When you travel around the world, you probably aim to be respectful of each and every culture you encounter. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to be rude without knowing.

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Small Talk

Asking someone what they do for a living might seem like a pretty common question when you’re meeting someone. But that kind of small talk won’t fly in France, the Netherlands, as well as many other countries in Europe and throughout the world. Many see it as a way of measuring or pigeonholing them. When in doubt, it’s usually best to avoid personal questions about jobs, religion, family and politics unless prompted.

Some small talk is necessary, though. The smallest of small talk: Saying “hello”. In many countries throughout the world, not saying hello when you enter a establishment or encounter someone new is extremely rude. It’s basically saying you think you’re above them.

Blowing Your Nose

Blowing your nose in public is considered to be extremely rude in places like China and Japan. And in France, blowing your nose is in public is not only rude, but a sign of bad upbringing. Save the nose blowing for when you’re alone in the bathroom, and don’t carry a handkerchief for that purpose. Use disposable tissues instead as many cultures find the idea of handkerchiefs repulsive.

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Laughing With Your Mouth Open

When something’s funny, you want to laugh loud and proud. But that kind of behaviour can be rude in Japan and some other parts of Asia. There, laughing with your mouth open, exposing your teeth, is considered impolite and “horse-like”. This is especially true for women. That’s where the trope of giggling Japanese girls covering their mouths comes from.


If you thought tipping was controversial in the US, wait until you head to Europe, Japan or South Korea. Not only is tipping not expected, it can be considered an insult. What you think is a nice gesture and incentive comes across as demeaning charity. Tipping is different everywhere, so always check what the custom is before you go somewhere new.

Making Common Gestures

What a gesture means in one place is rarely what it means elsewhere. All of these physical actions should be avoided while you travel:

While some of these gestures are only taboo in some parts of the world, you’re probably better off avoiding them everywhere. Better to be safe — and respectful — than sorry.

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Dressing Like a Slob

In parts of Asia and Europe going out in public in track pants, athletic shorts, tank tops, baseball caps and other comfortable “athleisure” gear is considered sloppy and rude. Put on some pants or a skirt, wear a shirt that doesn’t have some stupid slogan on it, and wear closed-toe shoes unless you’re at a resort or something.

Eating Meals

Meal time is when most cultural snafus occur. Here are some things you need to avoid:

  • Don’t reject food or drink: You might think you’re being polite by telling your host not to bother bringing you anything, but it’s very rude to reject anything being offered to you in most places around the world. Just take it.
  • Don’t ask for condiments to modify dishes: Unless you have a serious allergy, eat a dish the exact way it was given to you. It’s impolite to ask for something that isn’t already being offered. You’re basically saying something is wrong with the food they gave you and you want to fix it. Rude.
  • Don’t clean your plate: In many countries, especially throughout Asia, eating all of your food suggests you’re still hungry and want more. This might be fine in a restaurant where they can always bring you more food, but if you’re at a home where supply is limited, you’re basically saying they failed to give you enough.
  • Don’t take the first bite: Unless you’re asked to start eating, wait for someone else to take the first bite. Depending on where you are this could be the oldest person at the table or the person with the most seniority.
  • Don’t use your left hand: If you’re in India, Morocco, Africa or the Middle East, always use your right hand to eat. The right hand is for eating, the left hand is for other duties, like, uh, wiping…
  • Don’t eat where you’re not supposed to: If you’re not in a dining room or restaurant, it’s considered rude to eat there. I learned this the hard way in Japan when people stared at my friend and I as we ate a quick breakfast outside of a 7-11.

Make sure you check for specific customs before you head somewhere, but these rules should help you get by in most places.

Accepting Gifts

Gifts are lovely, but they can be a trap if you aren’t familiar with local customs. For one, don’t accept a gift the first time it’s offered to you (unless it’s food). Many cultures expect you to decline a gift several times before reluctantly accepting it. Also, never open a gift immediately in front of the gift giver unless they ask you to. It makes you look greedy and impatient.

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Taking the Wrong Seat In a Taxi

In Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, it’s rude not to ride shotgun in a taxi, even if it isn’t full. Taxi drivers think going right for the back is snobby, and they’d rather you ride up front with them and chat. In other countries such as the US, convention is that you jump in the back instead.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • 1. I think it rude to ask someone’s occupation even here in Oz…for the same reason as the French (being part French is possibly part of it): its a pecking order type question. Obviously.
    2. “it supposedly resembles a vagina” no, it supposedly resembles a vulva…get the anatomy right.

  • Taxis: who cares if the driver thinks its rude if you ride in the back. He or she is a driver, job is to drive. If I want a chat, I’ll call up a friend. I ride in the back so I don’t have to: smell the driver’s sweat, talk to the driver, listen to him/her phoning their mates, watch them text while driving…

  • Where does that taxi one come from, here in Perth getting in the back is usually expected unless the driver says other wise.

  • When spellchecker cannot check the context. “Blowing your nose in pubic is considered to be extremely rude in places like China and Japan.” 😉
    Anatomy impossible to perform.

  • Yeah, I think it depends a bit on the situation.

    During the day, in a country town, I’d never sit in the back.

    If I’m pissed as a neut and getting a lift home at the end of the night, I’d go straight for the back seat.

    Also, strangely, when I’m getting into a taxi at Sydney airport, I naturally jump into the back seat because it’s easier to get in/out with a bag, and I can make work calls.

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