10 Ways You Might Be Insulting People in Other Countries
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10 Ways You Might Be Insulting People in Other Countries

While traveling overseas, you might be insulting someone without even knowing it! Since you probably don’t want to be that rude “American tourist,” insulting people in other countries be sure to watch out for these 10 offensive behaviors. Traveling overseas is all fun and games until you unintentionally insult someone, so be sure to do some research on what actions/behaviors may be offensive in the country you’re visiting.

Here are 10 Ways You Might Be Insulting People in Other Countries:

1. Giving the OK Symbol

okay hand symbol

In many countries, the OK symbol means you’re content with the service you received or you understand what someone’s saying to you. But in Brazil, Turkey, and Venezuela, it’s actually a vulgar slang that will offend those around you. And in France, the symbol may not be vulgar but it still means you think the person you’re signaling is worthless and insignificant.

Considered Rude in: Brazil, Turkey, Venezuela, and France.

2. Tipping

Many Asian countries have a no tipping culture, so it can be considered rude to tip in some places, like restaurants, because food service is considered a team effort rather than an individual performance. In some European nations, it may also be interpreted to mean that the owner does not pay his or her employees enough.

Considered Rude in: Japan, South Korea, China, France, and Italy.

3. Keeping Your Shoes On

It’s considered rude to keep your shoes on in temples, and at many restaurants, hotels, and especially in someone’s home in many Asian countries. Especially in Japan, it’s an honor to be invited into someone’s home; bringing in dirt and dust is seen as disrespectful. You can wear provided slippers or socks around instead. It’s also expected that you will point your shoes so that the toe faces the door.

Considered Rude in: Japan, Hawaii, South Korea, China, Thailand, and the South Pacific.

4. Spitting

Insulting People in Other Countries

Spitting in Singapore in public will land you a hefty fine up to $1,000 SGD for a first offense. It’s considered dirty and therefore frowned upon. The same fine and unsanitary stigma goes for not flushing a public toilet, sneezing, and littering. In Hong Kong, spitting or littering will also get you a fine ($1,500 HKD).

Considered Rude in: Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong.

5 More Ways You May Be Insulting People in Other Countries

5. Blowing Your Nose in Public

In China and Japan, the act of blowing your nose is considered disgusting if done in public. (Also considered gross? The mere presence of a handkerchief.) Be especially careful about blowing your nose at a restaurant.

Considered Rude in: China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and France.

6. Sitting in the Back of a Cab

In Australia and New Zealand, which don’t have a large class divide, it might be considered rude if you ride in the back seat of a cab if there’s room in the front.

Considered (Somewhat) Rude in: Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, China, Ireland, and Scotland.

7. Eating With Your Left Hand


The right hand is reserved for eating in India and other cultures in which eating communally or with your hands is common. The left hand is reserved for “other duties” like going to the bathroom.

Considered Rude in: India, the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Africa.

8. Using Your Hands to Eat

Eating with your hands is considered ill-mannered in many countries, but especially in Chile where even a hamburger, French fries, and pizza require a fork and knife.

Considered Rude in: Chile, parts of Europe, and Brazil.

9. Patting Someone on the Head

In Buddhist teachings, the head is considered sacred because it is the highest point on the body. Never touch someone on the head—even if it’s a cute baby—in any country with a prominent Buddhist population.

Considered Rude in: Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Laos.

10. Smiling at a Stranger


Long eye contact and smiling at someone you don’t know will make a local in most Asian cultures feel uncomfortable. In Russia, smiling is reserved for only those you have a close relationship with. So even if you’re just trying to be friendly, avoid staring or making facial expressions if you don’t know the person.

Considered Rude in: South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia.

Ashley Rossi, Smarter Travel | October 11, 2016

Images and Photos by: Smarter Travel

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