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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Beware of Your Behavior
in Foreign Lands

Compiled by Dick Oakes

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Dick Oakes

BACKGROUND

Information: Many cultures frown on behavior we consider normal such as finger pointing and yawning without covering your mouth. The following list just may help you avoid causing an international incident.


AFRICA

Don't use your left hand for anything except wiping with toilet paper. Don't hold your thumb up in a "thumbs up" gesture as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Don't compliment anyone on their clothing or their home (it will be interpreted as you want to own it and they are obligated to give it to you!). Don't flush toilet paper – it clogs the plumbing (use the bin beside the toilet. Extended eye contact is considered a "challenge." Don't point at something or someone with the index finger is usually considered rude or just straight offensive, rather poke your chin in the right divection and widening your eyes. Avoid motioning to call a person with an upwards palm, rather call someone over with the palm faced down and pull the fingers inwards. Don't sit so that the sole of your shoe is pointing at someone as it is the lowest and divtiest place on your body. To call the attention of someone use a hissing sound or loud smack of the lips. Do not publicly show anger, frustration, or impatience. Receive a gift with goth hands.


ARAB COUNTRIES

Don't sit so that the sole of your shoe is pointing at someone as it is the lowest and divtiest place on your body. It is rude to show the soles of your feet. Men should generally never shake the hands of women. Between opposite genders anything more than brief eye contact is considered inappropriate.


ARGENTINA

Don't show up for a dinner engagement exactly on time. Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning.


ASIA

Most Asian countries' cultures expect you to take your shoes off when entering someone's home. Don't use your left hand for anything except wiping with toilet paper. Don't flush toilet paper – it clogs the plumbing (use the bin beside the toilet. Saying "thank you" to close friends or family can be quite awkward as it comes across as too formal and makes it sound like they wouldn’t have done their good deed otherwise. Extended eye contact is considered a "challenge." Wave a waiter over to your table with your palm faced towards you.


AUSTRALIA

Don't sit in back of a taxi – it's considered rude – ride "shotgun." Don't use the "peace sign" (two fingers held up) as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Punctuality is absolutely key when meeting to discuss business.


BALI

Do not take pictures of topless or nude sun bathers.


BRAZIL

Don't give the "okay sign" with your fingers as it's considered a sexual insult. Punctuality is not the forte of many Brazilian people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


BOLIVIA

Don't pour wine with your left hand. It is rude to discuss business during a social occasion.


BRAZIL

Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning.


BRITAIN

Being late is odd and, in some cases, considered to be rude. Avoid extended eye contact.


CARIBBEAN

Most Caribbean countries' cultures expect you to take your shoes off when entering someone's home.


CHILE

Never pour wine with your left hand and don't slap your fist into the palm of your hand. Punctuality is not the forte of many Chilean people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


CHINA

Never suck on your chopsticks. Don't open a gift in front of the giver. Don't touch or hug other people. Decline accepting a gift several times before accepting it. Don't finish your meal unless you're still hungry. Never blow your nose in public. Punctuality is not the forte of Egyptian people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late. Generally, women do not have the same status as men. Do not gift clocks, handkerchiefs, straw sandals or flowers as are all associated with death and funerals.


COLOMBIA

Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning. It is common to point with the lips instead of the thumb or index finger.


CUBA

Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning.


CZECHIA

It is considered a lack of respect to not look each other in the eye when toasting with an alcoholic beverage.


DENMARK

Don't wear any clothing in saunas, spas, and steam rooms (it's considered prudish). Coming in too close to people will make them uncomfortable and may be taken as a sign of aggression.


ECUADOR

Punctuality is not the forte of many Ecuadorian people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


EGYPT

Smiling too broadly at a stranger risks being perceived as passive and weak or even feeble-mindedness. Affectionate public displays between men and women are not accepted. Don't salt your food as it means that you find the meal's taste repulsive.


ENGLAND

Don't start a conversation with "What do you do?"


ETHIOPIA

Almost every meal is accompanied with a flat, pancake-like bread (injera), which is then used to pick up every morsel of goodness on a communal plate.


EUROPE

Don't wear baseball caps, flip flops, sweatpants, or wrinkled clothes in public as it is considered disrespectful. Handing someone the bill at a restaurant before they've asked for it means they want you out of their facility. Don’t expect to get very far with ?bad service" complaints in restaurants. Seasoning your food is considered rude as it is like saying "you didn’t prepare the food well." Use a fork and knife to eat pizza, not your hand.


FINLAND

Don't wear any clothing in saunas, spas, and steam rooms (it's considered prudish). Coming in too close to people will make them uncomfortable and may be taken as a sign of aggression.


FRANCE

Refrain from asking for condiments to alter your meal as it may raise eyebrows. Never blow your nose in public. “Bonjour madame, monsieur” should be the first words out of your mouth, otherwise you’re subtly showing you feel the person is beneath you. Don't give the "okay sign" with your fingers as it's considered a sexual insult. The polite way to eat bread in France is to tear it up in your hands.


GERMANY

Never talk with someone while your other hand is in your pocket. Don't be late as it is taken as you think your time is more valuable than everyone else's. Don't give the "okay sign" with your fingers as it's considered a sexual insult. In parts if Germany, it is considered a lack of respect to not look each other in the eye when toasting with an alcoholic beverage.


GREECE

Don't hold your thumb up in a "thumbs up" gesture as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning. Fake spitting ("ftou ftou ftou") can be done as a superstitious measure to ward off evil during regular conversation.


HAITI

Don't whistle in public or make eye contact with elders as they are considered an affront.


HUNGARY

Don't clink glasses before drinking.


ICELAND

Never use people's last names when greeting them.


INDIA

Don't whistle in public. Don't open a gift immediately. Don't open a gift in front of the giver. Don't use your left hand for anything except wiping with toilet paper. Refrain from saying "Thank you." It is rude to show the soles of your feet. Most food is taken with the fingers rather than with a fork.


INDONESIA

Never touch anyone's head. Don't point at someone with your index finger – use your thumb instead – close your hand into a fist as a sign of respect, then put your thumb on top, and then point it at the person.


IRAN

Never blow your nose in public.


IRELAND

Avoid discussion of religion or politics. Don't sit in back of a taxi – it's considered rude – ride "shotgun." Don't use the "peace sign" (two fingers held up) as it is the same as holding your middle finger up.


ISRAEL

For men, when entering a Jewish synagogue or cemetery, it is customary to cover your head, even if you only have a baseball cap.


ITALY

Refrain from asking for condiments to alter your meal as it may raise eyebrows. Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning.


JAPAN

Don't scribble on someone's business card. Tipping is considered an insult. Don't laugh with your mouth open. Decline accepting a gift several times before accepting it. Don't wear baseball caps, flip flops, sweatpants, or wrinkled clothes in public – it is considered disrespectful. It is considered rude to eat anywhere that isn't a bar, hotel, or restaurant – even on a bus or walking outside. Refrain from asking for condiments to alter your meal as it may raise eyebrows. Never blow your nose in public. Making slurping sounds when eating noodles is a way of indicating that you're really enjoying them. Don't point, play with, or stab food with chopsticks. Use the opposite end of your chopsticks to secure food from a shared plate.


KENYA

Never accept a gift with your left hand.


KUWAIT

The importation and use of alcohol, homosexual acts, pork products, and heterosexual couples living together, are illegal. Don't use your left hand for anything except wiping with toilet paper. Don't finish your meal unless you're still hungry. The meal is over when the host stands.


LATIN AMERICA

Don't hold your thumb up in a "thumbs up" gesture as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Don't compliment anyone on their clothing or their home (it will be interpreted as you want to own it and they are obligated to give it to you!). Showing up on time would be considered bad form. Extended eye contact is considered a "challenge."


LEBANON

It is incredibly rude to refuse when food is offered.


MALAYSIA

Don't point at someone with your index finger – use your thumb instead close your hand into a fist as a sign of respect, then put your thumb on top, and then point it at the person.


MEDITERRANEAN

Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning. Punctuality is not the forte of Mediterranean people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


MEXICO

If you are invited to a Mexican's home, arrive 30 minutes late in most places (check with colleagues to see if you should arrive later than that). Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table. When you have finished eating, place your knife and fork across your plate with the prongs facing down and the handles facing to the right. Do not sit down until you are invited to and told where to sit. Only men give toasts. It is polite to leave some food on your plate after a meal.


MIDDLE EAST

Don't hold your thumb up in a "thumbs up" gesture as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Don't use your left hand for anything except wiping with toilet paper. Don't compliment anyone on their clothing or their home (it will be interpreted as you want to own it and they are obligated to give it to you!). Don't touch or hug other people.


NETHERLANDS

Don't sit in back of a taxi – it's considered rude – ride "shotgun." Don't ask a person "What do you do?"


NEW ZEALAND

Don't sit in back of a taxi – it's considered rude – ride "shotgun." Don't use the "peace sign" (two fingers held up) as it is the same as holding your middle finger up.


NICARAGUA

It is common to point with the lips instead of the thumb or index finger.


NIGERIA

Yoruba youths are expected to drop to their knees in greeting, women kneel when greeting, and men typically lie prostrate – sighs of respect and deference for the elders of the community.


NORTH KOREA

Tipping is seen as an insult. Don't touch or hug other people.


NORWAY

It is rude to drink alcohol you didn't bring to a party. Don't honk your horn. Don't compliment people to their faces. Don't wear any clothing in saunas, spas, and steam rooms (it's considered prudish). Coming in too close to people will make them uncomfortable and may be taken as a sign of aggression. Always use a knife and fork, even for sandwiches.


PHILIPPINES

Don't finish your meal unless you're still hungry. Don't point at someone with your index finger – use your thumb (or lips) instead – close your hand into a fist as a sign of respect, then put your thumb on top, and then point it at the person. Punctuality is not the forte of Filipino people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


POLAND

Don't drink everything in your glass unless you intend to get a refill.


PORTUGAL

Never useyour bread to soak up the juices from your meal. Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning.


RUSSIA

Never squeeze through a theater aisle with your backside turned to the people sitting there. Don't finish your meal unless you're still hungry. Don't hold your thumb up in a "thumbs up" gesture as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Never smile at strangers. Place a glass of alcohol on the table bottom up and empty after a toast.


RWANDA

It is considered rude to eat anywhere that isn't a bar, hotel, or restaurant – even on a bus or walking outside.


SAUDI ARABIA

Never blow your nose in public.


SCOTLAND

Don't sit in back of a taxi – it's considered rude – ride "shotgun."


SOUTH AFRICA

Don't use the "peace sign" (two fingers held up) as it is the same as holding your middle finger up.


SOUTH AMERICA

Don't say you're from "America" but rather say you're from the "United States." Don't flush toilet paper – it clogs the plumbing (use the bin beside the toilet. Punctuality is not the forte of many South American people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


SOUTH KOREA

Don't talk with someone while your other hand is in your pocket (it's a huge insult). Dont' touch or hug other people. Don't write someone's name in red ink. Even men keep their shirts on at the beach.


SOUTH PACIFIC

Punctuality is not the forte of South Pacific people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


SPAIN

Refrain from asking for condiments to alter your meal as it may raise eyebrows. Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning. Take a break in the early afternoon (everything closes up!).


SRI LANKA

Don't hold your thumb up in a "thumbs up" gesture as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Don't use your left hand for anything except wiping with toilet paper.


SWEDEN

Don't wear any clothing in saunas, spas, and steam rooms (it's considered prudish). Coming in too close to people will make them uncomfortable and may be taken as a sign of aggression.


THAILAND

Avoid stepping on a doorsill as it is believed that a domestic diety lives in it. Dont touch or hug other people. Never touch a person’s head as it can be religiously offensive. Don't finish your meal unless you're still hungry.


TIBET

Some Tibetans stick their tongues out to say hello when greeting others.


TURKEY

Don't talk to elderly people in a lounder-than-normal voice. Never blow your nose in public. Don't talk with someone with one hand in your pocket (it's considered arrogant). Don't give the "okay sign" with your fingers as it's considered a sexual insult. Always carry a lighter in your pocket to light another's cigarette. A firm handshake is considered rude and aggressive.


UNITED KINGDOM

Don't use the "peace sign" (two fingers held up) as it is the same as holding your middle finger up. Coming in too close to people will make them uncomfortable and may be taken as a sign of aggression.


URUGUAY

Don't show "horn fingers" (holding up the first and pinkie fingers) as the gesture has quite an offensive meaning.


VENEZUELA

Don't give the "okay sign" with your fingers as it's considered a sexual insult. Punctuality is not the forte of many Venezuelan people and it is not considered rude to be 15 or 20 minutes late.


VIETNAM

Don't cross your fingers as it is offensive (it represents genitals).


DOCUMENT


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