I am perhaps the worst person to talk to about good manners. I talk too loud in public places, I laugh with food in my mouth and put my elbows on the table constantly. However, while I was never the pillar of politeness, I would always get way more looks in say Europe than in the states, and I never knew why. Well, apparently it’s because I was doing a whole host of other things that Europeans find particularly rude, and I had no idea.
Thankfully, I’m not the only loud, uncoordinated American that experiences this. Apparently, there are many random things we do without thinking that are terribly offensive to people in various countries around the world. But that’s not even the worst part — the worst part is, the offensive actions vary quite a bit from country to country, so it’s that much easier to look like a jerk. They should really list them in the index of translation books so we don’t accidentally start a war on foreign soil.
You’ll be surprised how many of these things you do everyday without thinking. While we may not see them as rude, just think of all the silly little gestures we get so bent out of shape over that foreign folks might not even notice. It’s truly fascinating to think about which social gestures stuck around, and why; but what’s even more fun is learning some new ones!
Here are 12 offensive gestures from around the world that might get you into serious trouble if you use them accidentally. However, if you choose to use one on purpose, do it at your own risk.
1. Crossing your fingers
Now this is kind of funny, because we do this for luck in America. However, it says something very different in Vietnam. Crossing your fingers signifies a vagina, and is thus an insulting gesture.
2. Smiling at strangers
I would get in so much trouble in Russia, because I have “nice girl face,” and thus a smile is my resting pose. Apparently, smiling in Russia is a super intimate thing. So, if you do it to strangers, it makes you seem disingenuous.
3. Firmly shaking hands
Country: The Philippines
My dad always told me a firm handshake was a sign of strength and confidence, but not in the Philippines. They see it as extremely confrontational and aggressive — two big no-no’s in this country.
4. Being punctual
OK, seriously?! I am not doing well in this game so far. Argentinians find it rude if you show up within an hour of a suggested start time to a party or event. I suppose that’s what we call fashionably late, but to them it’s just the right thing to do.
5. Talking with your hands in your pockets
So, I’ll be wearing a lot of pocketless dresses when I go to Germany, because this is considered rude, and it’s my go-to stance when I’m nervous.
Countries: Japan and Korea
Well this one isn’t too bad, is it? These countries are quite proud, and being tipped is insulting, no matter how great the service was.
7. Giving thumbs up
Again, what’s good in our country is rude in Asia. Thumbs up isn’t really obscene, but rather the equivalent to sticking out your tongue at someone. So you probably shouldn’t do it as an adult.
8. Doing anything with your left hand
Countries: Asia, Africa and part of the Middle East
I am a lefty, and thus should probably steer clear of these places. These countries associate your left hand with wiping your a**, so anytime you gesture with it, it’s (naturally) insulting.
9. Opening a gift in front of the giver
Countries: China and India
While opening gifts in front of the giver is sort of a ritual in America (showers, Christmas), in these countries it looks impatient and selfish. I never thought of it that way, but I’ll totally own up to that.
10. Giving the “OK” sign
Countries: Greece and Turkey
Simply put, it’s the equivalent to calling someone gay, and not in the nice way. It also means “butt hole” in Germany and Brazil, but that feels far less offensive.
11. Chewing gum
Countries: Luxembourg, Switzerland, France and Singapore
Now, I’ve never thought this was a terribly attractive habit, but in these countries it’s considered vulgar; and in Singapore it is actually illegal.
12. Laughing out loud
I’d be kicked out of Japan before I left the airport. An open-faced, teeth-showing laugh there is thought to “sound like horses,” and is thus rude and unladylike. Whatever. Who needs ladies when we have jokes?