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10 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid When You Travel Overseas

It can be tough navigating unfamiliar cultural norms, especially when you don’t want to offend anyone or ruin your trip. For example, in some Asian countries, it’s considered impolite to point with your index finger. To help you have a smooth trip, we’ve compiled a list of 10 cultural mistakes to avoid.

1. Revealing your collarbone and shoulder area in South Korea

In South Korea, revealing the collarbone and shoulder area in public is considered too revealing. This is due to the cultural belief that showing a lot of skin is inappropriate and disrespectful. However, wearing short skirts is socially acceptable.

2. Tipping in Japan

Attention, travelers to Japan: leave those extra yen at home. In Japanese culture, service is an integral part of the job, and it’s not necessary to tip as a way to show appreciation. In fact, it may be seen as a sign of disrespect, as it implies that the person providing the service is hoping for some extra money rather than doing their job with pride.

3. Blowing your nose in public in Japan

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, be prepared to keep your snot to yourself. Blowing your nose in public is a major no-no in Japanese culture, as it’s seen as disrespectful and unsanitary. So, if you’re feeling sniffly during your trip, be sure to step into a private space or wait until you’re back in your hotel room to blow your nose.

4. Asking for a doggy bag in Italy

When dining in Italy, leave that doggy bag at home. Asking for a to-go container for your leftovers is a major faux pas in this country, as it’s seen as disrespectful to the food and the culture. The food there is an integral part of the dining experience, and it’s important to show appreciation for the dishes that are served.

So, be prepared to enjoy every bite of your meal and leave the restaurant satisfied. And if you do happen to have some leftovers, don’t be afraid to ask your server for suggestions on how to enjoy them later — just don’t expect them to package it up for you to take home.

5. Eating with a fork in Thailand

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand and love to eat with a fork, you might want to leave it behind. Using a fork to eat is a big no-no in this country. Instead, you’ll want to get comfortable using a spoon and a fork, with the spoon being used to scoop up food and the fork being used to push food onto the spoon.

6. Leaving after the first goodbye in Morocco

In Morocco, it’s important to be prepared for a long farewell when visiting someone’s home. It’s customary to exchange multiple goodbyes in this country, and leaving after just one is considered rude. This is seen as a sign of impatience or disinterest. And it’s important to show respect for the customs and traditions of the local culture.

So, if you’re planning a trip to North Africa, be prepared to take your time and exchange a few extra goodbyes before leaving.

7. Sticking the chopsticks in the rice in China

In China, it’s considered rude to stick your chopsticks upright in your food, as this is reminiscent of funeral rituals. Moreover, it’s important to avoid pointing or gesturing with your chopsticks, as this can be seen as impolite.

8. Using red ink in Portugal

The Portuguese consider it bad manners to write in red ink. This is probably because it is associated with mistakes and negativity. As a result, using it may be seen as disrespectful. That’s why, if you’re planning a trip to Portugal and don’t want to offend anyone, be sure to leave your red pen at home and opt for a blue or black ink pen instead.

9. Crossing your fingers in Vietnam

Crossing your fingers in this country is a major taboo. It’s considered rude, suggestive, and disrespectful. Before visiting Vietnam, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local traditions to avoid any awkward or embarrassing situations. If you’re feeling superstitious or in need of some extra luck, there are plenty of other gestures you can try that are appropriate.

10. Not making the kissing sound when you do the bise in France

© Kevin Mazur / WireImage / Getty Images, Anthony Behar / Sipa USA / East News

In France, it is common to greet others with a kiss on each cheek, known as “la bise.” It is also essential to make a kissing sound when performing la bise, as failing to do so may be considered impolite. The kissing sound is a traditional part of the greeting ritual and expresses affection and appreciation toward the person being greeted.

If you are visiting Paris and want to avoid any social faux pas, it is important to remember to make the kissing sound when greeting people with la bise. If you are not comfortable with physical contact, shaking hands is also an acceptable greeting.

What’s your dream destination for an international trip? Have you ever experienced an awkward or embarrassing moment while traveling abroad? Share your story in the comments below!

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