Americans are known for the “ugly tourist” stereotype. It’s relatively pervasive. The loudness, the complaining, the lack of cultural understanding…that’s what we’re known for. But it is not always that way. There are plenty of Americans who have learned to adapt to their surroundings. They walk the walk and talk the talk. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even know they were American unless you stopped them. This list is for those of you who want to be like that…traveling ninjas. You blend into every environment and nobody would know where you’re from unless they saw your passport. Of course, you’ll probably have to learn some other languages, but if you’re dedicated then that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Get ready to check out some American customs that may be offensive in other countries.
To better clarify, don’t take this list as an assault on American culture. It’s fine, as long as it’s in America. Other cultures do things differently. Sometimes “better”, sometimes “worse”. That doesn’t matter as much though. What matters is that you try to understand it. That’s the secret. So, whether you are about to leave on a trip or you are still in the planning stages, these are 25 American customs that may be offensive in other countries.
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Blowing your nose in public
This is a big no-no in Japan.
Putting your legs up
In Arabic countries, you should be very wary of exposing the bottoms of your feet.
Asking someone you just met what they do for a living
In the US, this is normal. In many countries, it’s equivalent to asking about someone’s salary.
Handing someone the bill at a restaurant before they've asked for it
In Europe, this means you want that customer out of your pub…now.
Asking people how they are doing
The typical American greeting of “How are you?” is taken quite literally in most countries. It may be ok to ask every now and then, but be prepared for an honest answer. And if you ask too much, people will think you are just faking it.
This may actually be seen as offensive in some countries like Japan
Eating everything on your plate
In some Asian cultures this is seen as rude. It implies that the host was incapable of providing you with enough to eat.
Talking to strangers
Although randomly complimenting a complete stranger on their awesome t-shirt is a perfectly normal thing to do in the US…that can come across as quite odd in some reserved European societies.
Walking into someone's home with your shoes on
Although in America taking your shoes off would come across as a sign of familiarity (making yourself at home), in many other cultures this is a must for everybody.
Complaining about service
The phrase “The Customer Is King” doesn’t exist in Europe. For the Europeans, both customers and employees are on equal footing both culturally and legally. So don’t expect to get very far with “bad service” complaints.
In many European countries, being overly proud of your nationality or country often carries strong reminders of nationalism and fascism. At best, it is considered a strange thing to be proud of.
In the UK, just make sure your palm is facing away from you, otherwise you’re flipping the bird.
Not offering your guests something
In most parts of the world, it is commonplace to offer people some form of drink when they enter your home. Yes, even the plumber.
Saying thank you
In many parts of Asia, saying thank you to close friends or family can be quite awkward. It comes across as too formal and makes it sound like they wouldn’t have done their good deed otherwise.
In northern Europe, even if there is not a single car coming, prepare to wait for the crossing signal. Not doing so can earn you some fierce stares.
Being fashionably late
In Germany, if you tell someone you will be at someone’s place at 3, you should strive to arrive at exactly 3. There is no concept of being fashionably late.
Saying you're from America (while in South America)
This pertains exclusively to South America. Don’t go around telling people you’re from America because that makes it seem like South Americans aren’t. You’re from the United States.
Although in the US this is done to not inconvenience the host, in many Arab countries this would be seen as incredibly rude.
Not declining gifts
In some Asian cultures it is expected of you to decline a gift/favor several times before accepting it. Failing to do this makes it seem like you don’t respect the other person
Eating in places where food is not served
In many countries it is rude to eat on public transport and in some places (like Japan), it is even rude to eat while walking down the street.
Excessive use of superlatives
Americans have a tendency to describe everything as the “greatest ever”. In many places this will at best make you seem fake, and at worst, dishonest.
Having one hand in your pocket
In places like Turkey and South Korea this can be considered rude or arrogant.
Opening presents immediately
In some Asian countries (China, Japan), this will make you look greedy.
Seasoning your food
In many parts of southern Europe this is considered rude. It is sort of like saying “you didn’t prepare the food well”. Before eating at a restaurant it is good to check if there are condiments on the table. If not, don’t ask for them.
In many cultures, it is considered good form to be a little self-deprecating, which Americans don’t tend to be. This can come across as being stuck up.