12 Things You Do All The Time You Didn’t Know Are Super Offensive In Other Cultures

There are tons of courteous gestures and common habits that we all practice without even giving them a second thought, such as finishing a great meal and tipping waiters. But when you stick to certain rules of etiquette for so long, it’s easy to forget that these rules vary from country to country. For instance, did you know that throwing a thumbs up has the same meaning as showing your middle finger in Latin America, the Middle East, Greece, and Russia?


Yeah, I didn’t know either. And that’s just one. You’d be surprised to know that there are tons of other common American customs that are seen as rude in other cultures. Check out these 12 things you do all the time that are actually offensive in other countries.

Blowing Your Nose In Public

Typically, blowing your nose in public might earn you a few "bless yous" and some curious glances. But in China, France, Turkey, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, sneezing in public is seen as extremely rude and repulsive. It’s the equivalent of clipping your toenails in public.

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Doing The Thumbs Up Sign

Giving someone a thumbs up is just like flashing your middle finger in Latin America, the Middle East, Greece, and Russia. So be extra careful about how you show excitement if you're in these places!

Image Source: iStock

Chewing Gum In Public

We’ve all seen a few passersby who chew their gum in such an annoying way that it’s almost repulsive. It’s probably the main reason why chewing gum is considered offensive and unattractive in countries like Luxembourg, Switzerland, France, and Singapore. In fact, in some places in Singapore, this is illegal because workers don’t want to deal with the hassle of scraping gum off the streets.

Image Source: iStock

Laughing With Your Mouth Open

You know that gut-busting, hysterical, open-mouthed laughter that can make you fall out of your chair? Well, laughing this way in Japan is just as impolite as, say, making disgusting noises while you eat, or talking with food in your mouth. It’s considered “horse-like” to have your mouth open and teeth exposed while laughing.

Image Source: iStock

Opening A Gift In Front Of The Giver

Getting to see someone’s reaction to a gift you gave them is usually one of the best parts of exchanging gifts. But in many Asian countries, including India, opening a gift right after you receive it is seen as a sign of greed. It also takes away from the suspense.

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Tipping Servers

Giving tips to waiters in any American restaurant is a common courtesy, but if you were to try this in South Korea or Japan, it would be considered extremely offensive. Waiters feel that they're paid to do their jobs well and they take pride in what they do, so they don’t need the added incentive. If you visit any of these countries, think twice before you fork out any extra cash for tips.

Image Source: iStock

Sitting In The Back Of A Cab

If you think it’s always okay to hop into the back seat whenever you hail a cab, think again. In Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, refusing to ride shotgun is considered offensive because it communicates that you’re putting yourself above your driver, or rather, that you’re an upper class person with a personal chauffer. Sitting next to the driver, however, communicates that you and the driver are equals.

Image Source: iStock

Finishing Your Entire Meal

Finishing your meal to the very last crumb is usually seen as a good sign. But in China, Russia, Thailand, and the Philippines, polishing your plate tells people that you’re still hungry or that the food you were given was not enough to satisfy you. If you decide to travel to any of these places, you should probably leave back a spoonful or two of your meals when dining out.

Image Source: iStock

Giving A Firm Handshake

A firm handshake usually symbolizes confidence and it leaves a great impression, but in the Philippines, strong handshakes are avoided like the plague. Since Filipinos prefer to avoid confrontation, they see firm handshakes as a sign of aggression. This is why if you were to shake someone’s hand in the Philippines, you’d be offered a limp hand and a weak handshake.

Image Source: iStock

Using Your Left Hand To Do Important Things

Offering an item, receiving a gift, and reaching to touch people are some common things that shouldn’t be done with the left hand. This is a cultural taboo because the left hand is usually associated with evil. Countries in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and places in the Middle East would see use of the left hand as a huge insult.

Image Source: iStock

Wearing Sweats And Wrinkled Clothes In Public

In some parts of Europe and in Japan, if you wear things like sweats, flip flops, or anything wrinkled, people will see you as sloppy and disrespectful. So if you’re in Japan and you happen to walk out in a pair of sweats and a wrinkled tee, you might get a few condescending looks.

Image Source: iStock

Eating Somewhere That Doesn’t Serve Food

There’s nothing wrong with pulling out a little snack to munch on if you’re walking down the street or waiting at a bus stop. But if you’re in Rwanda or Japan, you had better keep the snacks hidden. Typically, you’re only supposed to eat in a hotel, restaurant, or bar. If you eat anywhere else where food isn’t served, then this is considered rude.

Image Source: iStock


Have you done any of these offensive things in other places? Which one of them shocked you the most? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • Misha Ghosh

    I live in Singapore. It is not illegal in some parts, but it is prohibited in all parts. Maybe because, I don’t know, we are super small? But some people still bring it in from neighbouring countries, like Malaysia, and it is not taken away at the checkpoints. One more thing, it is not considered rude. In fact, in school if someone brought gum, she would be sure to have many people wanting it.

    By the way, I’m 10.

  • Johanna Ugaz Gavidia

    throwing a thumbs up literally means a thumbs up in latin america

  • Leasia

    wow, guess i’ll stay in America

  • disqus_vYLEEDXpJZ

    Uhm, I am from Latin America and I can assure you we don’t think “the thumbs up sign” is the same as the middle finger.

  • akasha.queen

    Um, I live in Greece and let me tell you, the thumbs up sign means “good” or “OK”, it just isn’t used that commonly. I don’t know anyone, including myself, that would be even slightly offended.