14 Things Americans Commonly Do That Are Considered Rude In Other Parts Of The World

Look, I don't need anybody's help with accidentally making a fool of myself. I have shoved my foot so far into my esophagus in social situations that it's a miracle aforementioned foot was ever recovered. I have established, time and time again, my complete and utter social incompetency in the very culture I was raised in, so believe me when I say that I would probably be the first person to unintentionally instigate an international crisis by doing something innocuous that turned out to deeply offend people in another culture. In my defense, it turns out it would a lot easier than you'd think: There are plenty of things Americans do every day that would seem outrageously offensive someplace else.

Some of the things on that list might seem a little bit silly to us, but imagine how dumb some of the things we get offended by are. Who ever decided that raising your middle finger was so bad, anyway? What did the middle finger ever do to us? It's fascinating how a species that is so entirely made up of all the same stuff can split and diverge into all these bizarre social norms. But as fascinating as it is, it's also super awkward when you discover them in action. Spare yourself the trouble if you're thinking of traveling abroad, because these are the things people in certain parts of a the world will not be so peachy keen about:

Using your left hand

Where: Middle East, India, and parts of Africa

Why: In these parts of the world, the left hand is seen as the hand that people use for their sanitary business. Justifiably, it feels super gross to them when you hand them food or try to shake their hand with it.

Giving a thumbs up

Where: Thailand

Why: It's basically just a rude gesture. Some people are really offended by it, and some think it's just immature. Think Ross and his super secret "F*ck You" motion on Friends.


Where: Japan

Why: Look, I'd basically take a tip for walking down the street on the correct side, because that's how much Americans love themselves some free money. But in Japan it comes off as insulting to tip people, even in food service.

Crossing your fingers

Where: Vietnam

Why: It's basically rude slang for vagina. I kind of like this idea, though, that Americans cross their fingers and wish super hard on vaginas.

Smiling at strangers

Where: Russia

Why: We might find it touching if a stranger smiles at us on the street, but in Russia it is a gesture of intimacy, and throwing it around willy-nilly makes you look super disingenuous.

Making a "V" with your fingers

Where: Great Britain, Australia

Why: It may be a ~rad~ peace sign to us, but over there it's considered the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. I have specifically chosen this gif of the entirely English Matt Smith so we can all wonder on the validity of this, though. Either nobody sent him the memo or he's a LOT more pissed than he looks.

Opening a gift in front of the gift-giver

Where: India and China

Why: It makes the gift recipient seem overly-hasty and selfish, as if the ultimate goal is to make the gift-giver feel bad about themselves if they spent less on a gift than you did. I gotta say, Americans are real aggressive about opening stuff in front of each other, and I'd be more than happy to adopt this other practice.

Eating everything on your plate

Where: China

Why: It's basically a passive-aggressive signal to the host that they didn't feed you enough, so no Clean Plate Commandos are welcome here.

Firmly shaking hands

Where: The Phillippines

Why: They're a lot more non-confrontational than we are (WHAT?! Americans, confrontational? NO WE ARE NOT TAKE IT BACK), so they consider a firm handshake to be overly-aggressive.

A "come here" gesture with your arm

Where: The Phillipines

Why: It's something they only do to dogs, and if they catch you doing it to a fellow human, you can even land in jail. Better to run and catch up with someone than risk it. YIKES.

Showing up on time

Where: Argentina

Why: Oh man, I'd be dead on this one, because I have a bad habit of neurotically showing up to things way too early. But in Argentina, it's considered bonkers to show up even within the first hour of start time, since that's usually when the host is getting things together. They're a lot more relaxed about schedules there in general.

Showing the sole of your shoe

Where: the Middle East

Why: It's considered disrespectful, especially because the sole of your shoe is considered extremely dirty in Arab culture. It might not seem like you'd be flashing the bottom of your shoes around in most non-tap dancing situations, but all it really takes is crossing your legs at the table and WHAM—you're a big ol' jerk. (Also, sorry not sorry for the excessive Princess Diaries gif).

Giving the A-OK

Where: Brazil and Germany

Why: It means butthole. Now you'll never make that gesture without being vaguely grossed out again. You're welcome!

Making direct eye contact

Where: Korea

Why: Both making direct eye contact and any form of touching is reserved for family members, so no fist-bumps here, guys.

Image: anniferrr/Flickr; Giphy (14)