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20 Cultural Do’s and Taboos: Manners Around the World

by Janine Boylan on November 11, 2013

greeting manners and social graces: cultural do's and taboos

Having culturally-appropriate manners can make all the difference!
© Thinkstock

A Guide to Social Graces

Around the world, different cultures have different ideas about how to act in public. Here are 20 things to know to avoid embarrassing “Oh, I see” moments.

  • In China and Japan, gesture “come here,” with all of your fingers pointing down. Beckoning someone with a bent finger is considered impolite.
  • In Vietnam, point with your whole hand, not just one finger.
  • In South Korea, stay quiet on public transportation. Noisiness is considered very rude.
  • In India, you are expected to refuse your host’s first offer of a drink or snack. You will be asked again!
  • In Germany, use utensils, not your fingers, to eat—even with foods like pizza and fries. The one exception is bread. It can be eaten with your fingers.
  • In Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world, eat your food with your right hand, not your left. The left hand is reserved for bathroom hygiene so using it for eating is considered unclean.
  • In Indonesia, while eating, keep both hands on the table at all times.
  • As a dinner guest in Kenya or Germany, finish everything on your plate, or the host will be offended and think you didn’t like the food.
  • In China, if you clean your plate, the host will be offended because it is a sign that you didn’t get enough food. Likewise, in Afghanistan and India, leave a little food on your plate when you are full because an empty plate will be filled again!
dining manners and social graces: cultural do's and taboos

Do I leave some food or clear my plate?
© Thinkstock

  • In Pakistan, arrive about 15 minutes after the scheduled start time of a meal, and up to one hour after the start time of a party.
  • If you are invited to a Danish home, be punctual!
  • In Kazakstan, you will be served tea, but only half of a cup. A full cup is a sign that the host wants you to leave! Later in the meal, when you have had enough tea (or broth), turn your cup over to show that you are finished.
  • A superstition in Azerbaijan is that spilled salt means you are about to quarrel. Sprinkle sugar on the salt to counter this.
  • In Kuwait, when the host stands, the meal is over.
  • In India, do not wink or whistle in public.
  • In Vietnam, do not touch someone’s head or shoulder. Also do not pass things over someone’s head.
  • In Brazil, avoid purple lipstick as it is associated with funerals. Purple is fine for clothing and accessories, though.
  • In numerous countries like Libya, Slovakia, and Norway, greet a colleague with a handshake. But in Russia, do not shake hands or conduct business over a threshold—step all the way in or out of the doorway.
  • In China, it is bad luck to let your date borrow your umbrella to go home. This is because the word for umbrella in Chinese sounds like the word for “to break apart.” Instead, take the time to walk your date, with your umbrella, to the door—a gesture that goes a long way in many cultures!
umbrella manners and social graces: cultural do's and taboos

There is even proper etiquette about umbrellas!
© Thinkstock

With so many varying customs around the world, it can be tough to correctly mind your manners. So, in case you make a mistake, see  10 Cultural Do’s and Taboos: Chatting Around the World to be prepared with a quick change of topic!

Kwintessential has a guide to culture, customs, and etiquette, presented by country. 

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


9 thoughts on “20 Cultural Do’s and Taboos: Manners Around the World

  1. Pingback: Taboos Around the World - The Infographics Show

  2. In Kazakhstan, never turn your cup over when you are finished. It will look very strange and nobody will understand you. But, half of a cup tea is true.

  3. Pingback: Middle School Manners | chipsandcookies

  4. I didn’t expect that in afghanistan you have to eat with your right hand because left hand is used for hygene in the bathroom.

  5. Pingback: Good and bad manners all over the world | Inglés en IES Río Nora

  6. Pingback: Culture & Etiquette: A Guide to Social Graces – Free Talking

  7. Pingback: On Humor | bakersfieldblonde

  8. And where did the “purple lipstick thing in Brazil” came from? I´m brazilian and have never heard about something like it before. In fact, I wear purple lipstick a lot in my daily life, with no other problem than matching my whole outfit.

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