Being Polite In Other Countries

When you’re traveling abroad, you should be aware that other countries have different views about what’s polite or rude. To avoid an awkward situation, here’s what to avoid doing and what to do instead:   

In Brazil, the “ok” hand gesture is an insult

Here in the US, making the “ok” hand gesture, which is when you join your thumb and pointer finger in a circle and keep your other three fingers raised, means you’re all good with whatever is going on. In Brazil, however, that’s an insult and very obscene.

In Japan, bow for a greeting

Japan is very different than most Western countries and respect is very important. Bow for a greeting instead of shaking hands, and never stand with your hands in your pockets.

In Italy, keep your seat

While a meal is going on in Italy, it’s considered rude to leave while the meal is still going on. Wait until everyone has finished eating before getting up.

Avoid a “thumbs up” gestures

The familiar “thumbs up” might mean the equivalent of “up yours.” If you’re traveling in Greece (or Iraq, Afghanistan, or Nigeria), don’t use this gesture.

In Spain, suit up

Dressing formally is the norm in Spain, regardless of the occasion. When packing for your trip, be sure to bring outfits you can easily dress up with a tie, jewelry, and so on. For women, plan on wearing dresses or skirts.

The Swiss don’t tip

After eating a meal in Switzerland, don’t tip. It isn’t expected. You should also keep your elbows off the table, which is good manners here in the US, too, so that shouldn’t be too challenging.

In Kenya, drink your tea

While traveling in Kenya, whenever someone offers you tea, always accept it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t usually drink the beverage or you’re not thirsty; take the tea.