I am a product of mixed cultures.
My Dad is Arab and Mom is American.
I have grown up knowing two cultures inside out, which has made me very aware of cultural differences, and how deep they can run, all my life.
I find it fascinating, and I love to travel and discover how people do things in different places.
I pride myself on trying to be sensitive to new cultures, while traveling through them, as I navigate my way to learning new customs.
Personal space is one that is very different in the States compared to the Middle East.
In the Middle East people get very close to each other, which can make Westerners nervous.
Every culture has a way of doing things that are deemed completely polite, which will be seen as downright rude in other cultures.
Or they might be funny to people from other cultures that don’t understand the history behind the traditions, and actions of a foreigner.
Cross cultural understanding is paramount if you want to get along with people from other countries.
Here’s a list of the most interesting cultural differences around the world:
1. Let People Feed You in Ethiopia 🇪🇹
If you find yourself in Ethiopia dining with locals you may be in for a surprise.
One way of showing affection in Ethiopia is to feed other people you are eating with.
So if someone reaches for your mouth with some food, be sure to eat it, otherwise you may be seen as rude.
2. Make Sure to Get Naked in Iceland 🇮🇸
Icelandic people are very relaxed about nudity, and in fact women have the right to be topless in public if they want without fearing any kind of backlash since it is the law.
But when it comes to swimming pools, Icelandic people are very uptight about cleanliness, and hygiene.
If going to the pool you must take a clean bathing suit with you and not wear it there.
Once in the changing room you must get completely naked and take a shower with the shower guard (person) watching you to be sure you wash your intimate areas along with all other areas.
After which you put your suit on and enter the pool area to enjoy swimming, soaking and relaxing.
3. When Meeting People in Japan, Tell Them Your Age 🇯🇵
It is very common, and not considered rude to ask a person’s age in Japan when you meet them for the first time.
The Japanese language is a rich and complex language that has different words to use depending on the age or status of the person you are talking to.
So it’s important for people to know your age range so as not to offend you by showing you less respect than you are due.
4. Do All the Talking With Your Mouth in Turkey 🇹🇷
Hand gestures and signals are always better to only use in your home country where you understand what they mean.
In Turkey gesturing with a thumbs up while moving you hand back and forth signals that you are wanting to aggressively have sex with someone.
And not in a nice way!
And don’t make the ‘OK’ gesture, and you can imagine it can be seen as being very rude!
5. Giving Gifts in China Can Get You into Trouble 🇨🇳
Certain gifts in china can cause great offence, like giving cut flowers which is only done at funerals.
Also giving a clock is seen as bad luck.
A gift of shoes would be interpreted as giving a gift of evil.
Nothing with the number four as that is associated with death, since the word sounds like the word death.
Handkerchiefs are a symbol of saying goodbye forever, so those won’t do either.
And finally don’t give a sharp object as that insinuates you want to cut off the relationship with them.
6. Don’t Touch Anyone’s Head in Malaysia 🇲🇾
Especially babies, and don’t touch the head of an adult.
Also don’t pass objects over anyone’s head, as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body.
Pointing is also considered rude in Malaysia so directions are normally given with an open hand.
7. Use Both Hands in South Korea 🇰🇷
Use both hands when handing things to other people, whether your business card, or especially money.
Otherwise it is seen as a sign of disrespect.
8. Keep Your Feet on the Ground in the Middle East 🇯🇴
It is considered very rude to show people the soles of your feet, or even point them in their direction.
Be very careful when you sit with your legs crossed.
9. Keep a Knife and Fork in Your Hands in Chile 🇨🇱
It’s very rude in Chile to eat anything with your hands in Chile, always have a knife and fork at the ready.
Even when eating French fries.
Leaving a little food on your plate lets your host know that you had enough and are full.
10. Don’t Make a Toast With Your Wine in Georgia 🇬🇪
Georgians make toasts with wine, vodka, or beer if they wish someone bad luck.
However 10 to 15 toasts a night in small glasses with other alcoholic beverages that must be downed in one is completely normal.
11. Don’t Show Up on Time for Dinner in Tanzania 🇹🇿
It is considered rude to turn up for dinner on time in Tanzania, where you are expected to be 15 minutes late at the very least.
And when you do show up, don’t give any hints that you smell the food.
That is very, very rude!
12. Never Put a Fork in Your Mouth in Thailand 🇹🇭
A fork in Thailand is used to shovel food onto your spoon only and not for eating with, that is the job of your spoon.
13. Pucker Up Your Lips in Nicaragua 🇳🇮
In Nicaragua pointing with fingers is not done, instead people use their lips for this job.
They pucker their lips and gesture in a certain direction, usually to point out something happening nearby.
14. Go Hang Out in the Cemetery in Denmark 🇩🇰
When many people around the world want to hang out, relax, and maybe have a picnic they usually head for a park.
Not so in Denmark where they head to the cemetery for a little rest and relaxation.
The cemeteries are kept very well manicured, and host lots of people especially during nice weather.
15. Throw a Tomato at Someone in Spain 🇪🇸
La Tomatina is a festival in Spain that is all about throwing tomatoes at each other.
This all started in 1945 when a parade careened out of control overturning a fruit and veg stand.
People began throwing tomatoes at one another out of frustration, and after a couple of years of the authorities trying to ban this practice, the festival was born.
The throwing usually lasts an hour and there are some rules.
No tearing or throwing t-shirts. No hard objects or bottles.
Squash the tomato a bit before throwing so as not to hurt anyone.
Stop when you hear the signal.
Once done the fire department hoses down the main square revealing a very clean ground due to the citric acid in the tomatoes.
Make sure you tip in the United States, but don’t be insulting and do it in Japan.
Don’t mix up Aussies and Kiwis in New Zealand.
Don’t blow your nose in public in Turkey or Japan.
Don’t jump the queue in the UK.
Don’t stand in a queue in the Middle East.
Don’t stare at people in Germany.
So many things we should and shouldn’t do in the world, and it is certainly hard to know all cultural norms.
Best thing to do when traveling for international business or for fun is to read up on new countries you are visiting, and then try and watch and see what others are doing and match them.