Today • • 14 June

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9 habits that might get you in trouble around the world

In Spain, when you don’t kiss someone on the cheek the first time you meet them, it’s considered rude. This is an example of cultural etiquette, codes of behaviour that change from one country to another. In some places, culture shock can happen, but we can always adapt to the manners the natives follow so we don’t come off as rude or annoying.

Here are some unexpected rules that must be followed in different parts of the world, if you don’t want to face any unnecessary embarrassment.


In Chile, you’re better off eating without ever touching your food. Chileans consider it distasteful to use your hands to eat anything, even snacks like French fries. That’s why they always have knife and fork ready for every meal.

Respect for elders is very important in Korean culture. Besides waiting for the elder person to start eating, you’re also expected to stay there until that person is finished. Also, when anyone older offers you a drink, you must accept it by lifting your glass with both hands.

It is very traditional for Chinese people to serve an entire fish as a meal (on a plate). But bear in mind that, in some parts of this country, you should eat it the way it is served. Flipping over a fish is considered bad luck, and related to turning over a fishing boat.

Italy is known for its tasteful and delicious cuisine. There, it’s considered rude to ask for anything that doesn’t already come with the dish that was served. So if you would like to add some parmesan on your pizza, but don’t want to displease the servers, you better do it when they’re not looking.

It is customary to leave your shoes at the entryway (or “genkan”, as they say) of a house, facing outward toward the door, before going in. This tradition comes from the Heian period and besides keeping the house clean from mud-covered straw sandals or clogs, at that time, the rule also exists because only bare or stocking feet are allowed on the woven straw mat floors — which is where Japanese people sit, eat, and sleep.

In China, it has been long considered rude to clean your plate. It’s an indication that the host didn’t offer you enough food. But this custom has been changing with movements like ’Operation Empty Plate,’ which aims to reduce food waste.

Unlike what we discussed previously about the customary Chinese rule, in India it is polite to finish your entire meal. You are expected to eat everything on your plate as a sign of respect toward the food, which is considered sacred.

Nodding is a bit different in Bulgaria where shaking the head left and right actually means “yes” and shaking it up and down means “no.” You better be careful when answering a question there with nonverbal communication. Just for safety, you might want to stick with the words “da”, which means “yes” and “ne”, which means no.

In South Korea, red is the colour that means death, so they typically use it to mark someone who has passed away. If you write a living person’s name in red, it is believed to bring bad luck. Because of that, be sure to always bring a blue or black ink pen with you too.

Have you ever traveled somewhere new and run into unexpected traditions? Tell us about your experience in the comments.