7 Cultural Faux Pas

Want to be a world traveler? Unfortunately, it can be a little more complicated than grabbing your passport and jumping on the next flight out. There are various beliefs, behaviors and practices that are unique to each country across the world. Sometimes, things that are perfectly normal to do in one country could be considered incredibly offensive in another.

Of course, mistakes can happen. But researching cultural differences before visiting a new place will get you on a path to local acceptance instead of embarrassment. For those who don’t know, “faux pas” is a French word commonly defined as an unintentional violation of unwritten etiquette. Check out these cultural faux pas around the world that are easy to avoid.

1. Coffee In Italy

In a country where the espresso machine was invented, coffee is sacred. Though it is a ritual enjoyed multiple times throughout the day, there are certain rules that come along with that. Don’t order a cappuccino or latte macchiato past 11 a.m. as Italians only enjoy milky coffee in the morning for digestive purposes. It is forbidden to order these drinks in the afternoon, and especially not after a meal. To-go cups for coffee are almost nonexistent as it is frowned upon to enjoy your drink anywhere but where you ordered it. One last thing – to really fit in, remember that most Italians order and drink their coffee first, then pay. Buon caffè!

2. Chewing Gum In Singapore

Chewing gum was infamously banned in Singapore in 1992 in an attempt to improve the city’s cleanliness. The cost of cleaning and repairing damaged cleaning equipment was skyrocketing due to gum left on the ground, stairways and pavements in public areas. Currently the sale and import of chewing gum carries a massive fine of about $75,000. However, since 2004, there has been an exception for therapeutic or nicotine chewing gum that you can buy from a pharmacy. It’s technically not illegal to chew gum in Singapore, but it’s certainly frowned upon for tourists. Maybe stick with mints during your stay.

3. V Is Not For Victory In The United Kingdom

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. If you’re using your hands to show someone the number two, or throwing up a peace sign, tread carefully. The up yours gesture is made by holding the index and middle finger raised and parted, but with your palm facing you. It’s the middle finger equivalent in almost every other English-speaking country other than the United States, so this includes Australia and New Zealand, too. There’s an infamous picture of Winston Churchill doing it to remind us that it does happen to even the best of us. In case you accidentally insult someone with this gesture, you can always flip your hand around as a literal peace offering.

4. Meal Etiquette In France

Eating and drinking is a huge part of daily life for French people, and there are many dos and don’ts that come along with it. For example, when clinking glasses for a toast, it is vital that you look each person at the table in the eye. It’s also rude to show up to a dinner party with a bottle of wine, as it may indicate that you don’t trust the host’s taste. When eating salad, you should never cut the leaves. Rather, fold them with your knife and fork. Read on for a more encompassing list of French food etiquette… there are endless unspoken rules.

5. No Left Hands In India

In India, the left hand is usually considered to be unclean as it’s used to do things that are typically associated with going to the bathroom or taking off shoes. Avoid using your left hand most of the time, especially when eating or passing objects to another person. If you pick up food with your left hand, it could be considered just as rude as spitting in it. Sorry left-handers, but it’s nothing personal. Though whether you actually offend depends on how traditional the person is, using your left hand  isn’t a risk you should take.

6. To Tip or Not To Tip? It Depends

Tipping rules vary country to country, but one place where it’s consistent across the board is the United States. It may seem voluntary, but the line is clear: tip, and tip well. Though foreign visitors may grumble, it’s a necessity within the U.S. hospitality and service industry. What many don’t realize is that workers typically earn minimum wage at best, but in many cases it can be as low as $2.15 per hour. Though it’s the system that many may disagree with, it doesn’t change the fact that service industry workers make their living through tips. Don’t hesitate to add that 15 – 20% onto your bill.

7. No Shoes Allowed

In many parts of the world, including Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Japan, Korea and Turkey, it’s considered rude and unhygienic to keep your shoes on while in someone’s home. There’s no real geographical pattern for what countries have this tradition, so you must check. This handy map breaks down the divide, but your safest bet is to look at whatever your host does and follow accordingly.

Here’s the thing: most of us have committed cultural faux pas in the past and it’s bound to happen again. In case you do accidentally offend someone, there’s only so much you can do. Understand your mistake, make peace with those around you (and yourself) and move on! Use your experience for next time.



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