Cultures

American customs you should never do in foreign countries

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We all know the feeling that you get when you walk into a room and everyone is staring at you. In fact, that kind of do-I-have-egg-on-my-face moment is something many people associate with just growing pains. Now imagine visiting a foreign country as an adult and you’ve just done something that insulted a culture or community. In an effort to avoid this scenario, you spent hours scrolling through various forums, chat rooms, and “helpful” articles to try and prepare yourself on how to not look like an idiot and bring your American customs to another country, and yet, there you are at a table with a bunch of Asians and they’re staring just because you put your napkin in your lap—or for one of the many other reasons Asians stare at foreigners.

If you’ve ever traveled outside of the U.S., chances are you’ve experienced culture shock: the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to very strange and unusual customs, of which cause great stress and turmoil to the foreigner. Just think of the worst anxiety attack of your life or a nightmare in which you’re stuck in a foreign country and you don’t speak the language. Maybe that’s actually happened to you already, and if it has you shouldn’t feel too bad. As it turns out, people from other corners of the world tend to think American customs are a bit strange, too, and they’re just as prone to culture shock as we are. Here are five of the biggest oddities between American customs and culture and the rest of the world:

1. Don’t say you’re from “America”

You never, especially if you’re in a country like South Korea, use America in the place of the United States. Apparently, calling our country “America” is considered more informal despite the fact that our continent is technically called America. By not denoting the North or South, it feels like we’re slighting South America—there’s forums online that go on about how this demeans the Southern continent because we’re saying they’re not worthy of the title “America”. Next time you visit a foreign country, just say you’re from the U.S., even if it makes America Vespucci roll over in his grave.

2. Don’t wear anything too revealing

In America, people wear just about anything they want, but we do have some general guidelines that people acknowledge. Most Americans know the difference between a young businesswoman and a streetwalker. Traveling in a foreign country as a woman is stressful enough, but what if some creepy, old Eastern European man walked up to you on the street and propositioned you—for nothing more than wearing a nice dress? According to a very helpful U.S. customs, habits and etiquette Trip Advisor article, many a European man has been slapped, hard, across the face or kicked in the crotch for assuming a woman was a prostitute for simply wearing a low-cut blouse. So ladies, from now on, cover up abroad. You wouldn’t want to confuse any poor, poor man like that. Oh, and men, if you’re in Asia don’t take your shirt off at the beach. We don’t even know why. Just don’t do it.

3. Don’t tip anyone

This one is a little more focused in Asia. In “the U.S.,” not tipping a server or the person who brought your groceries out pretty much makes you the scum of the earth. But in countries such as Japan and South Korea, tipping is just not done. To the worker, it appears that you’re saying they don’t get paid enough or that they shouldn’t be happy with what they earn—which, OK, we can kind of understand that. It’s still one of those American customs that we value, since servers kind of rely on tips to survive. But in the effort of not offending anyone, you’ve been warned. Now you can save that money on…whatever else there is to do where you’re going.

4. Don’t wear shoes indoors or show your feet…wait…

It may sound like an oxymoron, but while it’s perfectly acceptable to wear socks while inside another person’s home—most common in Asia—you should NEVER show your feet in a Middle Eastern country. Let’s explain. So the bottom of your feet touch the earth, and the ground is dirty, right? Therefore, if you allow people to glimpse the soles of your feet you are potentially doing something that is seen as highly insulting.

5. Don’t eat in public, finish an entire meal or cut up your food

When it comes to food, there’s a lot you’d have to prepare yourself for when visiting foreign countries—and all of their customs might be different from one another. For one, in Japan it’s actually normal to slurp your broth, while in “the U.S.” that wouldn’t fly. A more important difference between Asian culture and American customs is the idea that food should only be eaten in an eatery or home. So no standing on the sidewalk and stuffing that sandwich in your mouth—although in Europe it’s not that big of a deal. What is a big deal in Eastern European countries is finishing a meal. Yes, you heard us. This says to the host that you were so hungry that you ate all of your food because you weren’t fed enough. And never, never, never cut up your pasta in a country like Italy. They’ll think you’re highly disrespectful and you’ll look like a child. Just don’t do it.

Sara is an editorial intern from MTSU, and an almost double major in journalism and English because she can't make up her mind. When she isn't studying or trying not to die on highway 840, Sara works on her novella and her thesis on Gothic Victorian literature, showers her dog with kisses and waits for the next Lana Del Rey album. While watching American Horror Story on repeat.