Tipping in Japan
Tipping is considered a way to show appreciation to your waiters, drivers, bell-boys, etc. But in some countries, and in Japan specifically, tipping can be considered offensive. For a Japanese restaurant worker, accepting a tip is unthinkable, and offering one would suggest that you are trying to challenge their honor. Don’t bother trying to calculate how much is 18% in Yen, and just pay the tab as-is.
Sitting in the Back of a Cab in Australia and New Zealand
In many parts of the world, you might be expected to climb to the back seat when taking a cab. In Australia and New Zealand, however, this can be considered very rude. Snubbing the seat next to the driver can be interpreted as thinking the cab driver is beneath you. Better to ride shotgun when possible.
Eating everything off Your Plate when in China
If you grew up hearing that leaving food on your plate is disrespectful to people who grow up hungry, this one might feel very unintuitive. In China, leaving an empty plate can mean you’ve had too little to eat and are still hungry, thus the host has failed in their duties. You should always leave some food on your plate, but don’t leave too much – leaving a lot of food on your plate signals that it didn’t taste very good.
Making the “OK” Hand Gesture in Brazil
Hand gestures can vary in meaning between countries. But nowhere the difference is more jarring than the “OK” hand gesture in Brazil. Connecting your forefinger to your thumb while lifting the other three fingers will not mean “everything is 100%” to a Brazilian, rather, it will mean something much cruder and offensive. In general, it might be better to avoid using hand gestures in foreign countries unless you are sure of their meaning in that region.
Waiting too Long to Call after Getting Someone’s Number in Korea
If you’re romantically inclined, you might find different and exciting ways to discover new cultures. However, the rules of flirting are as subject to regional changes as any other social interaction. While in some cultures, it is almost expected to wait at least a day before calling someone after getting their number, in Korea you are expected to call that same day, or your hopes of a date will be dashed.
An Even Number of Flowers in Romania
Speaking of romance, you might find that there are certain gestures that require paying more attention than you’re used to. If you give someone a bouquet of flowers in Romania, make sure that the number of flowers is odd. Apparently, even number flowers are for funerals only.
This is perhaps the most common mistake made by many tourists, and can greatly insult locals. Never confuse the place you’re visiting with another country, no matter how similar it is. While referring to someone from Hong Kong or Macau ‘Chinese’ will probably get you some bad looks, calling a Scotsman ‘English’ will certainly be asking for trouble. You should avoid calling the US ‘America’ when visiting anywhere in South or Central America, nor refer to people from the former Soviet Union as ‘Russians,’ unless they’re actually from Russia.