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15 Foreign Customs that Make Most North Americans Blush

It really is a small world, and with increasing numbers of Americans traveling overseas for business and pleasure, this has never been more apparent.

foreign customs

Traveling abroad for business? Make sure you're clued in to proper local business etiquette and social customs, as one social blunder could blow the deal.

Whilst traveling abroad, you may marvel at the similarities you'll see -- underneath the accents and the ethnic cuisine, we're all simply going about our business a day at a time. Yet, there are many differences that may not be immediately obvious, but that you should be aware of to avoid embarrassment -- theirs and yours.

In fact, before you travel anywhere outside of the United States, it's a good idea to grab a current guidebook -- and read it. Honing up on a few simple customs and social mores will ensure that your visit is pleasant and not offensive to anyone.

  1. In Latin America, men commonly touch each other's arms and shoulders, and rub each other's backs.

  2. In France, it's customary to give a soft, quick handshake.

  3. In Cuba, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, men commonly exchange kisses on the cheek.

  4. In the Middle East, eye contact is very intense and prolonged, and the person may move closer to you to see your eyes close-up.

  5. In Mexico, winks, whistles and compliments between men and women are considered friendly introductions, and may be initiated by either gender. Male friends also hug regularly.

  6. In Egypt, it's customary to stand very close (within inches) when speaking. Men may also touch and hold each other's thighs.

foreign customs

When you're in a foreign country, it's generally appreciated if you attempt to speak the local language.

  1. Men in some Middle Eastern countries hold hands.

  2. In Russia, drinking vodka is a big part of social life, and not drinking is considered offensive.

  3. In Germany, talking about sports is considered uneducated.

  4. In Buenos Aires, high heels and short skirts are considered normal business attire for women.

  5. In Johannesburg, terms such as "Blacks", "Indians", "Coloreds" and "Whites" are commonly used -- and not considered offensive.

  6. In London, drunken behavior on Friday evenings is normal among business acquaintances, and is expected to be laughed off come Monday.

  7. In Mexico City, most men will have a hard time accepting a women paying for her own meal, even if she is just a casual friend or client.

  8. In Milan, business associates are expected to always maintain bella figura, which means "showing your best face." Part of bella figura is never admitting that you're wrong.

  9. In Brazil, where plumbing may sometimes be poor, you may be asked to through your toilet paper in a trash bin, rather than the toilet bowl.

Recommended Reading

How to Travel Abroad Safely: Six Important Tips You Need to Know in an Emergency

The 10 Top Dining Etiquette Errors

Sources Cities Guide

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