Believe it or not there are a lot of things you do every day that would be considered completely disrespectful in other parts of the world.  Here’s our list of some of the biggest international faux pas: 

1. Showing soles of the feet or shoes

In some regions of India, Thailand, and Laos, the feet are considered the “lowest” and “dirtiest” part of the body, which is also partly why you should take your shoes off before entering someone’s house.

2. Shaking hands across a threshold

In Russia, trying to shake someone’s hand across a threshold (an entrance to a door) may literally leave you empty handed. Russian superstition holds that trying to conduct any transaction across a threshold is terribly unlucky.

3. Throwing up the “peace sign”

What most people in the United States would consider to be the peace sign is in fact the equivalent of giving someone the finger in the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa. Just remember that this only applies if your palm is facing you. If your palm is facing outwards, you’re in the clear.

4. Giving someone a thumbs up 

Generally speaking, you might assume that giving someone a thumbs up is a fairly positive gesture, but don’t jump to any conclusions. In Iran and several other Middle Eastern countries, it traditionally translates as the foulest of insults and is definitely something worth avoiding.

5.Shaking hands or giving gifts with your left hand

If you plan on spending any time in the Middle East or the Indian Subcontinent you should get used to the idea of not using your left hand to eat or even hand people things. In many cultures, it is considered unclean as it is used to perform tasks most westerners typically reserve for toilet paper.

6. Inter-gender handshakes

Throughout the Muslim world, inter-gender handshaking can be a bit of an enigma. Although the rules aren’t easily decipherable and for the most part it varies considerably, it would be advisable to think twice before shaking hands with, touching, or in some cases even looking at someone of the opposite sex.

7. Giving the “a-ok” sign

Here is a hand gesture you certainly want to avoid, at least for the duration of your visit to Brazil. Although holding your thumb and forefinger together typically would signify “ok”, to a Brazilian it would be the equivalent of a lewd gesture.

8. Placing your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl

While taking a break from your food in virtually any Asian country that uses chopsticks, it would be advisable not to place them upright in your rice bowl. This position is reserved for funerals and is considered a bad omen.

9. Chewing gum

There is a ban on importing chewing gum into Singapore, which is strictly enforced. Only chewing gum of therapeutic value is allowed into Singapore and must be purchased from a doctor, with a prescription!

10. Eating in public during Ramadan

During the month of Ramadan, if you happen to be in Saudi Arabia, it would be in your best interest to not eat in public during daytime hours. Locals will resent that you are eating while they’re fasting, and it’s punishable by law.

11. Not interrupting a conversation to answer the phone

Yes, you read that correctly. When talking to your friends in Brazil it is considered ruder to ignore your ringing phone than to answer it.  Talk about the triumph of technology!

12. Not shaking everyone’s hand in the room

While you may have noticed that in certain places the who, how and when of shaking hands can be a bit confusing, in some nations like Austria you are required to shake everyone’s hand in whatever room you enter. At least it removes the guesswork.

13. Finishing your meal  

Forever made famous by that HSBC commercial, in many places finishing your meal is seen as a good thing, but in Asia you may want to leave a little something on your plate. A cleaned plate here implies that your host didn’t give you enough food and you’re still hungry.

That’s our list! If you’ve got more insults to add, we would love to hear them.

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