Tuesday, June 2, 2020 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

15 Offensive Things American Travelers Do

As much as we hate to admit it, Americans can seem pretty rude to the rest of the world! Americans tend to think that everyone else does things the same way we do and that can lead to accidentally offending your hosts and other locals. Check this list to see if you do any of these things and make a note to avoid doing them beyond our borders.

1    Call the United States “America”

Oops, recheck your geography lesson. The Americas contain 55 countries, each of which can legitimately claim to be American. Of course, only the United States actually does that. If you have traveled internationally, you will certainly have noticed that English speakers around the globe refer to the U.S. as “The States” or the “United States,” but never “America.” Maybe it’s time we Americans stop claiming half the world as our own.
Call The United States America
2    Use the “OK” Sign

Besides being both the letter “f” and an insult in American Sign Language, the “OK” sign is a good way to earn yourself a knuckle sandwich in Latin American cultures. It might seem like a great way to pantomime your pleasure, but in many cultures it actually means that you’re calling someone an a-hole.
Ok Sign
3    Eat in Public

In some Eastern African nations, eating in public is rude. Unless you’re willing to share with every single person on the street, eat in a restaurant or go home.
Eat In Public
4    Blow Your Nose

You knew picking your nose was rude, but did you know that in some places, you’re not supposed to blow your nose, either? In Japan, it’s considered absolutely disgusting to whip out your hanky in public.
Blow Your Nose
5    Crack Your Knuckles

What is simply an annoying habit to Americans is extremely offensive in Belgium. We don’t know why and we’re not sure we want to know! Just understanding what to avoid is enough sometimes.
Crack Your Knuckles
6    Toast with Soft Drinks

We Americans are, as we put it, “pretty chill” when it comes to things like drinking customs. In fact, we’ll happily toast a glass of Coke in jest or even in all seriousness. That may be fine in Milwaukee, but do it in Manilla and you’ll get some strange and perhaps horrified looks. Stick to toasting alcohol, and you’ll fit in just fine with your Spanish friends.
Toast With Soft Drinks
7    Clear the Plates Before Everyone is Finished

Americans find this a nice way to clean as we go and keep the table looking less messy. British people, however, find it extremely rude. How could you judge someone for eating too fast or to slow?
Empty Dish
8    Use Your Left Hand

In many cultures, the left hand is thought of as totally disgusting. You don’t shake hands with it, you don’t touch people with it, and you certainly don’t eat with it. There are so many places around the world that this is the case, so it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your left hand to itself while you’re overseas.
Use Your Left Hand
9    Baring Your Sole

Nope, not a typo. While revealing too much about yourself or your feelings is certainly considered rude in many places, we’re talking about the kind of sole on your foot. Showing the bottom of one’s foot (or worse yet, directing it at someone) is offensive in many places, such as India. So be careful how you sit!
Shoe Sole
10    Get Personal

It’s cool to talk about someone’s life, family, or kids when you end up next to them on an airplane—as long as you’re not in France. While Americans find this sort of small talk to be a great way to connect with someone and get to know them, the French find it uncomfortable and disrespectful.
Get Personal
11    Try to Copy an Accent

Americans love accents (maybe it’s because we find our own so terribly boring), especially Irish and Australian accents. However, people in those places do not appreciate Americans trying out the accent or trying to pretend to be a local. Just stick with your American accent.
Copy An Accent
12    Talk so Darn Loud

Word has it that Americans are pretty freaking loud. Especially when compared to Europeans. Unless you want to seriously embarrass yourself and any local friends you may be around, try turning down the volume. Sure, it’s tough to remember, but it’s better than annoying everyone on the bus.
Talk So Darn Loud
13    Walk Inside the House with Shoes On

This is offensive in many cultures, and if you think about it, it is pretty nasty. Especially in most Asian and Caribbean cultures, you are expected to remove your shoes before entering a home. Keep all those germs outside, please.
Shoes Indoors
14    Get Drunk

Well, I think we can safely say that drunk people are irritating in any culture. Some are simply more offensive than others. And Americans are among the most belligerent and annoying drunks.
Get Drunk
15    Chew Gum in Public

This is like chewing with your mouth open. Gross! In some countries it is considered socially unacceptable to chew gum while talking to someone while in others its offensive anywhere in public. If you chew gum, spit it out before you go sightseeing.
Chew Gum In Public


There are a thousand ways to offend in any culture, and honestly, people will probably forgive you if you do any of these things. The most important thing is to be polite, do your best, and apologize when necessary. Bon Voyage!


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