There are plenty of behaviors that are considered rude around the United States. Taking the last cookie without asking, for one. Picking your nose, for another. Or teaching your pet parrot nothing but curse words—but that might just be a pirate thing.
But did you know that there are some common American gestures that are totally rude in other countries? Keep reading to prevent a possible travel faux pas in your future.
1. Using Your Left Hand
Where To Be Careful: India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, parts of the Middle East and Africa
Lefties, beware. In certain parts of the world, it is considered extremely distasteful to eat, point, touch, or give a gift using your left hand. Why is that? Well, in places where toilet paper isn't the norm, you're expected to clean up with a bucket o' water and your left hand.
2. Leaving A Tip
Where To Be Careful: Japan, China, South Korea
Americans are conditioned to leave at least a 15 percent tip after eating a sit-down meal. In some countries, it's not necessary, either because the service charge is calculated into the bill, or the servers are paid a living wage. And in some East Asian countries, leaving a tip is considered downright insulting.
3. Touching Someone's Head
Where To Be Careful: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
For many Buddhists, the top of the head is considered the most sacred part of the body. If you're tempted to touch someone's hair or stroke a baby's head, you should probably resist that inclination. In contrast, the feet are seen as impure, so avoid pointing your feet at someone or stepping over someone sitting on the ground.
4. Displaying Physical Affection
Where To Be Careful: South Asia and the Middle East
This one is always confusing, because there's such a wide range of expectations all over the world. However, in South Asia and the Middle East, hand-holding, touching, and even greeting kisses may be acceptable between friends of the same sex, but it is viewed as extremely taboo between men and women.
5. Eating With Your Hands
Where To Be Careful: Brazil, Chile, Argentina
It doesn't matter whether you're eating a steak or french fries: if you're in certain South American countries—especially Brazil—you'll be expected to eat all of your food with a fork and knife. Using your bare fingers to handle food is deemed uncivilized.
6. Giving A Thumbs-Up Sign
Where To Be Careful: Russia, Greece, the Middle East
Sometimes you can't help it: you're trying to communicate with someone via gestures and sign-language while traveling, and when you finally understand each other, you flash a relieved thumbs-up. But you'll want to keep your thumb to yourself in countries like Russia and Greece, where it means "up yours!"