Cultural Faux Pas Around The World

Cultural faux pas: they happen. When you’re travelling to a new country, there’s a whole new set of rules, manners and regulations to learn, and it’s likely that you’ll end up offending someone. To assist you in the whole not-getting-punched-in-an-unknown-country thing, we’ve founded up some of the most common cultural faux pas – we’d love to hear yours!

New Zealand

Image by paul bica

In the Maori community of New Zealand, it is a faux pas not to remove one’s shoes when entering a Maori sacred building, such as a marae. You should also avoid sitting on a table or desk – it is traditionally where one goes to focus one’s mind – and shouldn’t be touched by the ‘dirty’ lower regions!

Oh, and don’t confuse New Zealanders with Australians. We learnt this the hard way in a Walkabout pub in Shepherds Bush.


Image by Chi King

In many Oriental cultures, physical contact between acquaintances is considered invasion of privacy and a sign of disrespect. Patting a child on the head seems a harmless enough gesture at home, but in Thailand and Singapore it’s seen as a huge faux pas, since the head is sacred. Reaching over someone’s head or across his or her chest to pass something to someone else is also considered impolite there.


Image by nromagna

It should really go without saying that Swastikas – or anything around the Swastika theme – in Germany are, well, not cool really. Understandably, they’re a little sensitive about that period of history in Germany; we’re pretty sure if you were from a country that had mass genocide in its history, you’d be offended by people talking about it too. We have faith that you’d be enlightened enough to keep any obnoxious talk of that nature under wraps anyway, but y’know – just in case.

Less seriously, the tapping of one’s index finger on the side of their head or the waving of one’s hand up and down in front of their face are both considered offensive gestures. Both of these gestures insinuate that the other person is crazy or deranged and in some cases, i.e. regarding police officers or judges, the offender may be fined!


Image by buddawiggi

When first introducing yourself in Fiji be prepared – the handshake can be pretty uncomfortable by western standards. We don’t mean the strength of the grip – more that your hands may very well remain clasped for the duration of your conversation. Awkward.


Basically, yes means no and no means yes…at least to outsiders. Shaking your head from side to side means yes and nodding means no. This is good to know for when your host asks you if you enjoyed your meal – otherwise you might find yourself on the receiving end of a rather frosty reception!

Foodie Faux’s…

Some of the greatest cultural faux pas are made with a knife and fork. In Norway, Malaysia and Singapore, it’s rude to leave anything on your plate, but in Egypt, it’s rude not to. If you finish a drink in Indonesia, it suggests that you’d like another.

…And just plain odd

When you buy a Coke on the street in Romania, you are only buying the liquid; you actually have to stand there while drinking and then return the bottle!