7 Embarrassing Cultural Mistakes Never to Make Abroad

How to avoid the biggest travel faux pas overseas.

ByABC News
June 6, 2015, 1:30 AM
Travel experts agree that you shouldn't blow your nose at the table in China.
Travel experts agree that you shouldn't blow your nose at the table in China.
Getty Images

— -- Learning about another country's cultures while you travel is all part of the fun -- but not knowing enough in advance can sometimes lead to accidental offense. These seven cultural norms are unknown by many Western travelers, so take care on your next trip abroad! Observing your surroundings and using good common sense can also help you avoid mishaps. We think most people would know not to make the shocking fourth mistake on this list (but sometimes, people can surprise us).

1. Don't Raise Your Arm to Wave in Greece

To most Westerners, waving seems like a friendly gesture, and one you'd never expect to be misinterpreted. But in Greece, take care. "Generally, you don't want to raise your arm and wave your hand to say 'hi' to someone, as to a Greek it means, well, F-U," says James Stathis, president of CelebrateGreece.com. Specifically, the insulting gesture is called a mountza and typically involves extending all five fingers while raising your arm.

Planning a trip to Greece? Make sure to check out Oyster's expert reviews and photos of hotels in Athens, hotels in Santorini, hotels in Mykonos, and other popular Greek destinations.

2. Don't Blow Your Nose at the Table in China

This isn't considered particularly polite anywhere, but in many Western countries no one would look at you askance if you had to use a tissue at a meal. But in China, blowing your nose in public at all is a major faux pas.

"Chinese people find it disgusting if you blow your nose at a table," Veronika Hradilikova from travelgeekery.com says.

Emily Minor, shopping tour guide at www.shoppingtoursshanghai.com, agrees, and equates it to how Westerners react to the Chinese habit of spitting out phlegm in public.

"The phlegm is spat out harshly almost anywhere -- on the sidewalk, in a trash can, even sometimes on the carpet and then ground in with a foot. We think this is disgusting; they believe it is necessary to expel the 'cold' and harmful things that will make you sick," she says. "Chinese view us blowing our noses as equally disgusting, especially when we tuck the used tissue into our pocket or purse."

So if you're in China and feel the urge to blow your nose, it would be more acceptable to hock a loogie instead.

Some other tips for traveling in China? Don't wear a green hat, which in China means that you are a cuckold, according to Minor. And don't be surprised to see Chinese children peeing in public, which Minor says is considered acceptable there.

3. Don't Shake Hands Over the Threshold of a Door in Russia

Shaking hands with someone may be a gesture of greeting in many parts of the world, but in Russia you have to be careful where you do it. Redditor JohnnyJournalist described accidentally trying to shake the hand of his host father in Russia over the threshold of a door, which is considered extremely unlucky.

"He literally smacked [my hand] away and swore at me -- saying I was not allowed to stay in his house. I was allowed in after my host mother berated him for being impolite, but that night he had that look in his eye when we exchanged glances like -- you sorcerer! I did buy him a bottle of vodka a day later and all was forgotten," he wrote.

4. Don't Ask for an Irish Car Bomb in an Irish Pub

In the U.S., an Irish Car Bomb is a common name for a cocktail made up of Guinness and Baileys, in which you drop a shot of Bailey's into the Guinness before drinking (or chugging). The name should provide a clue to many that it's probably not a polite drink to order in Ireland. But unfortunately, not everyone. Parag Raja, CEO of TravelMore.co, said he was in Dublin with a group of Americans when they ordered a round.

"They weren't aware of the treacherous history of car bombs in Ireland and the bartender was so offended that he kicked them out of the bar and said that it was the equivalent of an Irishman going to New York and asking for a round of 9/11s. Needless to say, they learned their lesson," he says.

5. Don't Accept Anything With Your Left Hand in a Hindu or Middle Eastern Country

In many Middle Eastern countries and countries with large Hindu populations, such as India, Malaysia and Singapore, the left hand is considered the bathroom hand -- the one that you use for clean-up after a trip to the toilet. In these countries, "it is considered disrespectful to offer or accept anything with your left hand, especially food. This is especially true if you visit a temple and choose to make an offering and/or participate in a prayer or ceremony where you are asked to take something such as holy water," says Sriram Srinivasan, travel blogger for UPGRD.com.

6. In An Asian Country, Don't Wear Your Shoes in Someone's Home

In Asian countries, it is expected, and respectful, to remove your shoes before entering someone's home. In some countries, people eat at low tables while sitting on the floor, and sleep on the floor on futons, making it especially important for the floor to be clean -- and dirty shoes are considered especially offensive in houses that have religious altars set up inside. We've even encountered this tradition in certain parts of Asian hotels; at the Santhiya Koh Phangan Resort & Spa, guests were expected to remove their shoes before entering the lobby building. Tourists are asked to remove shoes before entering many local shops in Thailand, as well.

7. Don't Poop or Wash Your Face in the Hotel Bidet

The U.S. is one of the only first-world countries where bidets haven't caught on -- and many (I would guess the majority) of Americans don't know what they're for or how to use one properly. Children from many countries, even where bidets are common, also can be a bit befuddled by these contraptions.

"My sister pooped in the hotel bidet when we were in France when we were young. She must have been about 5 and my mum found it hilarious and cleaned it up and explained to her what its actually for," reported one Redditor, Baggy Black.

Oyster's own editor, Jane Reynolds, had a slightly different experience.

"When I was pretty little, my family went to Paris and there was one in our suite. I was 6 years old and asked what it was for and my (at the time) 10-year-old brother ran over to demonstrate and said it’s where you wash your face!!"

For those wondering, a bidet is actually for cleaning your derriere.