It seems innocent enough—you found a fantastic green hat at the market and want to give it to a Chinese friend or host as way of expressing gratitude for his boundless hospitality. Don’t do it! Giving a green hat to a Chinese man is the equivalent of calling him a cuckold… not only does this insult him, it also insults his wife.
Argentina and Chile
The simple act of pouring a glass of wine is fraught with nuances that are unknown to the uninitiated. No matter how much you want to refill the glass of the gorgeous woman or man next to you, this is a task that is best left to the host… otherwise you could make a major faux pas (and ruin your chances with the subject of admiration for good).
Surfing the waves without the skills can get you into more than deep waters… it can get you into deep trouble in this part of the world, where people take surfing pretty seriously. Breach this one and you’re sure to receive some not-so-friendly nicknames… or maybe even a beating.
Listening attentively while someone is talking is a major insult because it communicates a lack of interest. How do you show that you’re interested and enthusiastic about the conversation? By interrupting it—again and again.
Thought you were going to impress the locals with the accent and slang you picked up from Steve Irwin on the Crocodile Hunter? Think again. Pepper your language with too many “mate”s and you’ll find that you have none. Krikey!
It is important to be aware of your feet and the heads of those around you. We’re not talking about kick-boxing here… we’re talking about etiquette. In Thailand, the feet are considered to be very dirty—they oughtn’t to be pointed at anyone, and certainly not a Buddha. If you are checking out a temple, be sure to remove your shoes and when you sit, tuck your feet under you so as not to direct these filthy offensive appendages at the Buddha, or the worshippers around you. And definitely don’t touch anyone’s head—the highest spot on the body is also the holiest. It is extremely insulting to touch someone’s head without permission and we’ve heard of fist-fights breaking out in response to head touching.
Never, ever give chrysanthemums to someone. What harm can there be in giving flowers? In France, these particular blooms are most closely associated with funerals. So, why not buy those yellow roses, instead? That’s a no-no, too—the color hints at the possibility that the husband is engaging in extramarital activities.
The Dominican Republic
Punctuality is not appreciated here. Better said—don’t arrive “on time” and then ask others why they’re late. Being late is being on time. If someone says they’ll meet you at ten, what they really mean is that they’ll meet you sometime close to eleven. Don’t piss them off by showing up at ten and then getting angry and laying into them… make like a local and arrive fashionably late, too.
Not thirsty? Well, drink up anyways. If you are a visitor in someone’s home and are offered a drink or food and you decline, chances are you have offended your host. This holds true for much of the Middle East. When in doubt, just say yes.
The United States and Canada
Many foreigners find North Americans to be rude and feel they’re lacking in manners. On the contrary, North Americans obey a complex set of social codes that reflect a variety of cultural influences and that vary according to the situation and the people involved. The smallest behaviors can have overtones or politeness or, conversely, rudeness… and you’re sometimes walking a fine line between the two. For example, making not enough eye-contact while talking is considered to be very disrespectful, however, making too much eye contact is considered to be aggressive.