American Habits and Phrases That Are Rude in Other Countries

Next time you're abroad, watch out for these American habits other countries think are rude. Us Yanks aren't the most popular kids in the global school at the best of times - you don't need to commit a social faux-pas to exacerbate the situation. Whether it's a gesture or word, rude things American tourists do can reinforce the host country's negative perception of Americans, even if you've got the best of intentions. So brush up on these habits or American phrases that are rude in other places and you'll have nothing to fear on your next holiday.

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  • Laughing with Your Mouth Open

    Laughing with Your Mouth Open
    Photo: sarah0s / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    A head-back belly laugh will be taken as a compliment stateside - after all, nobody wants their joke met with a polite chuckle. But laughing with your mouth open and teeth exposed is a social no-no in Japan. They'd rather you zip your lips while laughing.

  • Opening Gifts in Front of the Giver

    Half the fun of giving gifts is watching people open them, right? Wrong, if you're living in many Asian countries. Americans are used to birthday parties and holidays where gift-giving is a shared social activity. But tearing off the wrapping paper in front of the person who gave you the gift is considered greedy and uncouth in some countries. Wait until you get back to the hotel to unwrap your present.

  • A Firm Handshake

    A Firm Handshake
    Photo: dhendrix73 / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    When traveling to the Philippines, remember that a firm handshake is an American custom. Filipinos prefer a weak, more casual grip. It's about showing respect, not dominance.

  • Crossing Your Fingers

    Crossing Your Fingers
    Photo: kygp / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Americans often cross their fingers in lieu of saying "I hope so!" It's a sign of good luck. But in Vietnam, crossing one's finger's is a crass gesture that refers to a woman's private parts. Maybe just stick to your lucky rabbit's foot while abroad.

  • Saying You're from 'America'

    Our cultural vanity is such that we've co-opted the name of not one but two entire continents and assigned it to ourselves. That's right - the very word "America" is offensive in most (if not all) South American countries. Don't refer to yourself as an American when you're visiting South America - just tell people you're from the United States.

  • Giving a Peace Sign

    How could a peace sign be seen as rude? Though most people in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia will know what you mean (provided they know you're American), it's probably better to leave this gesture at home while you're visiting. To them, it's the same as flipping someone off (especially when the hand is held with its knuckles facing the person you're trying to give peace to).