In the US we do hundreds of things every day we believe to be universal. These actions seem so natural it's hard to think someone in another part of the world would consider them weird Western customs. But people in other cultures and societies are mystified by some of the rituals and actions we view as standard - even kissing, which surely everyone loves, right?
You might already be aware of some of the phrases and gestures considered rude in foreign countries, or how bathrooms function very differently elsewhere around the world. But you might not know about the things Westerners do that other people around the globe deem flat-out bizarre. If you're traveling abroad or hosting visitors from other countries, consider this list a guide to behaviors that might signal a red flag, or easily identify you as a weird Westerner.
One simple act of passion is far from universal. While it's difficult to find a country in the Western world that doesn't feature kissing in its culture, people in some parts of the world don’t partake in the activity at all. A 2015 study found that more than half of the world’s cultures do not engage in any form of romantic kissing.
In many countries in Africa, South America, and Asia, intimate or romantic kissing was actually considered repulsive.
Everyone in the Western world uses the same method for determining how old they are. You start at 0 on the day you are born and turn 1 when a full year has passed, and that date has cycled back through. That isn’t the case in China, Mongolia, and other Asian countries. In these countries, a baby is considered age 1 at birth and turns one year older every Lunar New Year.
This means that a Chinese baby could be 2 within days of being born and is often one to two years younger in Western terms.
Smiling seems like a built-in natural response to show that you are happy. However, studies suggest that smiling is more of a method of communicating than a way of expressing emotions, and people who don't smile a lot aren't necessarily unhappy. People in Switzerland, for example, report high levels of happiness, but they aren't big smilers.
Other research has shown that people in some Asian countries consider Westerners' facial expressions odd; they aren't used to conveying so much emotion themselves with their faces. In Japanese culture, smiling can even be used to demonstrate anger or sadness rather than happiness.
A handshake is a standard form of greeting in most parts of the world. Throughout Western society, everything from informal introductions to important business meetings begins with the clasp of hands. It is one of the few behaviors that has carried over to almost every part of the world. Handshaking isn't universal though.
Not only does the type of handshake differ from culture to culture (in France make it quick; in Mexico, let it linger), but some in countries, such as Thailand, people eschew the handshake in favor of other types of greetings.