Are you big on traveling the globe? Is “Life’s not meant to be lived in one place” your motto? If you’ve ever spent an extended amount of time in a country other than your own, you’ve probably picked up on some habits courtesy of said country.
Whether it’s how you greet people or a different way of eating old favorites, each country has its own signature traditions. Here are some you might’ve picked up living in these countries.
1. Brazil: Do You Want a Shower?
If you’ve ever spent an extended amount of time in Brazil, you’re probably familiar with the custom of people asking whether you wanted a shower. Apparently, it’s “customary to offer [a shower to] any guest who is visiting you in Brazil, including if they are not staying over.”
This could, in part, be due to the country’s notable heat at certain times of the year, as well as Brazilians’ reputation as being incredibly hygienic. Maybe you’ve picked up on the multiple showers they often take in one day, “especially if they are physically active.”
Of course, if you offer a guest this in most other countries, they’ll probably just be incredibly self-conscious. Can you blame them though?
2. Philippines and Colombia: Point With Your Lips
Though the Philippines and Colombia are not the only countries known for doing this, people in these countries make a point of “almost never [pointing] with their index finger.” Instead they purse their lips in the general direction of what they want to show you.
It’s not entirely foreign though, as many of us probably remember our mums telling us not to point at people when we were young.
3. Italy: Ding Dong Hang Up
Depending on where you grew up, you might be familiar with a popular children’s game known as “Ding Dong Ditch.” The concept of this is that you go to a person’s house, ring their doorbell, and run away before they can come to the door. Well, Italians have their own version of this for cell phones, called a squillo.
While you might mistake it as a missed call, it’s not. That’s the whole point. The basis is that “you call someone and then hang up such that the context of why you called is obvious.” An example is “if you are meeting up with them but will arrive 10 minutes late, the squillo implies that you are on your way.” At least it’s quicker than a conversation, right?
4. Egypt: Race Against Cars
Plenty of countries have their own pedestrian customs, and Egypt is no different. Though this might pose a problem when you account for the fact “that there are pretty much no traffic lights in major cities in Egypt, especially for the purposes of pedestrian crossings.”
Now, if you frequent London, you know that you’re taking your life in your hands every time you cross the street. It’s similar in Egypt, where “your only option to get where you need to go is to run across five or more lanes of very rapidly approaching traffic to cross the road.” So if you’re a fan of jaywalking, you’ll fit right in in Egypt.
5. North America: The Art of Tipping
While Americans (both in the U.S. and Canadians) are used to tipping waiters and waitresses, not all places do this. Tipping, in case you’re not familiar, is when you pay your server according to the service you received—even though sometimes it’s based on factors the server can’t control, such as how the food is prepared, etc.
Countries unfamiliar with this custom might view it as punitive—after all, the server can only control so much—especially since there are degrees of tipping.
There’s the standard 15 percent—that’s 15 percent tacked on to what you’re paying for your meal—for service that’s just alright, 18 percent is for a server who was a little extra attentive, and 20 percent is usually the gold mine.
It’s also common that servers aren’t nearly as attentive to young customers as they are to “real adults,” given that the former will often skimp on a generous tip.
6. The Netherlands: Super Serious Friendships
Forget the 21st century social media definition of a “friend”—it’s not just someone you add on Facebook who you met once and barely exchanged a full sentence with, not in the Netherlands at least.
If you’ve spent more than a few days there, you’ve probably noticed this different—and arguably healthier—view on what constitutes as a friend. Rather than deeming every chance encounter as such, “their circle of friends tends to be so tight, that it’s incredibly hard to break into it, especially if you don’t work or study with Dutch people.”
They only consider a person a friend if they “genuinely know one another, or are part of some tight community.”
Rather than taking it as a personal offense though, consider using it as an incentive to get to know people below the surface—something that’s not done very often nowadays, and should be valued highly because of its rarity.
7. India: The Art of Haggling
You don’t always have to take someone at face value, pun intended. In fact, when in India, it’s common not to. If you’ve lived there, you might have learned the artful skill of haggling.
It’s unlike the way Westerners do it, where a couple of amounts are thrown out and you agree somewhere in between—or, in many cases, you might be too intimidated by the vendor to haggle to your ideal price.
Instead, you don’t “give a price yourself, you just refuse the prices they suggest to you and keep listing various random problems with what they are offering until they start reducing the price.”
To be fair, this is probably a good exercise in thinking on your feet as well as negotiating, making it more valuable—alright, that one wasn’t intended—than the Western way of doing it. Which takes more work though, might be up for debate.
8. Spain: Catch Up On Beauty Sleep
If you’ve been to Spain, you might have a new favorite word: siesta. In fact, this middle of the day nap might just be your new favorite custom—after all, who doesn’t miss being told to take an hour-long break from the world when they were five?
Well now you're old enough to appreciate it, and the Spanish like to capitalize on that, so much so that during “the early afternoon, everything is closed” and you get a break from work. What could be better?
9. Germany: Tell It Like It Is
Sure, the Germans have a reputation for being a bit…harsh, and maybe part of that is the fact that they like “to be straight with people, and give them the direct truth without sugar coating it.”
While it’s easy to see how this might be misconstrued as rudeness, it’s actually meant to display your respect for someone, and it makes sense. After all, how can you change and grow if you never know what to change?
10. Sierra Leone: A Very Particular Handshake
In Sierra Leone, a handshake isn’t just a greeting, but it can be a sign of respect, depending on who you’re greeting.
According to AdventureWomen owner Susan Eckert, when you’re going to shake the hand of someone who’s of a high rank you should make sure to hold your right arm with your left, as it signifies “that the other’s hand is of great weight.” An additional custom you might have noticed is that some will touch their heart with their right hand, following a handshake.
11. China, Japan, Thailand: Sharing (Meals) is Caring
It’s customary in China, Thailand, and Japan to share dishes amongst a group of people. So hopefully if you’ve spent time in these countries, you’re a fan of family style eating and not possessive of your food like so many in the West.
Then again, at least this way you get to try a bit of everything, rather than committing to just one dish.
12. Middle East, Sri Lanka, India, Some of Africa: Rely on Your Right Hand
Did you know that certain countries actually consider the usage of one hand over the other to be an insult?
Well if you’ve ever lived in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, India, or certain parts of Africa, then you’re probably not very surprised. These countries look down on using one’s “left hand for eating or other activities.”
As The Culture Trip advises, just “always use your right hand for greeting, handling merchandise, exchanging money, and, of course, eating” when in these countries.
13. Japan: Slurp Away
While slurping your food or drinks in a Western restaurant will likely earn you some quizzical, if not disgusted looks, the Japanese don’t mind it. In fact, “the Japanese simply slurp up their noodles without [twirling] them first,” and it happens to signify “that you’re really enjoying them.”
It’s nice to not have to be so self-conscious about at least one thing while you eat in public, right?
14. Portugal: Seasonings Are an Insult
If you’ve lived in Portugal, you probably know not to ask for salt and pepper with your meal, unless they’re already on the table. It’s regarded as an insult to the chef.
This is pretty good practice around the world, but the Portuguese will view you with particular scorn if you try this move.