15 Annoying Things Americans Do Outside U.S That Always Lands Them In Trouble

One man’s meat they say is another man’s poison. Because people love different things, there are certain things you do in one place that may not be so acceptable in other places. For Americans particularly, there is the need to be very careful about how they treat other people whose country they are visiting and so they try as much as they can to be prepared for anything. When traveling abroad, the last thing Americans want to do is offend the locals. That’s easier said than done, actually not as simple as saying “i’m sorry” and “thank you”.

Accidentally, Americans offend locals in foreign countries by some gestures supposedly seen as “cool” in the US. Some of these subconscious body movements and gestures can attract a punch in the face or even a few hours in jail in some other countries. When next you are outside the boundaries of the U.S, avoid doing the following things on this list.

1. Sitting at The Back Seat of a Taxi 

In America, when you hail a taxi, the next move is to open the back door and hop in. In Australia and New Zealand it’s different, especially if you’re the only passenger in the taxi. Some cab drivers consider it highly disrespectful for a passenger to take the back seat. They believe only car owners and chauffeurs are permitted to take that honorary position in a car.  Nonetheless, some travel guides advice female passengers to ride in the back seat for safety reasons.

2. Using the Left Hand

In certain countries like the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa, the left hand is considered the dirtier hand because it is assumed to do more of sanitary activities than the right one. Therefore, using the left hand to shake someone’s hand, touch someone, touch food, present, receive gifts or even wave to someone in greeting is considered disgusting. People from the above mentioned places will get easily offended if you use your left hand where your right hand is preferred. But since that is not the case in America, Americans will always be considered rude in these places.

3. Tipping

Americans are used to giving tips for services appreciated. From handing the bar man a dollar note, to leaving the balance with the grocery cashier, Americans just love to be nice. However, Tipping is not tolerated in Europe, not even in Japan, it could be taken as an insult. The amount you tip can be a source of controversy in some countries, as it can be misinterpreted for bribe. Before going to any country, take time to study their economy, culture and of course, tipping customs, to avoid getting into unnecessary embarrassment.

4. Giving the Peace Sign 

The peace sign is usually displayed by erecting two fingers, the index and the middle finger, while the other three fingers are folded inwards against the palm, with the palm facing outwards. It can also signify the number two. In the U.K., Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, holding up those two fingers with your palm facing you is the reverse peace sign and is considered an obscene gesture, an equivalent of giving the middle finger and whoever does it is as bad as the sign itself.

5. Putting Your Hands in Your Pocket

Putting your hands in either your shirt pocket, coat pocket, or trouser pocket can mean a lot of things to an American including “I’m cool”. It could also be a way to keep warm or protect an object from falling out. In Turkey, putting your hands in your pockets is considered disrespectful. It indicates a high level of boredom or zero interest in what’s happening around. This act sends a rude message when you are talking to someone from Turkey and you could get seriously hurt for that.

6. Giving the A-OK sign 

In the United States, this hand signal means “A-OK” or “everything is alright”. In Brazil and Germany however, it means “a-hole.” It is an insulting gesture and may trigger a fight between you and whoever you flash it to. It may also have unwanted connotations in France, Venezuela, and Turkey. Over there, flashing that sign means you are homosexual and that is a different kind of crime altogether.

7. Beckoning Backwards

Curling your index finger or beckoning backwards like you are saying “come here” is offensive in most Asian countries. In the Philippines, this gesture is only used for dogs. If used on a person, it suggests that you see them as inferior. It’s not a good way to signal a waiter or anyone. There has been some cases where people were thrown in jail for giving this sign to the wrong person who was not in a very good mood.

8. Hook ’em Horns 

In America, this hand gesture is famous among rock stars and rock fans. It also is used by Texas natives to represent the long horns of a bull or the mascot for the University of Texas. However, in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Colombia, this gesture is the equivalent of calling someone stupid or a moron. It is often done behind a person’s back rather than to their face.

9. Giving With One Hand

Giving is a universally good thing, but the manner in which you give a gift can be seen as annoying and offensive in certain countries. In the West, people do not put relevance to what hand you use to give or receive something. In Japan, it is polite and expected for people to make offerings with both hands. Anything from giving something as small as a business card should be presented with both hands. This shows that you are fully attentive and sincere in the offering. A one-handed presentation might be dismissed as insincere and/or disrespectful.

10. Showing the Sole of Your Shoe 

The sole of a shoe is without doubt the least seen part of a shoe, so displaying it in the public might not be intentional, but it does happen in certain circumstances. This is something that people in the U.S., especially men often do without a second thought. They sit down and then cross a foot over the opposite knee, exposing the sole of their shoe. In the Middle East, this is extremely offensive. In Arab cultures, the soles of your shoes are considered dirty and should not be displayed to anyone.

11. Extending An Open Palm 

When you extend an open palm to someone it usually means “Stop” or “talk to the hand.” In Greece, it means something completely different. Showing someone your open palm in Greece is an offensive and insulting gesture. To them it means “I’d like to rub baby poo on your face.”

12. Got your Nose Fist

Tucking your thumb under the index finger doesn’t have any set meaning in American, except when playing “got your nose” with a child. It also means the letter “T” in American Sign Language. However, in Turkey, this gesture is rude and is equivalent to giving the middle finger.

13. Touching Someone’s Head 

Patting someone on the head in the U.S. can be seen offensive by a few but it is a common gesture for adults to do to young children. That is a big no-no in countries with high Buddhist populations such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, and China. Buddhists consider the head sacred. They believe that the spirit lives in the head, and should not be tampered with.

14. Crossing Your Fingers 

In the U.S. crossing your fingers is a sign of being hopeful and wishful thinking, but in Vietnam, it is considered a vulgar gesture. The Vietnamese believe crossing of the fingers resembles a female’s vagina. Flashing this at someone is the equivalent of calling them the C-word.

15. Giving the Thumbs-Up 

Thumbs up means well-done, or good. In the following places, thumbs-up is said to have various negative meanings; West Africa, South America, Iran, Sardinia, Israel, Thailand, Afghanistan, Italy, and Greece. Giving the thumbs up is a degrading gesture, and can fetch you some pretty sound beating. Try to be cautious in countries outside the U.S. to avoid falling into the hands of any of the above acts.

Amira Daniel
Amira is a personal finance and entertainment writer by trade with several years of experience covering businesses, CEOs, and celebrity profiles, her favourite subjects include business and personal finance, entertainment, celebrities, and travel. When she's not writing, you can find her reading or catching up on any of her favourite series


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