There are many cultures across the globe, and with culture comes unique customs based on history, familial background, and everyday life. While we explore all the world has to offer, it's important to remember that not everything we deem polite in the United States is considered acceptable in other places. In fact, etiquette can vary drastically across country lines, with a number of unspoken rules that you may not have thought of before.
We rounded up a handful of habits from other cultures to keep in mind during interactions around the home — and we even received some input from a few experts in the field. It's also important to remember that you don't need to travel internationally in order to be exposed to other traditions.
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"Although these are customs adhered to in most countries, we may interact with individuals who observe the same customs here," Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette expert, tells Hunker. "Even when we are visiting people in their homes here in the United States, we can just be mindful and respectful of their customs."
1. Eating With Your Right Hand
Dining etiquette is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about cultural habits, especially since many interactions in the home involve food. For example, in India, utensils are used for some dishes, but many items are intended to be eaten with your hands — particularly the right hand. In Indian culture, the left hand is considered "unclean," so it should remain untouched while eating, according to Culture Trip.
"A distinct difference, especially at networking events, is that people are told to eat with their left hand in order to have a clean right hand to shake with," explains Swann. "That would not be the case, whether in India or [when] interacting with a person who lives [in the United States] who may be of Indian heritage."
One may think that spitting is a universal no-no, but that is not the case. As told by The Guardian of Nigeria, in the Maasai Tribe of Kenya and northern Tanzania, spitting means that you are blessing a person and is a sign of the utmost respect. The people of the tribe may also spit to wish a newborn baby good fortune or to congratulate a bride.
Making any sort of noise when you eat can be a cringeworthy thing to do at an American table, but in other cultures, this could be a sign that you're enjoying your meal.
"In Japan, when eating soup and noodles, slurping is polite and shows appreciation to the chef," says Sharon Schweitzer, JD, culture and etiquette expert, best-selling author of Access to Asia, and member of the Travelers' Century Club.
4. Saying "Thank You"
Saying "thank you" after someone serves you a meal in the United States is a no-brainer, and not acknowledging your gratitude is considered to be extremely impolite. However, this isn't the case in other countries.
"In India, avoid saying 'thank you' to your host at the meal's end," says Schweitzer. "It's considered a form of payment. Reciprocate by inviting her or him to dinner." Instead of being seen as an equal, they may interpret your gratitude as playing the role of the chef for you. It's best to get comfortable providing favors for each other.
5. Cleaning Your Plate
While cleaning your plate could be a sign that you enjoyed your meal, it is considered offensive in a handful of other countries, particularly China. According to AsianCustoms.eu, leaving a little bit of food on your plate signifies to the host that you are full.
"Not cleaning your plate signifies that the host has enough to share," says Swann. Finishing all the morsels on your plate may embarrass the host, as they may feel as if they didn't serve you enough.
6. Refusing Offerings
A sign of disrespect across Asia and in the Middle East is refusing offerings such as water, coffee, or food, according to Swann. Maybe you aren't thirsty, or maybe you can't eat a certain food due to dietary restrictions (like vegetarianism) or allergies. If this is the case, Swann suggests being mindful of your wording and doing some research beforehand on what people may be eating or drinking as part of a certain heritage. She also recommends asking for more of something else as an alternative so as not to offend the host.
7. Accepting Second Helpings
"In Greece, hosts insistently offer diners two to three helpings of food," says Schweitzer. "Guests should accept as a compliment to the host." Greek hosts will contend that you take what is given even if you aren't hungry. By not accepting the offer, you may be inadvertently insulting the host, according to Cultural Atlas. To avoid any sort of miscommunication if a second heaping pile of food is served to you, just express your thanks.
8. Eating With Your Hands
In Chile, it is considered rude to eat with your hands, even with foods you'd customarily eat with your fingers. "Don't use your hands to eat food, including French fries or pizza, because it is considered ill-mannered," explains Schweitzer. According to Cultural Atlas, it is also traditional to keep your hands above the table at all times throughout the meal.
Timing varies all over the world, and honestly, we could argue that it varies across ZIP codes. In terms of cultural differences, as told by Swann, arriving promptly is a sign of professionalism in countries like India and China, while timing in Latin American countries is a little more relaxed. In a place such as Venezuela, it's actually customary to arrive a few minutes late, as showing up on time is a sign of greediness.
10. Tilting Your Soup Bowl
As explained by Afar, when eating soup in the United Kingdom, tilt both the bowl and the spoon away from you and then sip from the side of the utensil when it reaches your mouth. Just remember to do this carefully so as not to spill any hot liquids all over your lap.
11. Asking for Cheese
When eating Italian food in the United States, it's normal to see Parmesan cheese on the table to sprinkle on your pasta or pizza. However, you won't see this in Italy, and you certainly shouldn't ask for it, according to Escape.
"In Italy, avoid asking for extra cheese, especially Parmesan, unless it's offered," says Schweitzer. "Many Italian dishes are made with pecorino and will not taste good with different cheeses. Asking for cheese on seafood is insulting. If it's not offered, don't ask."