Cultural Etiquette Around the World: What to Know When Traveling


Traveling offers the unique opportunity to experience diverse cultures, traditions, and ways of life. Understanding cultural etiquette is crucial for respectful and enjoyable interactions with locals. Each country has its own customs and norms that may differ significantly from what you are accustomed to at home. This article provides an overview of cultural etiquette around the world, offering insights and tips for travelers to navigate these differences respectfully.


  1. Japan:
    • Bowing: Bowing is a traditional greeting in Japan. The depth and duration of the bow indicate the level of respect. A slight nod is sufficient for casual greetings, while deeper bows are used for formal occasions.
    • Shoes: Remove your shoes before entering homes, traditional inns (ryokan), and some temples. Slippers are often provided for indoor use.
    • Dining Etiquette: Use chopsticks correctly and never stick them upright in a bowl of rice, as this resembles a funeral ritual. Slurping noodles is acceptable and shows appreciation for the meal.
  2. China:
    • Greetings: A nod or slight bow is common, though handshakes are becoming more frequent in business settings.
    • Gifts: When giving or receiving gifts, use both hands. Avoid giving clocks or anything in sets of four, as these are associated with death.
    • Dining Etiquette: Wait for the host to start eating before you begin. Tapping your fingers on the table is a polite way to thank someone for pouring your tea.
  3. India:
    • Greetings: The traditional greeting is “Namaste,” accompanied by pressing your palms together at chest level and bowing slightly.
    • Hands: Use your right hand for eating, giving, and receiving, as the left hand is considered unclean.
    • Footwear: Remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or a place of worship.
  4. Thailand:
    • Wai Greeting: The traditional Thai greeting, the wai, involves pressing your palms together in a prayer-like gesture and bowing your head slightly.
    • Respect for Royalty: Show utmost respect for the Thai royal family. Disparaging remarks can lead to severe consequences.
    • Head and Feet: Avoid touching people’s heads, as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body. Pointing your feet at people or religious objects is also considered disrespectful.

Middle East

  1. Saudi Arabia:
    • Dress Code: Dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees. Women should consider wearing an abaya, and headscarves are recommended in certain areas.
    • Greetings: Handshakes are common among men. Women should wait for men to extend their hand first. In conservative settings, greetings may be verbal without physical contact.
    • Public Behavior: Avoid public displays of affection. Eating, drinking, and smoking in public during Ramadan fasting hours is prohibited.
  2. United Arab Emirates:
    • Hospitality: Accept offers of coffee or tea, as refusing may be seen as impolite.
    • Photography: Ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially women and government buildings.
    • Handshakes: Men typically greet with a handshake. Women should wait for a man to extend his hand first.


  1. France:
    • Greetings: A light kiss on both cheeks (la bise) is a common greeting among friends. Handshakes are used in professional settings.
    • Dining Etiquette: Keep your hands visible on the table (not in your lap) during meals. Bread is often placed directly on the table, not on a plate.
    • Language: Attempting to speak French, even if limited, is appreciated. Apologize if your French is not fluent and politely ask if they speak English.
  2. Germany:
    • Punctuality: Being on time is highly valued. Arriving late is considered disrespectful.
    • Titles: Use formal titles and last names unless invited to use first names.
    • Dining Etiquette: Wait for the host to start eating before you begin. Keep both hands visible on the table, but don’t rest your elbows.
  3. Italy:
    • Greetings: A handshake with eye contact and a smile is standard. Among friends, a kiss on both cheeks is common.
    • Dining Etiquette: Don’t start eating until the host says “Buon appetito.” It’s polite to finish everything on your plate.
    • Dress Code: Dress stylishly, especially when dining out or visiting churches.


  1. South Africa:
    • Greetings: Handshakes are common. Men may use a two-handed shake, with the left hand touching the right arm.
    • Hospitality: It’s customary to offer guests a drink. Refusing might be considered rude.
    • Respect for Elders: Show respect by addressing elders with their titles and last names.
  2. Kenya:
    • Greetings: Handshakes are the norm, often prolonged. Men may place the left hand on the right forearm during the handshake.
    • Gift Giving: Gifts are appreciated and often opened in private.
    • Hospitality: Always accept offers of food and drink, as refusal might be seen as offensive.

The Americas

  1. United States:
    • Greetings: A firm handshake is standard. First names are commonly used, even in professional settings.
    • Tipping: Tipping is customary in restaurants, taxis, and for other services. The standard rate is 15-20% of the bill.
    • Personal Space: Americans value personal space and typically stand about an arm’s length apart when conversing.
  2. Mexico:
    • Greetings: A handshake is common in business settings. Among friends, a hug or a light kiss on the cheek is usual.
    • Dining Etiquette: It’s polite to leave a small amount of food on your plate to show you’re satisfied.
    • Punctuality: Time is more flexible, especially for social events. Being a little late is generally acceptable.

Australia and New Zealand

  1. Australia:
    • Greetings: Handshakes are common, often accompanied by casual greetings like “G’day” or “How’s it going?”
    • Direct Communication: Australians appreciate directness and honesty.
    • Barbecue Etiquette: If invited to a barbecue, it’s customary to bring your own drinks and maybe a dish to share.
  2. New Zealand:
    • Greetings: A handshake is standard. Among the Māori, the traditional greeting is the hongi, involving pressing noses together.
    • Respect for Nature: New Zealanders take environmental conservation seriously. Be mindful of littering and respect wildlife.
    • Dining Etiquette: Wait for the host to begin eating before you start. It’s polite to finish everything on your plate.


Understanding and respecting cultural etiquette is essential for fostering positive interactions and avoiding misunderstandings while traveling. By being aware of local customs and practices, travelers can demonstrate respect for the cultures they encounter and enrich their travel experiences. Whether greeting someone, dining, or simply engaging in everyday activities, a little cultural awareness goes a long way in creating meaningful and respectful connections around the world.

Rate article
Website with useful information
Add a comment