Cultural Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts in Different Countries

Understanding cultural etiquette is crucial for fostering respect and effective communication when traveling or doing business internationally. Different countries have diverse customs and norms, and being aware of these can prevent misunderstandings and enhance cross-cultural interactions. This guide explores the do’s and don’ts in various countries, focusing on greetings, dining etiquette, business practices, and social behaviors.


Japan: Bowing Over Handshakes

Do: Bow when greeting someone. The depth of the bow signifies the level of respect. Don’t: Initiate a handshake unless prompted by the Japanese counterpart. If a handshake occurs, it is usually gentle and combined with a slight bow.

France: Cheek Kissing

Do: Expect to exchange cheek kisses (la bise) in social settings. The number of kisses varies by region. Don’t: Extend your hand for a handshake in informal settings where cheek kissing is the norm.

Middle East: Right Hand for Greetings

Do: Use your right hand for handshakes as the left hand is considered unclean. Don’t: Offer your left hand or touch someone with it during greetings.

Dining Etiquette

China: Respecting the Elders

Do: Wait for the eldest person to start eating before you begin. Don’t: Stick chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, as it resembles incense sticks used at funerals.

Italy: Enjoying the Meal

Do: Take your time and savor your meal, appreciating the culinary experience. Don’t: Ask for cheese to be added to a dish unless it is explicitly offered, as it may be seen as an insult to the chef.

India: Eating with Hands

Do: Use your right hand to eat, especially in traditional settings. Don’t: Touch communal serving dishes with your left hand or use it to eat.

Business Practices

Germany: Punctuality is Key

Do: Arrive on time or slightly early for meetings, as punctuality is highly valued. Don’t: Be late or too informal during business meetings, as this can be perceived as disrespectful.

Brazil: Building Relationships

Do: Invest time in getting to know your Brazilian counterparts personally before jumping into business discussions. Don’t: Rush negotiations or be overly direct, as building trust and relationships is essential.

South Korea: Hierarchical Awareness

Do: Address people by their titles and show deference to seniority. Don’t: Use first names or be overly familiar unless invited to do so.

Social Behaviors

United Kingdom: Politeness Matters

Do: Use polite expressions like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” frequently. Don’t: Be overly loud or expressive in public, as modesty and restraint are valued.

Russia: Offering and Accepting Hospitality

Do: Accept offers of hospitality and reciprocate when possible. Don’t: Refuse food or drink offered during social visits, as it may be considered rude.

Thailand: Respecting the King and Buddha

Do: Show reverence to images of the King and Buddha. Don’t: Touch someone’s head or point your feet at people or religious objects.

Gift-Giving Customs

Japan: Presentation is Important

Do: Wrap gifts beautifully and present them with both hands. Don’t: Give gifts in groups of four or nine, as these numbers are associated with death.

Mexico: Thoughtful Gestures

Do: Bring a small gift like flowers or sweets when invited to someone’s home. Don’t: Give overly expensive gifts, as it may cause embarrassment.

Saudi Arabia: Right Hand Rule

Do: Give and receive gifts with your right hand or both hands. Don’t: Open gifts immediately upon receiving them, as this is often done later in private.


Navigating cultural etiquette requires sensitivity and awareness of the host country’s customs. By adhering to these do’s and don’ts, individuals can show respect and foster positive relationships. Each culture offers unique perspectives on social interactions, and understanding these can significantly enhance both personal and professional experiences abroad.

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