13 Unusual International Customs You Never Knew Existed

What we consider polite and sensible behaviour at home isn’t always perceived in the same fashion outside our borders. Don’t be labelled rude, or disrespectful on your travels—discover these unique worldwide customs and make friends wherever you happen to roam.

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International customs vary
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1. Avoid Giving Certain Flowers in Russia

Be careful when presenting flowers to a friend or business associate in Russia. Yellow blooms signify deceit or a relationship break-up. And skip red carnations, too. Traditionally, red carnations are placed on the graves of the dead, or are offered to surviving war veterans.

Here are 7 Embarrassing Things You Should Never Do in Other Countries.

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Close-up of clock
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2. Don’t Expect a Thank You Card for These Gifts in China

Clocks, handkerchiefs, straw sandals and flowers are all associated with death and funerals in China. Deemed inappropriate and morbid, you’ll risk damaging the relationship if you present these gifts—for any occasion—to someone in China.

Check out 12 of the Most Fascinating Good Luck Charms from Around the World.

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Salt shaker on wooden table
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3. Skip the Salt in Egypt

When tucking into a meal in Egypt, by-pass the saltshaker. It’s insulting to your host to sprinkle salt on your food. If you have to season your plate, it means that you find the meal’s taste repulsive.

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Table set-up at restaurant
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4. Don’t Show Up On Time in Venezuela

Who needs a watch? Here’s one place where being early or on time is viewed as being rude. In Venezuela, if you are invited over to someone’s home for a meal, it’s recommended that you arrive 10 to 15 later than the requested time. Early or on time guests are viewed as being too eager, even greedy.

Here are 10 Rude Manners That Are Actually Polite in Other Countries.

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Knife and fork
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5. Always Use a Knife and Fork in Norway

In Norway, table manners are extremely important. Most meals—including sandwiches—are eaten using utensils.

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Gift box tied with red ribbon
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6. Be Blunt in the Netherlands

Gift giving should be a happy and positive experience. When selecting a present for someone in the Netherlands, don’t purchase fancy kitchen knives or scissors. Giving sharp, pointy objects as gifts is considered unlucky.

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Little girl brushing her teeth
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7. Send Your Tooth to the Roof in Greece

Children in Greece don’t expect the Tooth Fairy to cough up money in exchange for a lost tooth. Instead, Greek kids toss their discarded baby teeth onto the roof of their home. This custom is meant to bring good luck and a healthy replacement tooth.

Journey back in time with this countdown of Athens’ most beautiful and important attractions.

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Friends drinking beers
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8. Don’t Clink and Drink in Hungary

Clinking glasses and swigging beer is a scene played out of many pubs around the world, but don’t expect to see such merriment in Hungary. This old custom dates back to the 1849 war with Austria. After defeating Hungarian forces and savagely killing thirteen of their military’s leaders, Austrian generals were celebrating by smugly clinking glasses and drinking beer. While consuming beer was never forbidden, Hungarians did pledge to refrain from clinking glasses for a period of 150 years. Today, this custom is still followed in certain circles despite the expiry of the 150-year vow.

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Dinner party
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9. Keep Business Away From the Table in Bolivia

In Bolivia, it’s rude to discuss business during a social occasion such as a wedding, or dinner party. The dining experience is meant to enrich personal relationships, not make deals. If you’re attending a business lunch or dinner, wait until your host brings up the subject of work before diving into the topic. Your Bolivian counterpart will want to chat about family before tackling business issues.

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Restaurant in Turkey
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10. Skip the Tab in Turkey

When doing business in Turkey, it’s the custom for your host to pay for your meal. Requests to split the bill will be viewed as a polite gesture, but won’t be accepted. If you would like to pay your fair share, Turks recommend inviting your host to a follow-up meal. At that time, you can reciprocate and extend the same courtesies that were offered to you.

Check out the 10 Most Affordable Wine Destinations in the World.

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Chopsticks and bowl of rice on bamboo mat
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11. Mind Your Chopsticks in Japan

Japan is a very polite nation, and their fondness for etiquette extends to the mealtime use of chopsticks. According to Japanese custom, it’s considered ill mannered to point, play with, or stab food with chopsticks. If you’re in the middle of eating, use the opposite end of your chopsticks to secure food from a shared plate. Using the end that touches your mouth is extremely offensive, not to mention unhygienic.

Here’s why Japanese children are the healthiest in the world.

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Red pen and white notebook
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12. Red Equals Dead in South Korea

Writing a lot of cards or notes while visiting South Korea? Be mindful of your pen’s ink colour. Scrawling a person’s name in red ink traditionally signifies that the person is deceased—an important point to remember when giving a birthday card.

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Traditional Sauna
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13. Stick to the Sauna in Finland

Don’t be perplexed. Say, yes! In Finland, saunas are a preferred way to relax and socialize with family and friends. Don’t be surprised if your business meeting is followed up with an invite to let off some steam in a local sauna. If you receive such a request, rest assured that your business meeting went well.

Check out 10 Holiday Food Traditions from Around the World.

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