A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Strange Etiquette Rules from Around the World

These manners might seem backwards to you, but they're the norm in other countries.

Handshake of business partners. Three businessmen close-up
Yulai Studio/Shutterstock

Russia: Don’t try to shake hands before you enter

Shaking hands would seem to be the polite way to greet someone, and yes, it often is. However, when in Russia, do not offer to shake hands in a doorway; always enter the room first, or have the other person come fully outside. It’s said that the “house spirit” lives in a home’s entryway, and crossing over it for a greeting would be bad luck.

red theater seats

Russia: Don’t intentionally turn your back to people

When you’re squeezing past people to take your seats in a theater, you probably turn away from the people who are seated. In Russia, this is considered rude. Instead, you’re expected to show your face, meaning you’ll probably look them right in the eye as you squeeze through.

table setting, restaurant interior

Italy: Let the man lead the way into a restaurant

In Italy, while it’s still generally considered polite to allow a woman to go through a door first, that rule goes away when it comes time to enter a restaurant. By heading in first, the man can be the one to talk to the host and get a table. If you thought that was strange, you won’t believe these 17 outdated etiquette rules from the 1950s.

Gourmet Organic Parmesan Cheese on a Background
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Italy: Put down the Parmesan

In the United States, it’s customary for servers to offer to sprinkle Parmesan cheese on your Italian dishes. In Italy, it’s not. In fact, it’s considered downright rude to ask for it, especially if you’re eating pizza. That’s because the cheese is seen as incompatible with pizza, much the way you might think ketchup shouldn’t go on salmon. That said, if a server does offer you extra cheese on a dish, it’s perfectly fine to accept it. These impolite restaurant behaviors are important to avoid anywhere in the world.

Healthy food theme: hands holding knife and fork on a plate, top view

India: Don’t eat with your left hand

When in India, avoid eating with your left hand because the left hand is seen as disgusting, as it’s normally used for wiping in the bathroom. The same is true for countries in the Middle East and parts of Africa. On the other hand, these are some rude manners that are actually polite in other countries.

Many glasses of different wine in a row on bar counter
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

United Kingdom: Pass the port to your left

But guess what? If you’re in Great Britain, the left is important—you should only pass the port in that direction. Passing the dessert wine to the right is considered a breach of etiquette. So is forgetting to pass the port, period. But don’t worry. If you do forget to pass the port, the person who’s waiting for it may remind you, “You know the Bishop of Norwich? He’s a good chap, except he always forgets to pass the port.”

Macro image of modern knife and fork on rustic slate background
Matt Gibson/Shutterstock

Chile: Don’t use your hands to eat

It’s perfectly fine to eat finger foods with your hands in America, and in some countries, eating with the hands is actually encouraged. However, that’s not the case in Chile, where proper etiquette requires eating everything with a fork and knife. Here are 10 table etiquette mistakes you need to stop making.

Toilet paper on a toilet with the lid open

Do not flush in any of these countries

If you’re traveling to Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Morocco, Egypt, or Beijing, please note that the plumbing may not be designed for flushed TP, and restrooms will have special waste bins to place used toilet paper instead. Failure to heed this bit of toilet etiquette could lead to clogs and even floods. Make sure you know these other etiquette rules to follow in a public restroom.

Coffee brake set: two cups of coffee with spoons

Korea: Use a two-handed show of respect

In Korea, when one of your elders offers you a drink, the proper etiquette is to receive it with both hands, and then turn your head away as you take your first sip. It’s a show of respect, and respecting one’s elders is taken seriously in Korea.

African american person holding a tactile mobile smartphone - Black people
Samuel Borges Photography/Shutterstock

India: Text instead of calling

It may seem surprising, but the fact is that most small businesses in India don’t even have landlines, which has led to a culture in which texting is considered appropriate, and not just for personal communications. So, if you’re in India and wish to find out, say, a particular shop’s business hours, send a text, rather than calling.

Woman hands isolated showing victory sign on grey background, gesture of victory.

United Kingdom: Careful with those finger gestures

Sticking your middle finger up at someone is bad form in many countries, but in the United Kingdom, it’s also considered bad etiquette to flash a “V” at someone using your middle finger and index finger like a reverse peace sign. In fact, British folks generally view the “V” as the equivalent of giving the middle finger.

Afro American and caucasian male hands showing Ok sign, against white brick wall, close up
George Rudy/Shutterstock

No “thumbs up” in these countries

In Russia, Greece, Iran, Sardinia, and parts of West Africa, a thumbs up gets a thumbs down, as it’s also the equivalent of flipping someone off. Send the right message with these 11 international idioms that sound downright hilarious in English.

Close up portrait of young woman lips kissing

France: Kiss, don’t hug

In France, hugging can be considered more intimate than kissing. Instead, when you greet someone you’re not that close to, be prepared to shake hands or kiss them (twice—once on each cheek—or in some regions, even more). Along with the no-hug rule, you also should never bring your host chrysanthemums (which are associated with funerals) or any yellow flower at all (which sends a message that the hostess’s husband has been cheating!). Next, check out these 25 funny international laws you’d never know were real.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.