5 Perfectly Normal Behaviors That Americans Find Extremely Rude
Usually, if we’re talking about the manners of different nationalities around the globe, America clocks in somewhere near the bottom of the list. There’s a reason for the slang Ugly Americans. The stereotype of the clomping American tourist, a gluttonous behemoth with knobby knees and a fanny-pack full of granola bars and used Kleenex, absolutely does exist. If you’ve visited any even slightly photo-worthy world site, you’ve probably been within earshot of at least one family that seems to be on the verge of a court-mandated separation screaming deeply hurtful things at one another when they keep blinking during the picture.
There are, however, certain habits around the globe that, as unlikely as it may be, are considered massively rude in the United States while being wholly normal elsewhere. To that end, here are five perfectly polite foreign behaviors that would be considered rude in the U.S.
This is, of course, given that you’re not one of those massive, dripping assholes who writes some illegible economic opinion on the tip line of your check. I don’t care if they ruined your birthday by bringing you a regular frozen margarita instead of strawberry, they still had to clean up the mess you made after three of them. Not leaving a tip for your server in the United States is a massive dick move, and a good way to make sure your friends either stop going out with you or start “going to the bathroom” when you leave and secretly handing the server a tip while apologizing for you.
Many visitors, however, if they haven’t done a little restaurant rule research, might have no idea that they’re expected to tip. International tourists might be more accustomed to the tipless transactions in the restaurants and businesses of their home country, and may assume that service workers in the U.S., like in other countries, are paid a living wage. Idiots! They might even consider a tip rude, as a form of monetary flex of wealth over your server.
Eating With Your Hands
Seeing someone eating with their hands in an American restaurant will probably inspire an immediate wellness check, or an investigation into whether the diner in question is some sort of unfrozen caveman. We love our utensils here, so much that we even inexplicably give a shit which side of the plate they’re placed on, all to be immediately picked up. We’ve got dinner (daddy) forks and salad (baby) forks, steak knives, table knives, butter knives… a Western cutlery drawer is a small-scale arsenal that could supply an entire tiny army.
In other cultures, though, particularly places like India and Ethiopia, the only utensil needed or used is your own hand, helped along with breads like dosa or injera. Experts, too, are very clear that it’s not because of a lack of utensils or because somehow nobody ever brainstormed “pointy stick,” but because that was just the way that the culture felt food should be enjoyed. Admittedly, even without utensils, there’s still some strange side-based hang-ups: You should only ever eat with your right hand, as the left is considered unclean or unlucky.
Leaving Food on Your Plate
It’s not all too surprising that for something as diverse and culturally central as food, there’s plenty of traditions and rules to go with it. One other thing you’ve probably been taught since the sippy-cup days is to clean your plate. Whether with guilt trips about starving children or a winkingly dangled dessert, for a lot of American families, you’re expected to finish all the food you take. The same goes for restaurants and friendly dinners — a plate not picked clean could be considered a sign that the food wasn’t good.
In China, though, the rule is exactly the opposite: When at a restaurant or dinner affair, it’s considered rude to leave a completely bare plate. It’s for the same reason of insulting the chef or host, but a different strain of suggestion. A clean plate, for example, might suggest that you weren’t given enough food. To be honest, they might have gotten it right. I think we’ve all got a chef in our social or family circle whose meals we’d much rather be constrained to nibbling on.
It’s so ingrained in the culture that China just launched a campaign to get people to finish their food, citing the amount of food waste it causes.
Asking Personal Questions
Small talk, unfortunately, is an art in the United States. With someone you don’t know, you’d be a little thrown off or quickly develop a need for a bathroom break if they started probing you for personal details. Things like age and relationship status are especially cagey topics at the top of a conversation. Ask someone if they’re single and most people are going to read that as flirtatious. Make a habit of asking how old people are at the beginning of conversations and you’ll be the least popular person at most weddings. Ask people if they’re single and how old they are, and you’ll probably be on a non-wedding registry.
Asking someone their age and marital status in countries like Italy, though, is considered perfectly polite conversation.
Lack of Eye Contact
America isn’t a great country to be shy in, either. When you’re talking to someone, eye contact is expected, unless you’re saying “aw, shucks” or something similar. Extended eye contact is a sign of confidence. There’s still a limit obviously before whoever you’re talking to starts worrying that you’re about to ask them to join the Church of Scientology. If someone’s not making almost any eye contact in a conversation, though, Americans might feel like they’re not interested in talking.
But for a lot of other cultures, eye contact is considered rude or aggressive, and so people will actively avoid making too much of it — a trend I’m sure the quiet kids of high schools across the nation would love to be made more popular. In Japan, children are even taught specifically to look at the throat of people they’re talking to, so that they can see their eyes in their peripheral vision without making them uncomfortable. Here, people would just assume you’re planning some sort of elaborate strangulation murder — which, for the record, is considered rude in every culture.