You Really Shouldn’t Do This In Asia: 10 Offensive Actions

You’re not in Kansas anymore, they would say in The Wizard of Oz. You realize that soon enough when a Japanese toilet starts talking to you, or you have to jump into a Chinese hotel to avoid stepping on the floor in someone’s spit. Cultural norms and values ​​are different in every country, and no matter how hard you try to adapt, it’s hard to avoid mistakes. With these tips you can avoid the most awkward situations, and the rest applies: smile and apologize!

1. Keep your hands and feet with you

Where in Europe we are used to patting someone on the head, pointing at something or shaking hands, it is different in most parts of Asia. People greet each other with their hands together, often making a short bow. Touching someone’s head is considered very rude in countries with large Buddhist populations, such as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. In Buddhist culture, the head as the highest part of the body is considered sacred and should not be touched. The feet, on the other hand, are the lower part of the body and are considered dirty. It is offensive to point your feet or show the bottom of your feet to someone.


2. Do not cross fingers or point with one finger

While we sometimes want to cross our fingers for a good result by crossing our index and middle fingers, it is better not to do that in Vietnam. The gesture means the same as raising the middle finger.
In the Southeast Asian countries, it is also impolite to point with one finger: if you want to point somewhere or point at something, it is best to do it with the whole hand, palm up.


3. Learn chopstick etiquette

Chopstick etiquette in Asia

Are you proud to be skilled with chopsticks? Just because you can dig up your noodles or rice from a bowl doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. For example, did you know that the Chinese and Japanese believe that if you stick your chopsticks into your rice, you will bring bad luck to yourself? The sticks would then resemble funeral incense and thus symbolize death. In some funerals, rice is also offered to the dead with chopsticks held upright.
If you prefer not to burn your fingers at all, feel free to ask for a fork or spoon. That way you don’t offend anyone.


4. Use your right hand as much as possible

Asia: eat with the right hand

Not all places in Asia eat with chopsticks. In countries such as Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia, it is polite to eat with your hands, i.e. with your right hand. Never use your left hand: it is intended for ‘sanitary operations’. That’s why you don’t eat with them, but in some countries it’s also rude to handle something with your left hand or to point with your left hand. In short, leave your left hand as much as possible – except when going to the toilet.
Oh, wait a minute: an exception to the rule: in North and South Korea, Japan and Thailand, giving or taking something with one hand is a big no-no. Always use two hands in everything from giving gifts to handing money to a cashier.


5. Serve yourself and others

Serve yourself and others in China and Korea

In China and North and South Korea, you won’t make friends if you hold your hands in your lap while eating or ask a tablemate to pass the food. Be proactive and grab the food you want. Even better: hand out the food yourself.
In Beijing and Seoul, it is also impolite to refuse food offered to you.


6. Don’t reject booze

Don't refuse booze in China and Korea

And did you think it was just rude to turn down food? Not drinking together is considered equally insulting. If someone in North or South Korea offers you an alcoholic drink, it is a symbol of friendship. Don’t you dare turn down your drink. In China, by the way, you don’t have to worry about getting too drunk during a party: if you can’t drink anyone under the table as a businessman, you’re a joke.


7. Don’t blow your nose at the table

Don't blow your nose at the table in Asia

Asian countries are often known for spicy cuisine, and this can not only cause a burning mouth, but also a runny nose. Nevertheless, in China, Japan or North and South Korea, you dare not blow your nose on the table. If you really need to blow your nose, get up and leave the table for a while.


8. Don’t tip

Do not tip in Japan

Where it is considered rather impolite of us not to leave a tip in a cafe or restaurant, a tip in Japan is seen as an insult. The Japanese believe that they are paid by their employer to do a good job, and they take pride in their work. A tip is seen as a condescending, embarrassing and, above all, unnecessary incentive.


9. Do not chew gum

Do not chew gum in Singapore

It has been illegal to chew gum in Singapore since 1992. If you spit gum on the street, you risk a fine of around $500.


10. Always be respectful

Always be respectful in Asia

Respect is one of the cultural cornerstones of Asian society and is taken very seriously. In Thailand, losing face is the worst thing you can do to someone. In the “Land of Smiles” it can be hard to tell if you’ve actually done something wrong, so in any case, try never to question someone’s authority or do anything that might embarrass someone else.
In almost all Asian countries, but especially in North and South Korea, it is important to respect the elderly. It is rude to even pick up your chopsticks at the beginning of a meal or to leave the table at the end of the meal before the elders do. If in doubt, wait.
Keep in mind that many Asian cultures are conservative. Remember that with everything from how you interact with others to how you dress.


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