Each society in the world has its own cultural traditions that identify their heritage and makes them uniquely different. But some people, especially those new to a foreign country expect the locals to act and behave as they do.
Like language, cultural traditions identify a person’s heritage. Cultural traditions and customs are ingrained in a person. They are practices and beliefs that are learned since birth. Thus, people from another country should not think that what they consider sensible and polite behavior, facial expressions, hand gestures, and cultural practices in their country are perceived similarly in another.
Unique Cultural Traditions Around the World
In order not to be considered disrespectful or rude when you’re visiting another country, learn some of the unique cultural traditions and customs around the world.
1. Choose the Flowers You Give to a Russian
If you have Russian business associates or friends, be careful of the flowers you give them. Avoid flowers with yellow colors as they represent a break-up of a relationship or deceit. Red carnations are taboo as well because these are flowers presented to veterans who survived the war and on the graves of those who have left this earth.
2. Be Careful of What you Give to Chinese Colleagues
While China has opened its doors to the West, the cultural traditions of the Chinese will never be erased. They are one of the oldest civilizations in the world, so you have to understand that their cultural traditions were developed for millennia and handed down from generation to generation. The majority of the Chinese are superstitious as well and attach meanings to various things. When presenting your Chinese friends with flowers, avoid using white, which they associate with ghosts and death. In the United States, white flowers symbolize innocence and purity. Likewise, avoid flowers with thorny stems. Other things that are not good gifts for the Chinese are:
- Clock. Its name in Chinese (sòng zhōng, meaning send clock) sounds like sòng zhōng or funeral rite. It is also taken to mean that time is running out, or life and relationship can end.
- Handkerchief .–In Chinese, it sounds like a farewell greeting.
- Umbrella. Offering or giving your Chinese friend or colleague an umbrella is a subtle hint of ending a relationship. You can share your umbrella but you have to take it back with you.
- Gifts that come in sets of four. The number 4 is associated with death.
- Straw sandals, shoes. It is also taken to mean that you want to part ways.
- Green hat. Green is considered lucky by other people because it is the color of money. For the Chinese however, a green hat means that the wife is being unfaithful.
3. Don’t Ask for Salt When Dining in Egypt
In many cultures, like the United States, it is all right to ask for salt to add to your food. But if you are dining with friends and colleagues in Egypt, keep in mind to avoid asking for salt. It is taken as an insult to the host, as Egyptians take it to mean that you are repulsed by the taste of the meal served to you.
4. A Question of Being Punctual
The value of being on time depends on the country. In Venezuela, it is actually a norm to arrive about 10 to 15 minutes late for a dinner invitation. Being early for the Venezuelans means the person is either overly eager or greedy. Americans are a stickler for punctuality, just like the Germans, South Koreans and the Japanese. It’s incredible how in Malaysia, being five minutes late (which can actually extend to 60 minutes) is acceptable and you do not need to apologize, too. What’s extreme is how meeting at the exact time is immaterial in Morocco, where it is totally all right to be late for an hour or an entire day! It’s fine for the Chinese if you are late for 10 minutes while Mexicans and Greeks will excuse you if you arrive 30 minutes after the appointed time.
5. Mind your Table Manners in Norway
In some cultures, it is acceptable to eat food with your bare hands. But as etiquette would have it, it is often required that you use utensils such as a spoon and fork, chopsticks, or spoon, knife and fork when having a meal. Be sure to brush up on how to eat with a knife and fork before you travel to Norway. In this Scandinavian country, even sandwiches are eaten using a fork and a knife.
6. “No” to Sharp Objects
The cultural traditions of the Netherlands and China are vastly different. But in one thing, they are very similar and that is in the receiving gifts that are pointed and sharp, such as scissors and kitchen knives. Do not forget this – giving pointed and sharp objects to your friends or colleagues in the Netherlands (and in China) is a big no-no. For the Dutch, sharp objects are considered unlucky gifts, while for the Chinese, it means you want to break or cut ties with them.
7. Losing a Tooth in Greece
For many cultures, children are told to keep their baby teeth under their pillow and the Tooth Fairy will give them money in exchange for their teeth. But Greek children are told to toss their tooth onto their roofs. The cultural tradition is meant for the child to have a healthy tooth as well as good luck to the family.
8. Say Cheers BUT Don’t Clink Glasses in Hungary
It’s almost customary when sharing a drink especially when there is a celebration to say cheers and clink your glasses. But the traditional practice is not done in Hungary. You see, Hungarian forces were severely and savagely defeated during their war with Austria in 1849 and they witnessed Austrian generals celebrating the occasion by drinking beer and clinking their glasses. Hungarians swore not to clink their glasses when having a drink for 150 years. The vow ended in 1999 but a majority of Hungarians continues the cultural tradition.
9. Choose the Right Occasion to Discuss Business in Bolivia
If you are in Bolivia to discuss business and your time is limited, it will still be considered rude to discuss business during a dinner party or any social occasion. Bolivians believe that a dinner is for improving personal relationships. If you are invited to a business lunch or dinner, do not bring up the topic of business on the table, unless your Bolivian host is the first to bring it up. Otherwise, simply savor the meal and foster better relations with your Bolivian host by talking about family.
10. Don’t Try to ”Go Dutch” in Turkey
In some cultures, it is acceptable to split the meal tab even if the lunch or dinner is given in your honor, but this is not acceptable when you are in Turkey. Offering to pay for half of the meal is considered polite, but your host will be offended if you insist. It is all right to reciprocate by inviting your host to a follow-up meal so you can have your turn to pay for the lunch or dinner.
11. Avoid Using Red Ink for Writing Names of Your Friends in South Korea
Pen inks come in a wide array of colors and sometimes it is fun to use them to make colorful doodles, drawings and whatever. For some people, it does not matter what ink color you use to write their names with, as long as their names are spelled correctly. For South Koreans however, you can use other colors except red because for them red ink symbolizes death.
12. A Trip to the Sauna in Finland
For many people, going to the sauna is a personal thing. A trip to the sauna is a favorable way to relieve stress and relax. It is also one way to socialize. The Finns think the same way, but if your business client or counterpart invites you to the sauna after your meeting, do not be alarmed. This means that your business meeting is successful.
13. Where Do You Sit When Taking a Taxi?
In movies and pictures, it is customary to see people taking a ride in a taxicab sitting in the back of the vehicle. Your Etiquette 101 class might have taught you that it is the proper way to ride a taxi if you are the only one in it. But in Australia, it is considered snobbish to sit at the back. Australians often sit in front with the taxi driver.
14. Greeting a Magpie on its Own in the UK
In many parts of the United Kingdom, it is customary for people to greet a lone magpie to avoid having bad luck.
15. Birthday Greetings in the Netherlands
You would not feel lonely when you celebrate your birthday in the Netherlands. In this country, it is a tradition to greet the person celebrating the birthday as well as the person’s family and other relatives.
16. Greeting People in Japan and Germany
When you’re in Germany and invited to a gathering, it is a tradition to shake hands with everyone in the room. You even have to shake the hands of children present. Greeting and thanking someone in Japan involves bowing. The depth of the bow depends on the social status or age of the person you are greeting. Giving a person a kiss on the cheek is a customary greeting in Argentina. It is customary for friends in Brazil to exchange around three cheek kisses. In France, the cultural tradition of giving a kiss on the cheek depends on the region. However, in Brest, it is acceptable to give a person a kiss on one cheek. In Toulouse, you can kiss both cheeks. In Nantes however, it’s all right to give four kisses on the cheeks.
17. Finger-Pulling in Austria
You might wonder when you see Austrian men engaged in finger-pulling. It is actually a serious traditional sport and the rules of the game are quite strict. The game is called Fingerhakeln (finger-pulling), which is like a mini version of tug-of-war. The objective is the same, to drag the opponent by the finger across the table. Bavaria also plays this sport.
18. The Dangers of Remaining Single After Age 25
In some cultures, it is a tradition for families to marry off their children at a very young age. In Germany for example, a person who’s still single at age 25 is showered by friends with cinnamon powder throughout the day. Over in France, people buy funny hats for their 25-year old single friends on November 25, which is Saint Catherine’s Day. In Germany, when a person reaches 25 and is still single, friends will string socks from the celebrant’s home to the birthday party venue, with stops after a few socks while friends encourage the birthday celebrant to have a drink.
19. Shoving your face on your birthday cake
In live action and animated films, shoving one’s face onto a birthday cake elicits a laugh. Some do it as a joke and some do it out of disgust or anger. But in Mexico it is a cultural tradition, so the birthday celebrant does not have any reason to get angry. It even follows a process. The cake is brought out and presented to the person celebrating the birthday. Guests sing the birthday song and the candle is blown. The birthday girl or boy takes a bite of the cake and as expected, someone will definitely shove her or his face on the cake.
20. Wife-Carrying is a Competitive Sport in Finland
Who would believe that carrying your wife would be considered a sport? In Finland, wife-carrying or eukonkanto in Finnish is even an endorsed sport and couples from other countries travel each year to Sonkajarvi to participate in the activity that started in the 19th century. Since 1992, it has been called the Wife Carrying World Championships. The prize is beer, with the amount corresponding to the weight of the wife. Since 2005, the game has been held in other countries, such as Australia, United States, United Kingdom and Asia.
Language Services to Help Bridge Cultural Barriers
Cultural traditions differ from country to country and visitors from other countries are often bewildered by them. While they can be quite fascinating, it is best to read up on the cultural traditions of your destinations so you can avoid committing cultural gaffes. If you’re traveling for business, you might need translation and interpreting services. If you do, we’re here to help.
And for excellent translations, rely on the expertise of Day Translations, Inc., a professional translation company that offers a full suite of language services. We have translators living in-country across the globe, ready to accept your translation projects. Our translators are native speakers, assuring you that we provide you with the most accurate translation possible in over 100 languages. Call us anytime you require translation and interpreting services. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year, so get in touch with us by calling 1-800-969-6853 or sending us an email at Contact us.