Different cultures around the world are so varied that just doing your thing in foreign countries may get you into a world of difficulty! Here are 20 surprising things you should never do in other countries.
20) Don’t Step on Money in Thailand
In Thailand it’s illegal to step on money. It’s because of one man on every note: The King.
The laws states anything considered demeaning to the royal family can be an offense. That means if you drop your baht at the market, you won’t be able to stand on it to stop it blowing away! The Thai government also has a lot of power. During a recent military coup, the three-finger Hunger Games salute became popular with protesters. In the end, they made the gesture illegal and five people were even arrested for doing it.
There are lots more customs you should follow should you visit Thailand. For one, it’s never good to shout or make a scene in Southeast Asia. You should also avoid putting your feet up because, according to Buddhist beliefs, feet are the dirtiest part of the body, and it’s very offensive to point them at someone. Also, think of the smell!
19) Don’t Use Your Left Hand in India
You never think about what hand you use for what, but in India you need to. Never pass money, food, or shake with your left hand. Your left hand is used for all things bathroom-related.
So, it’s easy to see where this comes from. In India, you should also get ready for another custom: queue jumping. As queues are a Western construct, it’s jump or be jumped in the wildly long lines of India.
18) Don’t Order White Coffee after Breakfast in Italy
Italians are known for coffee and they have many rules about it. It’s poor form to order a white coffee such as a cappuccino after breakfast.
This comes not from the sweetness of the drink, but from the milk. According to Italians milk should never be drunk after a meal, as it is said to ruin your digestion, so you should only have it at breakfast.
If you’re a beachgoer, you should also beware! In Eraclea, near Venice, it’s illegal to build sandcastles. According to the local government they ‘obstruct the passage’ of the beach and sand-dunes for other people. Talk about the fun police!
And here’s a weird one: in Torino, re-adjusting your crotch in public is an offense. Even though touching that part of your body is traditionally associated with good luck, courts are beginning to rule that it goes against common decency. We’re not talking about one-or-two gestures, but a lot of crotch-pawing. In fact, one man was convicted in 2006 for “ostentatiously touching his genitals through his clothing”. Keep your hands where we can see them!
17) No High Heels in Greece
High-heeled shoes have been banned at Greece’s oldest monuments, due to damage caused by tourists. Leave them at home. Besides, don’t you want to be comfy when you’re walking over the old rocks?
Greeks also have an intolerance to mooning – the practice of baring your naked ass in public – as well. And if you insist on this asinine behavior, you could end up with a hefty fine.
Sooo… mooning on the Acropolis while wearing stilettos? You’ve got yourself a double whammy! Or at least a very interesting photo shoot.
16) Don’t Tip in Japan
This next one might be hard to get your head around, but you shouldn’t tip in Japan. The service may be exceptional, but Japanese people consider this standard to be typical so offering a gratuity is not necessary.
Okay, you won’t necessarily offend someone’s sensibilities if you tip but you should definitely avoid pointing. It’s rude to point at someone in Japan, as this is a gesture that is usually directed towards objects rather than people.
And while on the subject of Japan, although it’s not illegal to engage in PDA on the streets, it is a faux pas to kiss amorously in public, or hug for too long. So, save those long goodbye kisses for the hotel room!
15) Watch Your Hand Gestures in Turkey
Often hand gestures are a great way of bridging the language barrier. But just like all language, sometimes they can get mistranslated. In Turkey you should not give the ‘OK’ sign. To do so implies you think the other person is a homosexual.
But you should also watch where you drink your liquor. It has been made illegal to drink or be drunk in public in the province of Burdur. Even sitting in a car with alcohol can get you a 100 Lira fine.
If that wasn’t enough, you should never use a toothpick without covering your mouth, and you should avoid blowing your nose in public as both of these are considered very impolite. Try dabbing at it instead.
14) You Can’t Buy Chewing Gum in Singapore
Despite what’s claimed, it’s not illegal to chew chewing gum in Singapore. Even after a 1992 law passed, which was designed to counter the amount of chewing gum being dropped in public places, the treat was not altogether outlawed. Instead, buying and selling it is illegal, and punishable with a fine of up to $1000. The Control of Manufacture Act still allows tourists to bring two packs into the country, so you’d better make it count!
But if you’re looking for another foodstuff to enjoy when in Singapore, you should know you’re also not allowed to take the pungent tropical fruit Durian on public transport. Bringing the fruit, which ‘tastes like heaven, smells like hell’ on a bus or train carries a fine of up to $5000!
This pride in public spaces means you are also not allowed to feed pigeons. This avoids population growth and reduced the amount of poop to clean.
Two men, a 62-year old and a 68-year old were fined $400 and $1500 respectively for breaking this law this year.
13) Don’t Pee in the Ocean in Portugal
Hot competition for ‘hardest law to enforce’; it’s not very polite to pee in a pool, but what about in the ocean?
Surely it’s the definition of a victimless crime, but nonetheless Portugal has recently outlawed it. This means any swimmers caught short will have to come out and find a bathroom. I don’t envy the person who has to catch you doing this one!
12) Don’t Feed the Pigeons in San Francisco
It may seem fun to feed pigeons, but doing so in San Francisco can get you into trouble; it’s illegal. The law is aimed to curb their population as well as the health hazard presented by their poop. The authorities even have a hotline specifically for tips about illicit crumb-droppers.
Speaking of tips, in America in general gratuities are everything. The average waiter makes between $5-12 an hour and they need any extra money they can get – so unlike Japan, this is one place you should definitely tip.
You should also make sure to mind your Ps &Qs; where politeness is the main order of the day. In certain states they pride themselves on good manners as a way of life. Customs like ‘Minnesota Nice’, made famous by the film Fargo, are defined by ‘polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation and a disinclination to make a fuss’. So be nice, even if you don’t mean it!
And finally, cutting down a Saguaro Cactus in Arizona is a federal crime. Even if it’s on your property, doing any damage to this majestic plant is punishable with 25 years in prison, which is comparable to the amount of time you’d do for an actual murder. This is because they take almost 200 years to fully mature, almost as long as the United States has been in existence!
How would you like it if someone cut you down in your prime?
11) No Camouflage in The Caribbean
The Caribbean islands including Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent have banned civilians from wearing camouflage patterns.
That’s right, they’re policing what you wear. As in, this is literally what their police force wear, so if you want to avoid a fine or jail time for impersonating an officer leave the camouflage at home.
But how will they spot you if you’re wearing one?
10) No Bikinis in Barcelona
When on holiday in Spain, you probably want nothing more than to roll off of the beach after a long day of sunbathing and to go and have a few cervezas at a local taverna.
But in Barcelona, you’ll have to swing by your hotel to change your clothes because the city has banned people from wearing bikinis when not on the beach.
The rule which has been made to supposedly ‘protect modesty’ comes with a $650 on-the-spot fine. You may love your beach body, but you’ll have to put it away unless you want to get into trouble.
9) Tight-Fitting Trunks Only in France
Men going to the beach in France also have modesty concerns when it comes to swimwear. But rather than being made to cover up, all men swimming in public have to instead wear tight-fitting swimming trunks.
The law, from 1903, relates to hygiene. The theory is you won’t be wearing those budgie smugglers around town, so they are likely to be completely clean when you put them on for your dip.
8) Don’t Spend Your Pennies in Canada
Ever seen someone counting out pennies to pay for their entire week’s shop at a grocery store? Not in Canada. In fact, it’s illegal to pay for something worth twenty-five cents or more using single cent coins.
The Currency Act of 1985 also renders your payment void if your pay for something worth $5 or more using five-cent pieces, as this breaks the ‘limitations’ of what is considered ‘legal tender’.
Also, despite the similarities, it’s generally not a good idea to compare Canadians to their American neighbors. Not only do they not like the association, Canadians pride themselves on making fun of their southern counterparts.
7) No Tobacco in Bhutan
Smokers of the world would be wise to avoid Bhutan. The strictest narcotics laws in the entire world mean that the sale of tobacco is banned.
Tobacco use has been outlawed since the supreme leader decreed it in 1729, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the national assembly of Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco nationwide. It’s the first country to ever go smoke-free.
6) Don’t Finish Your Plate in China
When eating in certain regions of China, it’s okay if your eyes are bigger than your stomach! It’s sometimes considered rude to eat everything on your plate, as it indicates you have not been fed adequately enough. Try to leave a little food behind to show your total fulfillment.
On the subject of food, contrary to urban legend, it’s not customary to belch to show your satisfaction at the food. In the past when food was scarce, showing you were full to the point of burping was a sign of the host’s wealth, but those days are gone.
Why not instead try a ‘thank you’ card?
5) Dress Modestly in The Middle East
In certain parts of the Middle East, be careful about how you dress. Modesty is key in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. You should avoid wearing revealing clothes, and women should keep their heads covered.
Also, Drinking in certain countries, such as Jordan, should be kept to licensed bars unless you want a fine. In Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Kuwait it’s entirely banned due to their strict religious laws.
If visiting during Ramadan, you should be respectful. Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink during daylight hours during the holy month, so you should avoid eating in public. In some places, it’s stricter than others. In the UAE where laws are applied equally to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, eating, drinking, or ‘encouraging’ it in public can land you with a 2,000 dirham fine or jail time.
Another thing you should note is that Valentine’s Day is outlawed in Iran, as it represents a lot of aspects of ‘decadent Western culture’. But that hasn’t stopped a lot of Iranians continuing to celebrate it anyway. True love always finds a way!
4) Don’t Give Even Number of Flowers in Russia
You can always say it with flowers, except in Russia where bad math can cause an upset. When picking out a bouquet for a special event, try to get an odd number of flowers. Even numbers of flowers are only given at funerals, while yellow flowers, in general, are associated with mourning, so try to avoid both unless you want to offend!
Also, although it sounds weird, avoid smiling at people in Russia, and don’t expect one to smile for a photo. Russians only smile when they have a reason to – like when with a family member or during a special occasion. This can seem unfriendly, maybe downright unsettling but at least you know.
Say cheese! … Or don’t…!
3) No Reincarnation in Tibet
Ever since the administration of Tibet was taken over by the People’s Republic of China they have enforced a very strange law. In the home of the Dalai Lama, it’s illegal for people to be reincarnated without permission.
The State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 was passed in 2007 in order to manage and control the reincarnation of living Buddhas. While over 1000 people have since been reincarnated officially, the government has used this to invalidate the claims of countless who have died and come back without first getting approval.
2) Don’t Hike Naked in Switzerland
Intended to curb the growing enthusiasm of those who love being ‘close’ to nature, Swiss authorities are allowed to fine people who hike naked. Lacking a law to counter public nudity, they instead charge people based on their public indecency law.
One man was fined 100 Swiss Francs for walking past a family picnic in his birthday suit, and Switzerland has seen an influx of many more naked hikers in recent years. Common decency aside, surely there can’t be anything less appealing than stripping down in the cold outdoors of the Alps?
1) Don’t Touch People’s Heads in Malaysia
Malaysia is the melting pot of South East Asia, a place where cultures, languages, and religions all mix together.
Despite the variety, there are some general customs you will need to observe when there. Firstly, you should avoid touching people’s heads as it is considered the most sacred part of the body. Plus, it’s also kind of patronizing.
You should also avoid pointing as this is considered poor manners, especially when done with your right hand. Old wives tales imply that you shouldn’t point at heavenly bodies like the moon in case your finger falls off, and even pointing at an animal may rile up its spirit and invite it to take revenge.
Instead, why not try a ‘Barack Obama’ point with your thumb, leaving your fingers tucked in.
Pointing should only be as a direct insult; similarly, pounding your fist into your hand shows exasperation and can be taken as insulting too.
So, when traveling around the world, you’ll see many amazing sights but you can easily offend if you’re not wise to different people’s cultures. Did you find out the hard way? Or do you know about any other strange customs you should never do in other countries? Let me know in the comments section down below… thanks for reading.