The 23 strangest habits you’ll pick up after living in 23 different countries

While I usually blog about language learning, I know a lot of you enjoy my travel and cultural updates as much or more.

I’ve been travelling the world since 2003, but even forgetting the time involved, I have lived in twenty three countries (and counting); that’s lived as in, spent at least a month (usually three, and over a year in some) in the country where I invested serious time into speaking its language (or already spoke its language on arrival) and tried to investigate its culture and made local friends. In that I have acquired a lot of personal habits which to some might seem weird, annoying or strange. This post summarizes them all.

Countries I’ve lived in: Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Belgium, Colombia, the US, Canada, Ireland, UK, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Egypt, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, India, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Taiwan. (I’ve also visited Poland, Uruguay, Singapore, Austria, Slovakia, Norway, and Mexico for a few days or weeks, but definitely wouldn’t consider myself to have lived in any of these and was more of a tourist, and I’ve had a flight transfer through a bunch other countries for a few hours, which I wouldn’t count at all).

I can point you to travellers who have been to many more countries than I have (most of whom have been travelling way less than I have, so it really shows the different speeds we travel at), but my style of travel and theirs is very different and I feel like I have gotten to know the modern cultures of each of these countries much more than the majority of passers-through ever do.

The thing about living in a country and truly attempting to understand its culture and language, is that you have to pick up a lot of their customs to stand out less and make them feel more comfortable. Some of these I have done only in passing and stopped almost immediately after leaving the country, but quite a few (as you’ll see here) have stuck with me for life.

In today’s post, I want to share a few of the strangest habits that I have picked up!

1. Ask people if they want to have a shower way too often

This strange custom is one that I picked up from spending an entire year in Brazil.

I travelled a lot in the country, and had my own home some of the time, but the rest of the time would stay with friends. It struck me as incredibly odd, but the first question Brazilians would ask me whenever I arrived at their home was always if I wanted to have a shower!

This wasn’t saying anything about my B.O., but something that is customary to offer any guest who is visiting you in Brazil, including if they are not staying over. Brazil can be a hot country depending on the city and time of year, and Brazilians are among the most hygienic people I’ve ever come across, generally taking at least two and sometimes three showers a day, especially if they are physically active (gyms, sports etc.)

Because of this, Brazilians generally want to have a shower as soon as they arrive at someone’s house, to freshen up. The problem is that I’m so used to asking this that any time I have a Couchsurfer over at my place, or if it’s a somewhat hot day anywhere in the world and someone pops by my house, I just automatically ask the question of if they want to hop in the shower as soon as they enter.

You can imagine the looks I’ve gotten from asking this when people think I’m somehow implying they are smelly, or a girl who may be just a friend or a very different age to me thinking I have an ulterior motive! I’m just trying to be nice, as any Brazilian would, I swear!

2. Examine a business card or hand over money as if it were about to explode

This time, a habit I picked up in Taiwan, which stood out for me immediately after I arrived there, was that you treat anything that you can hand over to another person as sacred.

So if I meet you at a conference for instance, and you give me your business card, rather than glance at it and stuff it into my pocket, I will delicately accept it using both of my hands as if I’m holding a fragile piece of crystal and examine it closely for the incredible design, as if I was looking through a window into a wonderful parallel universe.

Only then can I put it into my left pocket, which is my “throw-into-the-bin-as-soon-as-they’re-gone pocket”.

And with money, the same rules apply. You don’t hand over any note with one hand, but with two, as if it will explode if handled incorrectly. I have shaken off this second habit due to spending long enough outside of Asia by now, but I have to admit that I still feel quite insulted whenever someone hands me money with one hand without forcefully putting their whole body into the delicate transfer. I definitely still take business cards with both hands though.

3. Point as if you’re flirting with a fish

In the Philippines, and strangely enough also in Colombia and other countries, they almost never point with their index finger (thus immediately nullifying the very title of index finger). This is considered quite rude in many cultures.

So what do you do if you genuinely need to point to something? Why, you use your lips of course! You need to pout them as if you are making a kissy-face and do so in the direction of the thing that requires the attention of the conversation. It’s not a long “point”, but more a quick pucker-up for a half a second.

I got so used to this, that I do it unconsciously now, even when I’m also pointing with my fingers too. So I look weird to pretty much everyone now!

4. Feel guilty about using the toilet

This is an odd one, but many countries in the world don’t have the same kind of plumbing system as we do in Europe and North America.

As such, in many countries in Africa, South America and Asia, you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet!

Because of this, there is a bin beside the toilet for you to discard your “used” toilet paper. It seems disgusting at first to have that within sight, but after a while you get used to it. Now, I genuinely feel… guilty every time I flush toilet paper down the toilet itself, even when in a country where this is perfectly acceptable as the plumbing system can handle it, because I feel like I’m clogging up the pipes!

5. Call people at random intervals and hang up before they answer

Another habit I picked up, this time from Italy is the concept of a “squillo”.

You may generally understand this as a missed call, although it is always intentional. We do this all the time in most countries if we want to give someone our number, by noting theirs and then calling them just for a second, and they’d see our number on their caller ID.

Italians however take this to the next level and make it an entirely new form of communication! I wrote about it in detail here.

Basically, you call someone and then hang up such that the context of why you called is obvious. If you are meeting up with them but will arrive 10 minutes late, the squillo implies that you are on your way. If you are going out with someone and not meeting up with them right now but receive a very quick call where they hang up before you would pick up, this means that they are thinking about you (lovers or married couples etc.) If a guy friend gives another guy friend a squillo, it essentially means “whats up?” and you would text him back.

Essentially, you have these random moments throughout your day where your phone rings for just a second and then stops ringing. Now, the instinct of most non-Italians is to call this person back. Maybe it’s their way of saying they are out of credit for instance, and it’s urgent they talk to you. But the squillo itself was the communication; you have to extrapolate from the context what it means without calling them back!

As such, I call friends and hang up immediately all the time. In most countries though, they’ll call me back and we have an awkward conversation, which I was attempting to avoid precisely by giving them a squillo! I still can’t shake this habit, and have many weird phone conversations if people pick up before I finish my brief squillo, or think that I’m trying to get out of being the one paying for the call.

6. Regularly run into oncoming traffic as if you have had enough of this cruel world

As always, in my attempts to really get into a local culture, I tried to emulate the Egyptians as much as I could while living there this year. One problem though is that there are pretty much no traffic lights in major cities in Egypt; especially for the purposes of pedestrian crossings.

As such, your only option to get where you need to go is to run across five or more lanes of very rapidly approaching traffic to cross the road. At first you are as scared as hell, but then you get used to it.

Now, I’m in Germany which is as far as you can get from this idea as possible! German pedestrians will patiently wait at a red man traffic light even when there are literally no cars within sight. My first time in Germany, I got used to this and blended in. This time though, Egypt has gotten into my brain too much and I jaywalk all the time. I almost feel the urge to run into traffic when cars are zooming by, even though I’d only have to wait a few seconds and walk a few more metres for a pedestrian crossing.

It’s weird and I hope I shake this feeling soon before I get run over!

7. Unnecessarily drop money all over the place

One of the weirdest customs I’ve come across by far is in North America (both the US and Canada), where many waiters and waitresses are paid by customers rather than their boss (ridiculous, I know!)

They have this weird concept called “tipping”, where (and yes, I’m serious about this!!) you punish a waiter/waitress if the food that they didn’t prepare isn’t to your satisfaction, or if the restaurant they don’t own is busy and slowed down by no fault of their own. You also punish them if you happen to be in a bad mood that day, or if you are not earning enough money to be feeling generous enough to be spreading more around. Basically, you punish them by reducing the wage they rely on, for absolutely any reason you can think of, especially if it is not within their control.

This essentially means that their ability to earn a living is controlled more by dumb luck than anything else. To “punish” them, what you do is… pay something close to what is actually printed on your bill and requested that you pay. (Are you with me so far?) If, however, the waiter performs their task within your satisfaction, then you reward them with 15% of what your bill will be. If they carried the plates from the kitchen to your table extra skilfully, then you make it 20%!

I know, it makes no sense whatsoever – even though the effort of their work is the same, if you order the least expensive meal on the menu, they will earn less because the 15-20% is applied to what you ordered, even though they personally didn’t prepare it or pay for the ingredients. To make things more confusing, this “tipping” insanity is applied to some but not all of those who provide you with some kind of service. To pizza delivery, but not garbage collectors, to taximen, but not bus drivers.

I have been given vast explanations about why this is necessary, none of which make any sense to me compared to the waiter/waitress/pizza-delivery-boy just earning a normal salary like everyone else. They sometimes resort to sob stories about those waiters’ lives, ignoring how this same logic can equally be applied to teachers, nurses and many other very hard workers who (for whatever twist of logic) are not tipped and may not earn well.

But the fact of the matter is that this backwards system is not the waiters’ fault, and I don’t like punishing people for events outside of their control, so I always leave 15-20% extra. Rather than formally process this money though, the custom is to leave it on the table in plain view and walk away, as if the money is just more filth to be cleaned up, with your crumbs and dirty forks. And yes, I’m not making this up!

I got so used to this odd custom from living over 18 months in the US and Canada, that I can’t shake it, and to this day I leave money on tables in Europe and Asia even though they get paid a standard wage by their boss in most places. I’ve been programmed to be “a good tipper”, even though I complain more than anyone about how idiotic a concept it is.

Once, a waitress in Taiwan chased me down the street and said that I just left a heap of NT$ on the table! She asked me why I would do that when I already paid for my meal, and I honestly told her that I had no idea.. it was a force of habit! It’s like an annoying twitch for me now! An expensive (and unnecessary in most places outside of North America) annoying twitch…

8. Sentimental hellos and goodbyes every time

Time in Latin countries in general means that you simply cannot just say “hi” to those you meet in social situations. If either person is a girl, then you give a peck on the cheek… or two… or even three or four in some places! And in other places even guys do this between one another.

In places like Brazil you go a step further and embrace the person you see. You may have just seen them yesterday, but you still hug them as if you haven’t seen them for years and they have just been released from a decade in solitary confinement.

This warmth between people in social situations is contagious and very hard to shake. Also from Brazil, if I’m talking to someone I will maintain eye contact and even be touching them if possible – this has nothing to do with flirting, because even if guys are talking between one another you will keep your hand on one of their shoulders, and tug them a little if they happen to glance off into a different direction.

Finally, when it’s time to say goodbye (as in, see you tomorrow, not forever!) you have to give your farewells to each person in the group. This means that good-nights can take a really long time. In many Latin countries, I have learned to say the first goodbye about a half an hour before I actually have to leave, as I know it will take that long to get through everyone and wrap up our conversations.

The idea of just getting up and saying “OK, see you all later!” and walking away makes me shudder!

9. Slowly move many standing conversations in the direction I’m facing

Another consequence of the above point of more warmth in Latin countries, is that I have greatly reduced this horrible concept we have in some Northern European and North American countries of a personal bubble.

When you are talking with someone, you should do it a little closer to make sure that there is a greater sense of intimacy in the conversation (once again, this is between guys or with girls).

As such, whenever I am back in North America, or North Europe, if I’m sitting down, I always feel like the person I’m speaking to is too far away, and I’ll lean in. If I’m standing though, I’ll simply take a small step forward. A Northerner will then counter this with a small step back as I have been so bold as to enter their personal bubble. (Incidentally, the greater distance between people is perhaps one reason why Americans are so well renowned for their.. um.. skill for projecting their voice in public places more than the rest of us – they have to because everyone is so far away!)

This means that when standing, I try to reduce this wide gap between me and the other person, as it feels uncomfortable, and I may take a little step forward. The other person though, will do the exact opposite and increase the distance between us, as it otherwise feels uncomfortable to them. As a consequence, the conversation will always slowly move in whatever direction I happen to be facing.

Both of us do this unconsciously, and I’m always amazed when I look around me and realize that I’m suddenly several metres from where I initially started this conversation!

10. Take two hours to drink a single espresso

While living in France, I got used to this idea that an espresso is not about filling your blood up with caffeine, but about the experience of sitting at a café and enjoying the company of the person you are with, or if alone taking your time reading a book. As such, you order just one single espresso and take as much as several hours to slowly sip your way through it.

Obviously this means that you are essentially sipping a cool drink most of the time; it doesn’t matter though, as its purpose is just an excuse to sit down at this café.

This contrasts strongly with France’s neighbours, the Italians who frequently drink an espresso as if it were a shot and throw it back. Or with North Americans who drink coffee because they want to fill their blood up with caffeine, and as such many places there present an espresso or coffee in general in a hideous plastic cup.

I don’t drink coffee except socially or when I want to sit down at a café to study or read (never to wake up in the morning for instance), but when I do order a coffee it’s always an espresso in a nice little cup and it always takes me forever to drink it. Long lunches with French co-workers reminded me that the rest of us tend to be in way too much of a hurry when we sit down to eat or drink, making it too functional about getting those liquids and solids plonked into your stomach acids as soon as possible.

11. Nuke 700 friends

As part of my continued attempt to truly integrate and understand a local culture, my attempts to make friends in the Netherlands required so much lateral thinking, that I had a philosophical break-down of sorts on what the concept of friendship truly means.

Their circle of friends tends to be so tight, that it’s incredibly hard to break into it, especially if you don’t work or study with Dutch people. People I’d meet in parties that we were both attending downright refused to hang out with me any time later. A narrow-minded traveller would conclude that they are assholes and leave it at that (and sadly, most foreigners who live in Amsterdam tend to have very few local friends), but I couldn’t do this as I needed to improve my Dutch and was there specifically to find out what makes Dutch people tick.

Despite the fact that I was only there for eight weeks, I took this investigation of how to make friends so seriously that it broke down the very fabric of what the concept of to have a friend meant for me. I eventually succeeded in getting into someone’s inner circle, but the price was that now it was too late to go back and this new understanding of friendship had infiltrated my brain permanently.

Now, I simply cannot seriously call someone a friend unless we genuinely know one another, or are part of some tight community.

Because of this, one of the first things I did in my transition to being stricter on who I call a friend, was to go into Facebook and nuke 700 people that I had added by meeting once in passing, or classmates from school I didn’t really know, or even an old friend who I had lost touch with for too long. The number of Facebook friends I have oscillates between 60 and 90 now, and I do regular spring cleaning to keep the number low.

I really can’t go back; to me the concept of having almost a thousand “friends” seems ludicrous and I roll my eyes every time I get a friend request from someone I barely know, or don’t know at all. Of course, I have a public setting on my Facebook page that people are welcome to follow, because I select updates and certain information to be either public or private, but why would I want to share some personal events in my life with someone I don’t know?

Unfortunately, this Dutch view of appreciating “true” friendships more than call absolutely everyone you come across a friend (rather than an acquaintance which is more accurate), doesn’t jive with the rest of the world well at all.

Some people have gotten very offended that I haven’t accepted their friend request, taking it almost like a personal insult, when ironically I am equally insulted that they have 2,000 “friends” and have no standards whatsoever on who they count as one. It’s even more frustrating because people have a stereotype of travellers having nothing but superficial friends that they cast on me, the hypocrisy of which boils my blood when coming from someone with four digits of people in their network that they can’t possibly know.

12. Being friendly with those in authority

In stark contrast to the one just above, I still maintain the very Irish philosophy that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet, and am open to ultimately considering anyone a friend, and especially to genuinely be friendly to people as soon as I meet them.

I put no limits whatsoever on this concept (within reason). In Ireland, we have a tradition to talk to everyone with the same level of informality, regardless of wealth or status level. This includes police officers in the street (yes, we’d invite them to the pub for a drink; I can’t imagine sunglasses-wearing American police putting up with such friendliness towards them!), and your teachers in an adult language learning class. Everyone can be put on the same level and talked to informally.

This “lack of respect” has gotten me into serious trouble on some occasions with immigration officers, police officers, and my teachers. I have always found this formal/informal separation hard to get used to.

13. Haggle all the time, and without ever even saying a price

A wonderful skill that I picked up while living in India was the ability to haggle like the Indians do. This is very different to how we do it in the west (I say $10, you say $20, and we meet somewhere in the middle etc.), and has helped me secure fantastic prices on accommodation, and any items I may buy.

As I always tell people, being able to travel the world isn’t about earning lots of money, but learning how to spend what you have wisely.

Basically, rather than give a price yourself, you just refuse the prices they suggest to you and keep listing various random problems with what they are offering until they start reducing the price. You should never show that you are particularly interested in the item. Even your body language has to incorporate this, and you generally look over your shoulder at the item, ready to walk away. It is simply how haggling works in India.

I do this all the time in other places and it’s incredibly effective! Unless the price is printed on something, then it is always negotiable. I especially like buying items at flea markets because my Indian haggling skills come in quite handy! But I do it with accommodation whenever I can.

When I mixed Indian haggling techniques with Brazilian charm, I managed to get the best place I’ve ever lived in in my life – a huge penthouse apartment in Rio with a 270 degree panoramic view that included the Christ statue and sugar loaf mountain, very close to Copacabana beach etc. – for a few hundred dollars a month back in 2006! Since my job is location-independent,  I haggle everything, everywhere ;)

14. Carry around a lighter even though I never have and never will smoke

A habit I picked up in Turkey learning Turkish and have kept with me whenever I’m in a country where way too many people smoke (such as this year in Egypt), is to always carry a lighter in my pocket.

The thing is, I think smoking is a disgusting habit, and whenever I’m in these countries I feel like I’m back in the 50s, and am reluctant to go to smoky bars or nightclubs, since they don’t realize how much they are polluting their own (and my) lungs. But there’s little I can do about it because people are smoking everywhere.

Even though someone is addicted to their cigarettes, for some strange reason they don’t ever seem to have a lighter most of the time! I mean, if I were a smoker, I would have my own lighter – it just makes sense to me.

But a consequence of this is that it’s very common to approach strangers and ask if they have a light, and was one of the most frequent interactions I had with people. By having a lighter, I had the chance to ask them a different question while I was lighting up their cigarette and get some language practice or ask about interesting events I could check out nearby. It’s become a force of habit, and I carry a lighter in my pocket about half of the year because of this!

15. Cover pizzas with ketchup

While Americans may find it weird that us Europeans take mayonnaise, look at French fries, and “drown them in that shit” some places take this to a whole new level!

One such idea is what they do in Rio de Janeiro – if you are eating a pizza there, you cover it with ketchup. So you’ll take a sachet of ketchup (since they rarely come in bottles there) per slice and drown your pizza with it.

The thing is, I’ve spent almost four months in Rio, most of the time trying to blend in as a Carioca, so I picked up this and many other habits. Now, no matter where I am, I apply this whenever I’m eating pizza and ketchup is handy. It gets me endless raised eyebrows…

16. Sleeping in the middle of the day

When you are in Spain and it’s the early afternoon, everything is closed and you have a 2+ hour break from work. It’s also hot as hell in the summer, so you don’t want to be walking around outside the shade.

As such, I got used to the idea of finding nice shade under a tree, or even going home if it’s convenient, and having a siesta.

Even though this is way less typical in other countries, I have a power nap now every single day, no matter where I am. This biphasic sleeping pattern comes with many advantages such as needing to sleep less overall, and getting over jetlag quickly.

17. Tell the truth so much it hurts

The Germans may have an odd reputation, but my experience has been that they are not rude at all. In Germany, and some other Northern European countries (and with the deaf community in the states), it’s more normal to be straight with people, and give them the direct truth without sugar coating it. Being direct is a way to show that you respect that person. This wonderful concept is one that I have picked up and emulated myself, and it has helped me integrate into these cultures much better.

In some other countries though, especially Canada, the opposite is true, and you are required to sandwich any unfortunate truths between compliments, or buffer it with pleasantries. To me now, this beating around the bush is all a total waste of time.

As such, I have to constantly remind myself when with certain cultures to add in lots of misleading words like “That’s a pretty good idea, but how about if…” (instead of “That idea is terrible. This one is better”) or “I’ll think about it!” (instead of “No way in hell”) and other nonsense, that you say for no reason other than to protect the feelings of the person you are speaking to.

A Canadian commenter on my Facebook, Sofie, said this to really emphasize the differences: I was taking pictures of the food at a Starbucks (in Germany) and for some weird reason, that’s not allowed. A worker there came up to me: “Don’t take pictures please,” he said very strictly. In Canada, that would go something more like this: “Hello. I am so sorry but we prefer it if customers don’t take pictures. Thank you very much for your cooperation, we appreciate it. Have a nice day.”

Of course, when I speak more “efficiently” with people in some countries this comes across as too blunt. Once again I’m left offending people and then feeling frustrated myself that nobody is straight with me (for constructive purposes) and that I feel like I’m stuck in a dialogue with Barney the pink and happy dinosaur.

18. Have the weirdest exclamations

Whenever I stub my toe, or feel angry and curse, or give out a happy exclamation, the thing is that it’s not usually in English unless I’m surrounded by English speakers. Generally these things come out of me in another language without me thinking twice about it, including if I’m alone.

For instance, if I hurt myself, instead of saying “Ow!” or “Ouch!” I’ll actually say Owa!! (as in German, written Aua) or ¡Ay! (in Latin America) depending on which language is lingering around in my brain at the time.

When I feel like cursing, I feel I can express it better with Spain‘s “¡¡Me cago en…!!” (with colourful continuations of that, including la leche, la puta que te parió, la Virgen, la hostia and more; it’s a pretty versatile phrase).

19. Translate weird expressions that shouldn’t be translated

I’ve got a pretty good way of not mixing up languages, but it isn’t perfect! As such, some will ooze into other ones, and this includes invasions into my English.

There are some things that you simply say all the time in other languages, but don’t in English.

For instance, the first weeks after coming back from Egypt and speaking Arabic, I found that any time I referred to the future, I was missing an “Inshallah”. As an atheist, I am hardly going to say “God willing” in English, but I did keep over-using a somewhat equivalent “Hopefully” – and way too much. “I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch time… hopefully!” “Next year the world cup will take place in Brazil… hopefully!” and other very odd uses.

Many languages also have a subjunctive form used to express hope that something will happen, whereas in English we just use an imperative. This means that I have awkwardly back-translated Spanish’s “¡Que te diviertas!” to “May you have fun!” and then realized how weird that sounds only after it has come out of my mouth.

Some individual words are really missing from English, and I use their weak translations even when I shouldn’t. For instance, the word “Si” in French or “Doch” in German means “Yes” when answering a negative question, to avoid confusion that you are contradicting what was said rather than the actual meaning of agreeing with it.

So I tend to overuse “Indeed!” in these situations in English. Aren’t you coming? Weren’t you already in that place? Can’t you swim? - indeed! This obviously doesn’t answer the question well at all! Indeed yes or indeed no??

Then there are the set expressions. I have actually said “To live like a king’s body!” (Vivir a cuerpo del rey – instead of to live like a king – what can I say, the Spanish one makes more sense, since a king’s mind has to worry about wars and famine and all that unpleasantness!)

20. Confusing hand signals

In some countries, the way you express certain ideas are very different to other ones. It took me months to shake off the Filipino way of expressing that you want to get the menu or bill in a restaurant, but even to this day if I want to really emphasize that something is “full”, I do a very Brazilian open-close hand movements with all my fingers together. It’s unconscious at this stage.

After almost six entire months in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, I couldn’t help but count in a very Chinese way on my fingers. To this day, six feels more natural to make a “telephone” shape with one hand, than to start using a second one.

“Delicious” feels more natural to drill my index finger into my chin, rather than to rub my tummy (something else I picked up from the Italians), and if you stop me in the street and ask for directions (in any language), rather than show “walk” as two fingers of a hand moving, thanks to learning sign language, I use both hands in a forward-backward wave motion.

21. Never wearing shoes in houses

This tradition is so prominent everywhere that I can’t even think any more what countries don’t do it! So many European and Asian and South American countries leave their shoes at the entrance – while in the house (yours or someone else’s) you go around in your socks or bare feet.

As such, when in America and visiting a friend, if I take off my shoes at their door I always get the weirdest look from them.

22. Applauding whenever my plane lands

This very odd custom is one you’ll find popular between many countries, that us Northerners (EU/America) find very odd. I generally wouldn’t initiate it, but if as much as one other person begins clapping, then I join along and give the plane a huge round of applause as soon as we touch down!

People get cynical about flying a lot, but I still think that it’s a pretty amazing thing and an advance in technology we take for granted too much. I love how Louis CK discusses it in this video (from the 4:00 point). So yeah, a big round of applause to the wonders of science getting me somewhere in a few hours that would have been a journey of several months just a few centuries ago!

23. Awkward social interactions when mixing up the rules

As you can imagine, there are some contradictions above (being stricter on what a friend is, but still being friendly with everyone? Being straight with people, but then lying and pretending to care about the craftsmanship of that crappy logo and brainless motto you’ve put on your business card?) – this is my life in a nutshell!

I have such a mess of social rules that disagree with themselves bouncing around in my head, that every single time I start talking to a new person I end up slipping up on one of them, and giving them one too many pecks on the cheek, being too close or too far away when talking, being too straight with them and offending them, or not being straight enough with them and having them not take me seriously.

It’s certainly exhausting that I essentially have to change everything about how I interact with people so regularly because I bounce around so much. It’s gotten to the extent that I find it impossible to say what comes naturally to me any more. Many things on this list come naturally to me now, but I try to suppress them if they aren’t natural to the country I am currently in. Customs that I grew up with and were a natural part of my world for two decades have had to be unlearned so that I can make new friends across the planet easier.

Or what about if you invite a girl out for a date? Should you be more Latin and traditional and hold the chair for her, pay for the meal, and tell her she’s pretty? Well then prepare yourself for a very offended girl if she happens to be from some countries where all that is patrionizing and a little sexist.

In travelling all this time, I have had to not only learn multiple languages, but I’ve had to learn multiple sets of social rules and “fluently” switch between them as I meet people of different nationalities. Whenever I’m successful, I can proudly say that I have made a new connection because they feel more comfortable with me, seeing that I talk to them like their peers back home do. But if I slip up even a little, then I can easily offend people, or (for me just as bad) not have them interested in spending more time with me, since I’m “just another annoying tourist”.

This is much more true than the ridiculous idea that you can ever frustrate people as a language learner! How you act, and what you are generally saying is everything in a social interaction. The actual words coming out of your mouth (or their efficient conjugation etc.) are only a fraction of this.

I shall continue onward in my attempt to learn these fascinating things that separate us and all the many more things that we have in common across different cultures. If I meet you in person some day, and act very strange it may be because I am in fact just very strange, but it may also be because my wires are crossed on which social norm I am supposed to be applying with your nationality – please don’t take my personal quirky habits as an offense! I hope you’ll forgive me if that happens, and be straight with me about it ;)

Here is a viral video I made about the many things I’ve learned in 10 years travelling the world, you might enjoy it (you can read the article here: Top 10 life lessons learned in travelling the world 10 years.)

Check it out, and share it (this link ) on your Facebook wall or otherwise, thanks!



I'll send you the first lesson right away.
Click here to see the comments!
  • Philip Kirkland

    7) The principle of adjusting your tip (and I agree that tipping is ridiculous!) is a sound business principle! Succeed or fail as a team. If the food is crap, part of the team has failed, and the waiters should go to the chef and say, “Hey, you’re costing me my tips!”, thus encouraging the team to improve as a whole.

    18) After 12 years in Mexico, I’m always dropping “Híjole” and “Órale” into my English, even when speaking with my (non-Spanish-speaking) family!

    • Jeffrey Nelson

      Haha I love this. I do the same thing. I live in the US with my wife, who is Mexican, but I always say those as well as “oye” when trying to get someones attention. I do the “esteeee” when speaking English. It is mostly an issue at work, where people just think you’re weird. Friends at least understand.

      • Ashley Nichole Solomon

        Yeah, I always exclaim “oy!” when i’m frustrated, surprised, ect.

    • Vileplume

      7. Saying that to she chef/cooks would be terrible and turn out terribly. In case you haven’t noticed, cooks/production/chefs generally dislike servers, even //hate// them, BECAUSE of what you’re suggesting.

    • Tom Ritchford

      > If the food is crap, part of the team has failed, and the waiters should go to the chef and say, “Hey, you’re costing me my tips!”, thus encouraging the team to improve as a whole.

      But what actually happens is that some people who get terrible service tip well, and some people who get great service tip badly – so the message is lost.

      The whole idea is extremely stupid – it’s basically a tax on decent people, because creeps generally tip badly.

      In all other businesses, the way the business succeeds or fails is whether people come back to that business, not by making little donations to some subset of the workers.

    • Ashley Nichole Solomon

      7 Except as a waitress the bosses very rarely listen to the waitresses and accuse them of being too slow or being rude and they go talk to the customers themselves and because the customers dont know any different the waitresses end up getting written up even when it is the fault of the kitchen or the bosses themselves.

    • pantinaprovina

      Hey, American here weighing in on #7.

      First of all, I agree that tipping is ridiculous. Mostly because too many people use it as a punishment as mentioned in the article above for things that the server cannot control. And no, telling the cook or complaining to a manager does not help. At $4 or less an hour, you are easily replaceable.

      Personally, I always tip a minimum of 15% because if they did the job they should get paid, regardless of how I feel about their service which can be hard when some people throw the plates at you with a scowl and then disappear for the rest of the night. Instead of using it to punish, I use it to ‘praise’. If a waiter/waitress has a smile, is easy going, relaxed, asks me if I need anything extra, remembers to bring something I asked for then I will tip them 20-30% to pay them extra for the exceptional service. There are servers here that really like tipping because of this. They will take home $300+ in a night for unskilled labor whereas someone working in retail only made $60 for the same number of hours. Also, ‘leaving money on a dirty table’ is not something that happens too often where I am. Most people either pay with a credit card and add the tip to the charge, or they give the waitress the money for the bill with the tip and say ‘I don’t need change, thanks’.

      • Angela

        BUT!!! If the food is terrible, the waiter/waitress still has the ability to make me happy. I love tipping. In China where there is no tipping, service usually sucks. I’m totally willing to pay the extra money when I’m in the states because the contrast is a breathe of fresh air. SO back to the waiter/waitress. If I hate the food, a good server will be able to find a way to solve the problem. He or she will be polite and friendly and apologize. In addition to trying to fix the problem by getting the food cooked a second time or whatever is applicable, the server could also offer a free drink or dessert. In most restaurants that is totally doable, and it actually makes people super happy. My Dad used to work for Embassy Suites and he said that most of the time their customer service was so perfect that it was even noticeable. So every now and then they would make little mistakes on purpose just so they could really impress guests by comping them. Customer service is NOT about getting everything right, and yes, if you are a good server, you can fix problems caused by other people.

    • Guest

      your sound business principal makes sense at first glance, except it doesn’t work. If you study tipping habits, most people don’t vary their tip very much, so if you punish someone by not tipping, it just tells the server you’re an a-hole, not that they need to fix anything.

    • JESUS

      But the waiter might not be able to afford basics whereas the others in the ‘team’ just get told off by a waiter.

  • Jacky

    Just a quick note on the Arabic phrase “Inshallah”- it means God willing, rather than if Allah wills it, as you wrote in the post. Allah means God in Arabic, it’s not exclusively used to refer to Islam. Those of other faiths use it as well. Of course, as an atheist, you wouldn’t use it regardless, but I just wanted to clarify the meaning. Love from a Coptic Egyptian Canadian. :)

    • Benny Lewis

      Very true. Coptic Egyptians I met did indeed say it all the time too.


      • kathy

        Fun fact: if you’ve ever used the phrase “ojalá” in spanish, guess where it comes from? That’s right, the Arabic “Inshallah”.

        • Benny Lewis

          Yep, it’s in most subjunctive lessons ;)

          It’s pretty hard to speak fluent Spanish without knowing it! I knew it came from Arabic, but when I was learning Arabic that didn’t help much as it’s used much more frequently, and for even extremely likely events, where you would use the indicative in Spanish.

          • Alva

            Yes, I use Inshallah or ojalá randomly, everyone can understand

    • bzzfft

      I think it literally means “If God wills,” though. Love from a Saudi Arabian. :)

    • Mark Lines

      I love that phrase. Picked it up in Turkey.
      I agree Jacky, that the use of the phrase by atheists could be somewhat bogus, but to me it is an acknowledgement of the inherent chaotic nature of existence.

      The fact that all religions are merely human constructs, and that we have no control over our destiny, is, to me, reassuring.
      Me?, Buddhist Kiwi…

  • Nicholas

    At the end you mentioned a bit about the customs of dating. It would be great to read an article about various dating adventures both from a language and cultural point of view. I know that might be a bit personal, but I think it would definitely be a popular article. Or if you aren’t up for sharing those stories (or if you don’t have any good ones), maybe an idea for a guest post?

    I honed in on this part of the article, as recently I got what first appeared as a blow-off from a Dutch girl (through an SMS she said she couldn’t make it the next day for a suggested second date, and then that she was super busy with work and visitors for the rest of the month, very direct with no smileys :/ ), but in the next SMS after I replied she talked about how I needed to save a certain day at the beginning of the next month for a date (with a smiley face, :) ). (I’m American… in dating we definitely have our own customs of how you communicate in the early phases, as does every country)

    • Benny Lewis

      I’ve been asked about an article on dating as a long-term traveller in general many times.

      I wouldn’t share specific stories (that is indeed too personal, although names and nationalities may get changed or vague-ifiied if I decide to), but I can share general woes soon enough, as it’s an article I’ve been putting off writing for a while…

      • rd619

        Thats a great idea. You could right a bunch of articles that focus on certain things like dating, business, work life, family dynamics, money etc and how they vary from country to country

        • Benny Lewis

          What do you mean how money changes from country to country? Not sure how I could write an article like that; seems more appropriate to an economics blog :P
          Otherwise, good suggestions!

          • Nicholas

            I would definitely say that attitudes towards money change from country to country. For example, do people buy rounds of drinks? When out to dinner will someone pick up the whole check or is it split evenly or split based on exactly what people ordered? As you mentioned in this article, how is haggling done and viewed (is it seen as cheap or thrifty?)?

          • montmorency

            This brings to mind a problem I always seem to have in Germany of how to buy someone else (or a group of friends) I am with a drink (this will typically be in a bar where we have settled in for a long session). In England, we’d take turns to buy a round (and pay as we went). In Germany, your tab is marked up separately and you all pay separately. It is fairer and comes to the same thing, but is a bit impersonal. You can still buy a round if you really insist, but I usually find that my language skills are not quite up to the level of subtlety required, and the end result is sometimes a bit awkward. It gets easier if you are a regular there; probably true of any situation (e.g. a local shop or similar).

          • aLONie

            I live in Germany now, and it’s pretty much the same thing. I mean, if you’re sitting at a table and everything is tallied up at the end, of course it’s awkward to say, well, let me buy one round for all of you. But if you’re at a regular bar/pub which means you have to walk up to the bar and order your drink directly from the bartender, then you can very easily suggest buying this round for your pals…

    • Danny van Kooten

      I would love to see an article on this as well. Dating is one of the social interactions where the “dating rules” your learned back home can really change the dynamics of your date.

      • Kayla C.

        I agree. I don’t know how other countries date and I’d be interested in getting some tips. :)

  • Iain Farrell

    Even in the UK, tipping is a regular part of a restaurant experience [a good tip is about 10% though].

    So, when I was over in Dublin a few years back, it was a bit of a shock when the barmaid was offended when I tried to tip her…

    • Tamara

      In mexico, a 10% tips for food service is (culturally) mandatory as well, nicer restaurants in cities is 15% – and *everyone* gets tipped for everything – people who bag groceries at the supermarket, the guy in the parking lot who blows a whistle, the dude who pumps up your bicycle tires with air, if someone carries something for you, hair salons, etc.

      • Philip Kirkland

        The guy in the parking lot who blows a whistle never gets a tip from me! He’s more likely to get the whistle rammed down his throat. Sorry to be unsympathetic, but that is one of my pet peeves in Mexico.

        • Tamara

          my solution is to try and avoid anything having to do with cars! :) (my pet peeve with mexico is *everything* about the car culture)

          • Lorcan Black

            The barmaid was offended?? Odd barmaid. Yes, they get a salary but they also get tips and generally the person you tip in Dublin gets to keep it, not always but a lot of the time (I’m from Dublin) and it’s generally considered very polite to tip them, even though it’s not necessary- it’s a show of appreciation. It’s become a thing you *ought* to do but it’s not required. Generally we’ll tip where-ever if the service is very good or if it’s fast, or, as you tend to do in Dublin whether you’re from there or not, you just get talking to whoever is serving you and happen to like them/they’re helpful etc. This includes taxis, I have friends who wouldn’t dream of tipping the taxi driver, but if I can afford it I will (but only if they haven’t driven you some ridiculous long route in order to charge you more). So tipping is definitely a done thing in Dublin from everything to restaurants to taxis. Maybe not cafes though and certainly not buses or shops, obviously. And it’s always 10%. Anything more is considered a bit much, though I’m sure they’d be delighted to get it. If you can then do, if you can’t, don’t! :)

          • Thomas

            I think tipping tax drivers in the US is mostly a matter of expediency. The custom is to round up to the nearest dollar, I suspect it’s about making the change process more efficient, more than it is about actually tipping.

    • eamonncy

      In the UK, you have a tradition of tipping barmaids, but in Ireland you would never tip a barmaid. In recent years, tipping in restaurants has become more common. I’m forever telling people that they’re wasting their money. In the US, the tip forms part of their wages, as service is not included in the bill. In Ireland service is included in the bill, so why pay for it twice?

      • Thomas

        That’s generally true, but it depends where you are in the US, around here waiters make a minimum of $9.19 an hour and the tips are added to that. But, in other parts of the country, bar and restaurant owners are permitted to use the tips to offset the wage they pay.

        So, if the tips are bad, then they might make only a few dollars an hour, but if the tips are great, then the owner ends up paying little or nothing for the server’s wages.

    • Sir. Sanity

      Vietnam – Tipping is illegal.
      Japan – Tipping is an insult.

      Australia & New Zealand – Taking a tip was once an offense that could get the worker fired. American and other cultures influences have since changed that, although many New Zealanders still refuse tips.

  • Luca Zoli

    I like the “Irish way” of talk to everyone with the same level of informality.
    However, as italian, I can not stand the way you treat your pizza! That’s a crime!! :D

    • Benny Lewis

      My apologies to Italy! It’s a habit I need to shake off asap – blame the Cariocas! ;)

      • dorcssa

        I can say that it’s not that uncommom in Hungary also :) ( Although I personally don’t eat ketchup anymore..)

  • Ryan

    Wow, Benny. I really appreciate the detail of this post and there are few people who could have written it… What a position to be in having all of these diverse social formalities bouncing around in your head! Cheers.

    • Benny Lewis

      It’s both a blessing and a curse :P Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Jana Fadness

    I love reading about cultural things like this, so I really enjoyed this post! And as Ryan said, there are very few people who could have written it.

    One habit I picked up from living in Japan is “head bobbing” to acknowledge someone. When I want to cross the street and a car stops for me, for example, instead of waving like people normally would in the west I find myself vigorously nodding my head towards them as I cross the street… only to realize too late that this must look quite odd if I’m not in Japan! This is one habit I’ve found really hard to shake. xD

    • Benny Lewis

      Glad you enjoyed it! More posts like this coming over the next month, leading up to one worth waiting for for those who liked the life lessons one.

      “I’ve found really hard to shake” – I see what you did there! :P

    • dorcssa

      Well, if not for anything else, for thanking someone in traffic, we usually use one short head bob too (I’m a hungarian)

      • Jana Fadness

        Oh, how interesting!

  • Deadnewborn

    I also travel a lot and i lived in Baku for 3 years and in Singapore for 4-5 months (i work aborad) and i knew a lot of people from various countries. Everything you say is absolutely right and true and was very funny for me to read about :) So, thanks for this 15 minutes of joy and take care. As we say in Italy: Ciao grande!!! Alla prossima :)

    • Benny Lewis

      Glad you enjoyed it :)

  • rd619

    Great article Benny. Here’s one I just thought of and not sure if this is done in other countries, but another American habit that can be confusing to foreigners is when greeted with “How’s it going?” or “Hi, How are you?” (in the workplace or someone you see frequently). This is a simple acknowledgement and a one word response or quick sentence would do, but I’ve seen some foreigners go into great detail and time answering the question. Of course, this varies depending on the situation.

    • Naomi

      I really confused a German colleague with this just yesterday. He queried why I was asking him ‘how are you’ when I’d been in a different meeting with him a few hours earlier and had asked him then. I had to explain that it was social custom and what I really meant was ‘nice to see you!’

      • montmorency

        Anecdotally at least, if you ask a German how he is, he will actually tell you, symptoms and all; part of that “telling it like it is”, thing. In practice, I haven’t met it that much, but I could see it happening sometimes. :)

    • Shiloh Shelagh

      Not sure how much you care, but this is even a regional thing within the states. I am a northerner, but have lived in the south for a few years. Where I come from we say “hello” if we are open to a conversation, “hi” if we are kindly acknowledging their presence, and “how are you” only following the “hello”. Here in the south people start off with the “how are you”. I am often in the awkward position of answering them, making them halt the walk out of the grocery store they never meant to interrupt. I am fascinated with habits and nuances that separate cultures. I aspire to being a linguist someday. I am very much impressed with your ability to speak may languages. Most could not even be able to handle that, let alone being “fluent” in cultures as well.

    • Sarah

      I think my weirdest experience traveling (I’m from the USA) was when I was in Ireland and everybody would say “Are you alright?” Or some variant of that. Usually when people ask you that in the states it means you look sad or tired or sick or something. It was so confusing, because nobody told me this was a custom.

    • Richard Mackie

      This has seeped into the culture of the UK. I’m from and currently living in Scotland – every day people ask me this at work, sometimes its taken the American way as a single phrase greeting, other times a reply is expected from people – it seems to have confused us even AFTER we adopted it…..

  • Christina

    I’ve found, like others below, that tipping is pretty common in most places I’ve travelled — it’s just usually not so high as at home (Canada), and it’s often the custom to hand it to the server rather than leave it on the table, as we do. This is a very hard habit to break. I’ve also been on planes full of Canadians that applaud when a plane lands (usually only in tropical vacation destinations) and everyone I know takes off their shoes at home and at each other’s homes. One thing I like about Europe (and in Canada, Quebec) is that servers don’t bring you the bill until you ask for it. It always takes a meal or two to remember this, so I sit there wondering what’s taking so long. Then, when I get home, I’m always annoyed when servers bring me an unasked-for bill.

    • Benny Lewis

      Yes, it always feels a little like a “OK, you’ve eaten already, now get the hell out of here!” whenever someone plants a bill on my table that I haven’t asked for yet.

      • Vileplume

        I’m a server. That’s something I’m trained to do, is bring the bill out BEFORE the customer asks, so one doesn’t have to go potentially out of his or her way to get it. I always say, though, “I’m just bringing this out so you have it when you want it– no rush at all!”

      • dorcssa

        Never heard of this custom, and I think this is really rude.. I would think when you are at a restaurant (and at one where you pay in advance), it should always be up to you to ask for the bill.

  • eamonncy

    An interesting ones I’ve encountered is the Iranian custom called “Ta’arof” – a kind of formalised politeness that is very confusing for visitors. For example, if someone invites you for a meal, you should refuse a few times, so they have a chance to back out if they can’t actually afford to buy you that meal.

    I took a taxi in Esfahan and asked the driver how much I owed him.
    Driver: “Nothing, it’s ok, I don’t charge you”
    Me: “No, seriously how much?”
    Driver: “Nothing, it’s ok”
    Me: “Please, I insist, how much is it?”
    Driver: “15,000 Rials”

    I met a Dutchman there, who told me about the lovely mechanic who fixed his motorbike for free. He said “The guy refused to take my money”. I assume the guy hadn’t read up on the local customs before he went there!!!

    • Paul

      perhaps he was just playing dumb. Dutch people are rather know for their stinginess…

    • John

      For this reason many Iranian immigrants to Canada have gone home hungry after gatherings.

    • Joyce Lok

      My mum who is Chinese taught me that when someone offers you a gift, to refuse them 3 times and then accept it. I think it might be similar to the “backing out of it” custom. Also mentioned earlier, I had a friend from Luxembourg ask me out to lunch. Since I didn’t have much money and being raised in America, I asked if he wanted to split it. He said the custom in his country is that if someone asks you to share a meal with them, it is generally recognized they will be paying and thus treating you to the meal. It is like saying “I want to spend time and talk with you.” Another custom I have grown up with in Chinese culture is that food is very important. People will either ask if you’ve eaten yet when you are invited over (like showering, I suppose) or pick a place to eat first, then discuss whatever issues need to be discussed.

      • montmorency

        Something slightly similar in my parents’ generation of English people, was to always refuse, when eating at someone else’s house, the first time “second helpings” were offered. If you were then pressed to have “seconds”, and if you were hungry, you accepted. My Mother in law used to tell the story of politely refusing “seconds” of a very nice pudding, and the hostess took her at her word and removed the pudding bowl, much to my Mother-in-law’s regret! :)

        I assume this idea comes from not wanting to appear greedy, and also not wanting to appear that your hostess didn’t give you enough food the first time around. There also used to be a thing about not clearing your plate when eating out (“leave something for Mr Manners”). You didn’t want to make it look like you were ravenously hungry (could be a sign you were poor, and that would be letting the side down). Of course at home, the rule was to always clear your plate! :)

    • dkphilosophy

      That’s similar in Korea as well. Whenever you’re offered something, you generally refuse 3 times before accepting. After you refuse around 3 times (for example, money), the person offering will usually shove it in your hands or pockets, in which case you know that s/he really wanted to give you the thing. If they didn’t really want to, they’ll just say “oh.. are you sure? alright then..” and take away the offer, which generally doesn’t happen very often.

      Having grown up in Korea, I have a habit of refusing. Once, when I was very very poor, a friend of mine visited me in Australia from NZ and we went out for lunch one day. Because of the custom in Korea that you treat your guests (with food and everything for free) generously (although, of course, the visitors refuse to take it) I was already paying for everything my friend was doing/eating. But the lunch costed more than I wanted to spend. My friend, for the first time, offered to pay her share, and I of course refused to take her money. She immediately took away the money and I ended up having to eat 2-minute noodles for 2 weeks after she left…

      • Mary Gebbie

        As an American, I can say that such a custom would be really confusing to us. Usually it’s fine to refuse once, maybe even twice, and the person might say “I insist” then “Are you sure?” and then if you actually want it, you should accept. If someone refused me three times about what I was offering, I would have no other assumption of than that person clearly doesn’t want it, and from their point of view I must seem pushy. It was most likely the same situation with your New Zealand friend.

        • dkphilosophy

          Yeah, most of us mean well but our different customs might be misunderstood. Now that I’ve been living in NZ and Australia for over 8 years, my old habits/customs don’t really come up, but in situations I’ve never been in (e.g., having a visitor over for a week like I’m a grown-up!) it can still be really confusing. Having said that, though, I actually love these incidences as they let me learn more about other cultures and it can actually be pretty funny depending on the situation. :)

        • pantinaprovina

          American here too :)

          Growing up I always hated watching people do the ‘No I’ll pay’ dance, so I don’t know if it’s just me, but if someone offers to pay I’ll ask “Are you sure?” and if they say ‘Yes’ and they’re a family member or a very close friend then I say ‘Ok, thanks!’ and assume that they wouldn’t have offered if they hadn’t planned on doing it.

          If it’s not someone that close to me, I’ll insist on giving them enough cash to cover my part of the bill and if they refuse then I’ll leave it on the table and say ‘Ok, then the waiter’s getting a really big tip!’

  • Jen

    Why does everyone say that Americans wear shoes in the house? I live in Maryland, and everyone I know takes their shoes off when they come inside.

    • Joop Kiefte

      I think this is more a family culture thing rather than a country culture thing actually…

      • Ann

        Where would you draw the line between a family culture thing and a country culture thing?

        • Joop Kiefte

          I think this is something that depends more on the housing situation and can easily change in the next generation, can be different with neighbors etc… On the contrary most country (or region) culture things will do that with a lot more pain.

      • kjoyfig

        agree 100%.

      • John McCormick

        …or climate. Where it is frequently messy outside (rain, snow, mud, salt-a de-icer) shoes are removed. This is nothing to worry about. If you do not see a collection of shoes inside the door, leave them on.

    • Shayann Nowak

      Exactly I live in Minnesota and if someone came into my house with their shoes on I would think of it as rude! They are going to get the floors dirty! haha I have never gone into a house and left my shoes on ever.

      • Shiloh Shelagh

        We always took shoes off when I was growing up, and now I offer to take them off as soon as I enter someone’s house, if they insist it is not necessary, I leave them on. I find this is the habit with most people I know. To some, it is almost taking the “make yourself at home” a bit to literally. Some people would rather you keep your shoes on to signify that you aren’t going to be a squatter, you are only over for a polite visit. It is all in the unspoken intentions.

    • Sarah

      I noticed when I was in Austria that everybody switched and wore different shoes that were specifically for the house. They weren’t quite slippers. They were kind of like sandals. I just prefer to go barefoot and people thought it was odd that I didn’t have house shoes. My boyfriend’s family is Russian and they do the same with the house shoes and insisting guests wear them.

      • Sarah

        In fact. In Austria all the students take their shoes off at school and wear these slippers. They usually have a designated area to put their shoes. Teachers still wear shoes if they want.

  • OCDemon

    This is a great list. I came back from Taiwan and wandered the streets instead of using the sidewalks, since their sidewalks are so filled with tables and chairs that people just walk in the middle of the road instead.

    And I think English has the unfortunate problem of having only one word for “friend,” whereas in other countries they might have another word like “acquaintance” that they use for people they know, but with whom they might not share their deepest and darkest secrets.

    • ittls

      Isn’t ‘acquaintance’ exactly that other word for friend, then?

      • OCDemon

        Yes, although it doesn’t have the awkward connotations that it does in English. You can be talking to someone, and someone else comes up to you, and you can say “this is my acquaintance” and no one will feel weird.

  • Naomi

    This is a fascinating post, thank you very much!
    I was interested to hear that you consider ‘treating everyone like a friend’ as an Irish thing. I tend to do this automatically, and hadn’t thought about whether it might be learned and related to the fact my father is Irish and my mother lived there with him for 5 years before I was born. (I live in the UK).

  • Andrew

    I love number 16, do that in the U.S and you get asked if you have “sleep apnea”, lol.

  • Christy Morgan

    #1 is my favorite! I have a few friends that make fun of me for this. I usually put up bands that travel thru town and I know when you have been in a van for a few days traveling you really just want a shower and possibly to wash clothes, so that is usually the first thing I offer after offering them a place to stay. My friends always ask me, “Wanna come to my house and shower?” Which isn’t how I offer, but it is pretty funny!

  • Language Learner

    “I can’t imagine sunglasses-wearing American police putting up with such friendliness towards them!”

    Haha, this is funny. I imagine if you invite an American police officer to have a drink with you at the pub, he will think you are trying to bribe him and probably arrest you. That…or the officer thinks you are part of internal affairs trying to test him

  • TristanPEJ

    In Mexico it is common to wear shoes inside. I also never saw carpets when I was there. I’m guessing it has something to do with dust and possibly scorpions or something.

    • Alvaro Celis Núñez

      As a Mexican, I can tell you many homes used to have carpets in the past, but basically now they’re considered difficult to clean, allergy prone things. Also, floor tiles are cheaper to maintain than carpets.
      About the shoes, it’s generally considered very rude and tacky to take off your shoes in public, unless you’re at home or in at a very close friend’s home and they don’t care.

      • TristanPEJ

        Ah, it’s common to take off your shoes to come into someone’s house here in Canada, which seems to be a custom anywhere that gets snow.

        • Ross Romeo Grant

          I´m from Spain, now living in Canada. Back home nobody takes off their shoes upon entering a house, it would actually be considered rude to do so (your feet may smell), here in Canada, I have often been given a funny look and been politely reminded to take my shoes off after walking straight into someones living room still wearing my shoes.

  • Angela Paxton

    How can you have met so many people and still be atheist?

    • Benny Lewis

      I’ve seen many wonderful things in the last ten years, but it has only strengthened my faith in those very people I keep meeting. It’s insulting to them to transfer the wonder to a sky wizard / astrology etc. The natural world that we can all agree is in front of us is already incredible enough as it is.

      “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” – Douglas Adams

    • Joop Kiefte

      Nobody really is an atheist, some people just have a definition of god as the big bang or randomness ;).

      And it is also possible to twist definitions so everybody is an atheist.

      • Benny Lewis

        Everyone IS an atheist. You are presumably an atheist for Zeus, Thor and Ra. Some of us just take it one god further ;)

        I can assure you that I definitely do not define randomness or the big bang as god. If you are allowing yourself to stretch the definition to mean ANYTHING, then the word becomes useless. It’s either some form of concious intent in the universe or it isn’t. Randomness is the precise opposite of that.

        How about we agree to disagree on this? I would prefer to avoid a long tangent debating religion branching off in comments on a post about cultural differences.

        • Benny Lewis

          Alternatively, I could write a post precisely on this topic if people are interested enough; one on why I’m a humanist despite experiencing the many religious customs of the world, and experiencing “serendipitous” events and seeing wide ranges of human kindness and generosity.

          Such a post would be a sensitive topic though, and probably hurt a few feelings. Then again, I’ve written a few posts (like my US culture one) that have had people vow to unsubscribe and never return, so I’m getting used to it by now…

        • Joop Kiefte

          I am even in your definition not an atheist :). Hell, even if you say you are god, I will agree with you. But I am not religious any more as well…

          I told you it’s a definition issue! ;)

          • Benny Lewis

            If I said I was god you’d agree with me? This level of ridiculousness is why I avoid these arguments whenever I can. Casting a strawman on me before I’d even say anything is not a line of discussion I care much for. This is immediately admitting that you are not interested in an open minded discussion.

            No more replies on this thread please.

          • Joop Kiefte

            Not even to say I completely agree with your atheism, your mindset and philosophy?

      • Shayann Nowak

        I thought the definition of an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a god? I believe in the big bang but it is in no way a god! So I suppose I could consider myself atheist but that word just causes so much negativity to a lot of people when they hear it :/

  • Shaydon Ramey

    Great article! I definitely do #19, saying awkward things that are translations. I have to disagree partly on #21, though. When I was in Chile, it was borderline scandalous to take shoes off. Even when I was just at home with my host family, they looked at me like I was insane if I only had socks on!

  • Andrew

    #17 is great too : ) Benny, have you ever heard of the “Criticism Sandwich” mentioned in the 4 Hour Workweek? I wonder what are Tim’s thoughts on that?

  • soultravelers3

    I loved all of these..and can relate as we are about to hit our 8th year of non-stop travel around the world as a family ( and like you, actually taking time to live, immerse and learn languages…not just ticking off places).

    I like the haggle one! My 12 year old daughter has become quite the master at haggling in markets around the world in several languages in the 45 countries we’ve been to. Since her Mandarin is almost flawless ( she just won the Mandarin elocution contest at her large Chinese school in Asia..1st Caucasian to ever do that!)…she really shocked the shop keepers in China with her Chinese, blond hair and mastership of bargaining for one so young. It was fun to watch them get a good chuckle out of it…as they are quite masterful hagglers themselves. ;)

  • Shaun

    I’m Irish, I’ve lived in the Netherlands for a year, my partner is Dutch as are most of my friends here, and I don’t think their concept of friendship is anything to aspire to. The reason they’re so reluctant to let people in is not because of any idea of what friendship is, it’s simply because they are so settled in their patterns. There’s even a word for it that has no proper English translation, “burgerlijk”, which means ‘settled’ in a kind of couple-y and boring way. In fact, more than one Dutch person who’s single complained to me that they’re not invited to a lot of social events just because they’re single. The coldness is simply a willingness to expand horizons, and in fact, a lot of Dutch people themselves complain about this, especially those who have spent a little time abroad.

    As for “telling the truth so much it hurts”, which is also a poor idea, I think there should be a balance. Maybe somewhere between Irish/British evasiveness and German/Dutch bluntness. I don’t see why rudeness should be synonymous with “telling it like it is”. Nice people make a nice culture.

    • Benny Lewis

      When I am living in a country, I attempt to adjust to their culture. Calling them cold and rude is a knee-jerk reaction. I didn’t feel this at all with the Dutch, because I tried to understand why their social rules are that way, rather than judge them by “better” ones.

      Being invited to a lot of social events is very difficult internationally as a single man. I have to deal with this in every country in the world and don’t consider it particularly special to any place. (Although granted it’s a little easier in some countries, like Brazil for instance)

      Good for you for having a Dutch girlfriend that can get you through those barriers though.

      • Shaun

        You read my message wrong. For one thing, I didn’t call the Dutch rude; I don’t think that. My boyfriend’s family and friends have been lovely to me. My friends here are Dutch. I’m well able to adapt; you’re not the only traveller/expat who can re-adjust. If you’re living abroad, you’re always adjusting and (re-)evaluating different cultural conceptions. That doesn’t mean you have to completely re-position any belief you have. For example, the Dutch have a beloved tradition of doing blackface at Sinterklaas and playing a character known as Zwarte Pete, based on former colonial slaves. I’m not going to re-adjust to thinking that is okay, no matter how long I live here.

        Besides, living somewhere for a year, doing my my interactions almost exclusively with natives, is hardly a “knee-jerk reaction”.

        • Tamara

          I lived in the Netherlands for 4+ years (and will return shortly, after a 7month period in mexico), and agree with everything you said. I’m returning because I love Amsterdam and there’s some truly great things about the dutch along with some serious flaws. What i like about living there is that I can chose what to accept and stay away from what I hate (mostly), and this is pretty unique in and of itself. l

          • Shaun

            Thanks, Tamara. I realize now that my post could come across as negative, but a list of things I love about Amsterdam and the Dutch would’ve been a much, much longer post. :) I think Benny implied that my ideas stemmed from a refusal to integrate/attempt to understand the social rules here. Like anyone who partners up with a native, I’m privileged in getting to experience the culture unfiltered (behind the Dutch curtain-less window, if you will). My criticism doesn’t come from being ill-informed or bigoted. At any rate, no one is more critical of Dutch concepts of friendship than the Dutch themselves.

          • Benny Lewis

            To expand discussion about the Dutch, it’s best to see this post: as I discuss it in detail there.

  • Shaun

    Although speaking of bluntness, there’s nothing wrong with getting to the point, as in the Southern Italian habit of “fillers” and tag questions. I lived in the South of Italy and it was so common to hear: “Allora [pause], quindi [pause], ascolatmi [pause], don’t forget to take out the trash, okay? Quindi, I’ll see you later, yes? We’ll grab a coffee, okay?” A lot of my English-speaking friends who still live there have picked up the habit, and it sounds even stranger in English than in Italian.

    • AmateurPolyglot

      This is quite true. I live in Sicily at the moment, and before I’m invited out, etc, I always get “senti…” On the other hand, these fillers are great for when you’re trying to straighten out a sentence in your head!

  • Catherine

    The thing that most surprised me was no 7. Is that right? My mind boggles.
    I watch a lot of US TV and films and I never realised that tipping was anything but extra. I completely assumed that waiting staff earned a salary (even if it was crap) and were regular employees. I mean if that’s the system, what’s to stop random people waiting tables somewhere for a few hours to pick up some extra cash?

    • Jen

      Waiters usually make $2.14 per hour (that’s what I made when I waited tables – a few cities pay more though). So tips make up the difference. Sadly, it’s a necessary evil when eating out in the US …

      • eamonncy

        I worked in the US for a summer in 1996. Minimum wage for tipping jobs at the time was $2.13 and for non-tipping jobs it was $4.25. Now it’s $7.25 and as far as I know, in a tipping job, still $2.13. But the $2.13 plus tips must average $7.25. So effectively the minimum wage is the same for all. I’d be interested how well this is enforced though.

        • Ross Romeo Grant

          I´ve worked as a server in the UK, Spain and now in Canada. I love it here. Minimun wage for a server in Ontario (It varies in every province or territory) is CAD$ 8.90, and on top of that you get an average of 15%, sometimes I´ve even got as much as 50% (very, very rarely). I will earn over $200 a day, on ocassion even $300 or even $400, wich is unthinkable in both the UK (where there are tips) and Spain (no tips). Of course I always tip, and tip well, whenever I go out myself, I feel it is only right to return the favor :). What other way is there to work in a basic, unqualified job and still make that amount of money? I love it! :D

    • ukulady7

      Have you ever waited tables, especially in America? Then you’d know why people wouldn’t do it to pick up a few bucks. Wait staff do earn a salary and count as regular staff but as Jen said, the salary is almost nonexistent. If you’re lucky and charming it can work out in your favor but more likely than not you’ll make less than if you were working minimum wage. The worst is when people give the tip in some challenging or disgusting way.

      • Catherine

        I think I misunderstood the way it was explained and thought that waiting staff worked on some kind of volunteer basis, so that they didn’t count as actual employees at the place they were working.
        I know tipping is very important in the US, but I hadn’t realised that it was such a significant part people’s income.

    • Tamara

      every state is different, but a general rule of thumb is that waiters & bartenders earn their salary almost exclusively from their tips. what’s to stop random people waiting tables somewhere for a few hours? well… you can’t just walk into a restaurant and start working there because you feel like it, the same way you can’t just randomly start working anywhere because you feel like it.

      most restaurants also have a system where servers and bartenders have to give a portion of their tips to hosts (if the restaurants has them), people that clean up tables, dishwashers, kitchen staff, etc. that is usually figured out at the end of a shift.

      I’ve been a waitress in the US and can say this: most people – especially young people – want restaurant jobs because they can pay a lot better than your average retail job. In college I worked at a stupid chain restaurant with very mediocre food, and I averaged about $10-$20 p/hr, depending on the day. If I had worked retail, I would have made something like $8 an hour. Some shifts I went home making almost nothing, but it all balances out in the end – that’s why servers want to work friday & saturday nights, to make up for their tuesday and wednesday lunch shifts.

      Servers in swanky restaurants can earn really good money, and bartenders even more. It can usually take a while to get those jobs, like every industry, you have to work your way up. a NYC bartender at a popular bar could easily earn way more than a entry-level engineer.

      • Daniel Heavlin

        Yes, I don’t think Benny and others understand why the servers themselves love tipping.

        It is a terrible misconception that waiters are somehow abused and underpaid – as you said, many of them make more than entry level engineers.

        If anything, it is everyone else who doesn’t like it.

    • Laura Zellers

      Waiters and Waitresses get paid a very small amount by their employers, most of which ends up paying the taxes on the tips they earn. The amount they earn before tips is less than the minimum wage, though I think their employers must give them more if they tips don’t bring them to minimum wage. I’m not 100% positive on that part since I’ve never been a server.

    • nikki myers

      The thing is, waiters and waitresses ARE employees who get paid by the company. Its just that they get paid much less than other employees of other places who don’t get tipped. The idea is that they can get paid a small regular wage because they will make good tips if they provide good service. If you’re a good waitress, you can easily make more in a night of waiting tables than someone who works a job without tips. It really does motivate you to do good work and provide good service. Also, it is very rare for someone to just leave a bad tip because they feel like it. Generally, 15% is acceptable even if the service was bad. You give MORE than that if they were exceptionally good, but only nasty people will leave less.

      • nikki myers

        I know that sounds very confusing to foreigners but I hope it helps a bit. For instance, at my last job I made minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. That was a retail job where I didnt make tips. However, I am now a waitress. I get paid only $2.50 an hour by the COMPANY itself. However, I make tips from customers to make up the extra. Most nights, I make far more than 7.25 an hour when you factor in tips. Companies are only allowed to pay less than minimum wage when they can be confident that you will make regular tips.

        • Matthew Newton

          come to Australia, minimum wage is $15.90 and the huge majority of waiters are paid more.

      • Catherine

        Thanks for the info. The problem with mostly learning about US society and culture via TV and films means I end up with odd gaps in my knowledge or imperfect understanding about how things actually work in real life.

    • Shayann Nowak

      here in the us where I live waiters make atleast minimum wage which is usually $6 up to $9 dollars an hour (that’s my estimate) depending on the state. in my state Minnesota they will make at least 7.25 an hour. The tip is just a little something extra we leave depending on how well the service was

  • Ismael Soto

    mmm… “When you are in Spain and it’s the early afternoon,
    everything is closed and you have a 2+ hour break from work. It’s also
    hot as hell in the summer, so you don’t want to be walking around
    outside the shade.”

    The only guys who do this are masons and farmers during summer when in some areas temperatures are around 40 after lunch. For security reasons we could say. The rest of the country only take naps during weekends and not many people do so. The list is rubbish my friend, and this is probably the more accurate point so imagine the rest…

  • Benny Lewis

    Comparing Turkey to Italy and Greece for smoking is hardly the best basis of comparison, since all three countries have a population of chimney-lungs as far as I’m concerned :) … according to this list you sent me, Turkey and Italy have pretty much the same level.

    And Turkey has about SEVEN times the population of Greece, so a per-capita reading is not as helpful as you might think.

    I haven’t travelled much outside of Istanbul, so I can only speak for that city; but I was approached several times a day by people asking for a light and saw way too many people smoking. Hopefully things get better in all countries with time.

    • Rachel

      I think another important factor would be the population density and climate. It makes a huge difference if all the smokers are crowded into a hot city and the stink of cigarettes is constant, or if people smoke heavily but are far from you and there is plenty of fresh cold air. Very interesting post though! I realized that despite living in Canada most of my life, I have many of these habits (perhaps as a result of not only being an immigrant, but from most of my friends being immigrants as well, albeit from different countries than myself).

  • Jor F

    funny and interesting article, but I am surprised with the topic of the nap in Spain. Not everybody stop 2 hours in the mid day to do a nap. Maybe only in little villages, in summer and only in the south where is really hot.

    But in winter we have snow, rain and cold, as almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere! We have only 1/2 or 1 hour for lunch and we have our jobs far from our houses, so we can’t have a nap…

    • Benny Lewis

      I lived in Valencia, Spain for an entire year and most places were closed for several hours in the afternoon and nearly everyone I knew took this time to go home. Whether they slept or not, I don’t know, but Valencia is not a little village! It’s the third largest city in the country. They also do this in the winter, although perhaps less.

      When I worked as an electronic engineering intern, everyone went home. Valencia is pretty big, but it has a good public transport network and you can get across the city fast enough, or would live close to work.

      I know it happens less in Madrid, and in Barcelona (depending on the industry you work in), especially as these cities take longer to get across and way more people commute from outside as they are expensive to live in, but it is definitely not limited to little villages.

  • Robert

    While I agree that tipping is a really odd practice, I can explain the rules about who you tip: Customized services. The bus driver drives the same route for everyone or no one, it doesn’t matter. Same goes for the garbage man, the mail man, and the checkout clerk. Fast food joints where you order from a basic menu don’t tip, even though you can customize some things.

    However, the waiter and the taxi driver provide services based on your particular, personal needs. The draw of the tip might make a taxi driver a little looser on obeying traffic laws (not putting anyone in danger, but perhaps turning right on red when there’s a sign that disallows it) or he can offer useful information about the area; the waiter might check on you more often to refresh bread/beverages/etc. A stylist might spend more time on your particular quirks with your hair or the level of chatting you prefer (some love to talk through their haircuts, I hate small talk and prefer silence and speed.)

    Going back to fast food, you have some places like Subway where customization is an extremely large part of their lure and purpose (as opposed to McDonald’s, where customization is a very minor part); it’s not customary to tip these kinds of places, but they do have tip jars at the register. You don’t tip your person personally, but they’ll split tips at the end of the shift (AFAIK).

    In any case, very interesting list. Thanks for sharing!

    • Benny Lewis

      I appreciate the explanation, and it’s one of the better ones I’ve received!

      Having said that, no explanation is ever satisfactory enough compared to them simply earning a normal wage :P There are too many exceptions, or points where I don’t see how customization is necessary. Americans find waitresses smiling important for instance, but I find it odd to pay people to smile.

      And I remember getting a bus from an airport to a hotel in the states; it’s a standard route like any bus, that happened to go through particular hotels always in the same order, and he left on the hour whether someone was there or not, and yet there was a huge sign to remind Europeans like me to tip him. I can’t see how that service could possibly have been customized. He was doing exactly the same as any bus driver would do, but because he worked in the tourist industry or was hired by hotels he earned by tips.

      And what about one-on-one services? Like if you have a personal trainer at a gym, or a private Mathematics/piano/language teacher? You can’t get more customizable than someone catering directly to your needs, but these people may earn a standard hourly wage in many cases.

      To me there is no logic to the system. Until I get a simple formula for it, or get used to which professions are randomly tipped and which aren’t, I’ll have to keep asking Americans who I do and don’t tip :P

      • Robert

        I’ve never heard of tipping on a bus; of course, I’ve never been on a public bus, not even an air port one. I suppose since it’s a direct line between hotels and the airport, it could be seen as a more personalized service, but even accepting tipping in general that seems quite odd. (The cynic in me also says that if the sign is aimed at Europeans, who don’t usually do tipping, then it’s probably trying to take advantage of their unfamiliarity with tipping policies and an American would (almost) never tip.) Also, bus drivers usually have unions, which goes along with hourly wages, so I highly doubt he was paid only by tips.

        For one-on-one services, you’re paying them directly, so it’s a different situation vs. a waiter who, tipping aside, you pay indirectly. The price is negotiated up front and agreed upon by both parties. That price can fluctuate by a number of factors, just like tipping, and dissatisfaction can result in lower or no payment (though usually something far harder to accomplish than simply not leaving a tip.)

        I don’t like the idea of tipping in general because, in my opinion, it’s just a way for business owners to legitimately pay their workers less. “Oh, I can pay less because they make so much in tips!”

        Interesting fact: In most (American?) up-scale restaurants (where you have to grease the matre de’s palms with a $100 just to have a wait less than an hour), the waiters have no nominal income. The entirety of their pay comes from tips, as these are places where they will drop $1-2K per table, so even if they only have 4-5 tables a night they can easily rake in $500 in tips in a single night. (I’ve heard that at least a few of the most prominent ones, a new waiter will be put on only the larger/most glamorous table on his/her first night, and if they don’t like him he doesn’t keep the job.)

      • Marie Laurent

        The point of personalization is a good one. I also thought I’d point out a thing on sales associates (eg in a department store)- they will personalize for you, and many aren’t just begging for a sale in doing so. Though it is considered odd to tip them money, it is really appreciated if you take their name and leave feedback saying that you really liked them and, if they’re paid by commission, to make an effort to see them again. I’d assume this is fairly international, other than that some managers may automatically assume you’re complaining.

        I also can’t remember if the first commenter said this, but the reason you don’t tip (theoretically) in a place like subway is that they don’t ‘serve’ you- they just make your food and hand it off. Alternatively, waitresses are supposed to be taking your order, delivering you food, refilling drinks, and so on.

        With pizza drivers, though they don’t do all of that, they are spending gas to bring you pizza in order to save you time and energy, so at least a low tip to help cover the gas cost is helpful. Usually tipping drivers, in my experience, is just a matter of rounding off the bill and telling them to keep the change, though if the bill already is exactly $30 or something, they’d add on a bit extra. It is silly that pizza employers do not always cover gas, but the pizza would be more expensive if they did, so it sort of works out (though I do think this case is dumb. Tip pizza drivers anyway because it’s not their fault that some employers suck.)

        I’ve already made a comment about tipping in Canada, but on what you said about one on one services, it generally is really case by case- no customs or need to tip, but there are cases where tipping would be acceptable. For example:

        – If they do their job according to the job description, you pay them, and maybe add a little bonus on holidays if you like them (for example, a friend cleans a few houses, and she never expects this but occasionally is given it). It’s not necessary, but if you have the extra cash, it’s a nice thing to do.

        – If you develop a friendly relationship with them, they’re supportive of you, etc (not as friends by your definition, but that you’re close enough acquaintances
        that you might share dinner or visit a bit after the lesson): You would probably pay their fee as you normally would, but give them gifts for the holidays or on occasions that you felt that they had REALLY gone above and beyond their job and helped you (eg if you go from failing math, to passing and doing okay for most of the term, then they help you study and teach you all kinds of tricks before an exam and you ace it). Usually once you’re a certain amount friendly, although they appreciate bonuses, people can be shy about accepting extra money, since they’re your friend, not your employee (this is different than refusing their normal wage, since the base wage is the same for everyone).

        – If it’s really professional and you don’t know them, but they also do amazing work (again, if they went way beyond expectations), you would add a bonus/tip as large as you thought they deserved. They would not expect or require it, but it would be a more professional way to show your appreciation than with gifts, as above.

        So, basically, there are no rules for one on one things, but there are things that are appropriate to do if you DESIRE to tip, but you do not need to. You really don’t need to tip anyone in Canada either, as most or all places in Canada pay waiters the real minimum wage, but it is considered polite in restaurants, taxis, and certain other service jobs. The pizza one is the only exception I can think of to bosses actually paying, and that is a case where the drivers are paid, just not for their costs.

        I’m sorry if this whole post is unclear, I went a billion ways with it.

        • Rachel

          As a fellow Canadian, I can vouch for your “billion ways” being a pretty accurate description. As a student, no one seems to expect me to tip and the service doesn’t change because of it (nice people are still nice, rude people are still rude). But, it’s nice to see the appreciation when I can afford to tip, and I think receiving something extra lifts people’s moods. I didn’t know pizza deliverers had to cover gas! That should be a business expense *sets aside extra tip money for pizza deliverers*

        • kjoyfig

          why would someone downvote this?!

      • Stacey

        I’m an American, and in regards to tipping bus drivers: I would never tip a bus driver on a regular route because they are paid a normal wage and provide no specialized service for me personally. For a driver at the airport recently I tipped a few dollars because he helped me with my heavy suitcases.

        I worked as a waitress for a number of years, and it could be extremely frustrating to have your customers determine your salary. Especially in the South, we expect friendly service with a smile. I don’t think people intend to “punish” their server for mistakes made by the kitchen, but a lot of times it is hard to tell where the blame lies when one has a bad dining experience. If my food is prepared incorrectly and my waitress does a great job fixing it, I will tip her extra for her effort to fix someone else’s mistake.

  • Jose Medina

    Great article!
    As you’ve been living in Spain you might know that the italian “squillo” is a spanish “toque” meaning “poke”. Exactly the same function you described, cheap way to communicate between friends and specially used to keep your GF happy ;)

    • Joop Kiefte

      Brazilian “toque” as well :)

  • Laura Zellers

    I live in the US and I, along with some of my friends practice number 21, It started out with one friend, who had light carpet wanting everyone to take their shoes off at the door. He even had a laundry basket where you could put your shoes. When I moved out of my mom’s house into a place with white carpet, I decided to do the same, and my friends understood. I’ve since moved into a house with hardwood floors and dark carpet that doesn’t really have enough room for the basket by the door. Seeing as the hardwood floor is easier to clean, I really haven’t worried about it, but I still take my shoes off when I come in. Funny thing is, so do my friends who used to come to my old place, though they do wait until they get to a seat first, and newer friends will do the same if they see one of them take their shoes off first.

  • Julie Gabriel

    I’ve had troubles with #19, myself! After living in Switzerland for 5 years, and learning high german, swiss german, and bits of french I’ve gotten a lot of words that work great but aren’t english. So, now living back in Canada, I get a lot of odd looks because I unconsciously put the phrases in where they belong in whatever language I’ve been thinking in! Embarrassing, but it gives everyone a smile ;-)

  • noellelt

    This is an interesting list of customs that I wasn’t aware of prior to reading, but I couldn’t continue as I kept seeing you describe customs as strange and even dropped in the word “horrible” when describing a cultural tendency. I understand that certain customs might seem strange by your standards, but the fact that you seem reproachful in regards to certain customs demonstrates borderline offensive ethnocentrism. It’s never appropriate to describe foreign, or even native, customs as strange or horrible–it’s offensive to the people that belong to that culture and can give those who don’t the wrong idea.

  • Katelyn Niesen

    I loved this article. Very interesting and educational. Though as a waitress in the states I see where people can think tipping is dumb. But I also know that I work almost everyday and my paychecks can be very small. Usually under a hundred dollars because your shifts are usually not set hours- you only work as long as they need you. so you could be there for an hour or six. you never really know. But overall I enjoyed what you had to say and would love to experience these situations myself someday!

  • Fabiana

    I loved the Brazilian/Carioca habits. That’s absolutely true!

    As a Carioca I couldn’t agree more! We really do that! =)

    Hugging, for example, it is normal for us! I can’t imagine not hugging my friends when I meet them!

    I have some foreigners friends that I meet every week, and I always hug and kiss them when I say “hello” and “goodbye”. At the first time I did it they felt confused with this kind of “greeting” from a girl, but nowadays they all are Cariocas, they hug and kiss too and I love it. =D

    I am used to do it anywhere and when I travel I have to watch myself not to do that because it may looks awkward for who is not Brazilian. It is too hard not hugging! =D

    • Benny Lewis

      Yeah, so you can imagine how Brazilians, and those of us who love Brazil feel saudades when in countries that aren’t as warm!

  • John

    In 1981, I left Nova Scotia, Canada to live in Martinique until 2000 when I went to live in West Africa for three years, then one year on some tiny islands off the southwest coast of NS, then one year in Egypt, three years in Ethiopia, three years in Bahrain and then one year in Singapore. Now, I’ve come back to live in Martinique. My long term visitor’s visa does not allow me to work but the resident card is in the works. I have lived in fewer countries than you but for a longer time. Although I have a Canadian passport, I have not had one made in Canada since 1984. I have no residence in Canada (therefore no health coverage), no residence in Martinique and, of course, legal residence in Singapore ended when I left in 2012. I truly feel as a homeless wanderer and a “sans domicile fixe” homeless person. Another John Irving wrote in “Son of the Circus” something about once you are an immigrant, you are always an immigrant even when you go back to your native land.

    As much of the time was spent teaching English in international schools, I have not become fluent in other languages except French, Martinican creole and Spanish. In Egypt and Ethiopia, I learned just enough Arabic and Amharic to argue with taxi drivers about money and a few polite phrases in other countries where Ewe, and Mandarin were spoken. Whenever I tried to speak Arabic in Bahrain, I was immediately recognized as a “Masri”, and then they would tell me what Khalijis say.

    I read with interest your blog on the 23 strangest habits you have picked up and would like to comment on at least some of them.

    1. Must be a Brasilian thing, although I have had several short term visitors in other countries ask if they could take a shower.

    2. I found it interesting that both in West Africa and in Ethiopia the two-handed giving and receiving are in effect. Students in Togo would often further accompany their assignments and their handshakes with a slight genuflection. It was only in Ethiopia where I got into the two-handed bit as it’s done with every money transaction, and it’s something I have adopted as a gesture of respect everywhere.

    3. It is rude to point you finger at anyone in Southwestern Asia. A flat hand gesture is more acceptable.

    4. The elsewhere-mentioned “bum-gun” is quite efficient for cleaning, and paper only for drying, from Egypt to Asia including Greece. I never went along with the paper in the basket. I figure they should just modernize their plumbing. I just want to get rid of my excrement, not save it for future reference, although I’ve had to sit next to other people’s from time to time.

    5. I have a friend in Egypt who does this. “Send me a miscall”. He never has any credit.

    6. The same friend taught me how to cross the street in Cairo. At first he would hold my hand (perfectly acceptable for two men); now I can do it on my own and have astounded people in other countries.

    7. Tipping: one of those things I have to keep learning whenever I go back to North America, and to American-influenced Caribbean Islands. Martinique is French, service est compris.

    8. Martinique being French, it has a wonderful blend of old French, Caribbean and its own customs. Not so common in France anymore but when you enter a room, you have to give an individual handshake or bisou to everyone present. Leaving can be more informal if you’re in a hurry, but still you “should” take leave individually. The same was true in Bahrain where you circled the room and shook hands with everyone. French women are often very liberal with their bisous and expect one after any social gathering where you have just met. Martinican women are a little more conservative: you might work for years with someone and not “faire le bisou”, but if you get invited to their homes, then you kiss on departure. Men do not kiss women in public in Bahrain or in Singapore. I have an Irish/French-influenced Egyptian friend whom I have always kissed on greeting. This would probably be frowned upon these days in Egypt, especially if we met in the street or a café. She does not wear the hijab. I like this warmth which was not part of my culture before. There are several French, African, Martinican and Egyptian men who are close enough friends for me to kiss too.

    9. Once again, the warmth. Africans and Southwest Asians stand closer together. How can you have a conversation with someone if you can’t smell them? I’m not sure what I do now. I think I probably invade people’s space in North America, but I haven’t been there enough to notice.

    10. What better way to spend a few hours than sipping a half cup of strong sweet cold coffee on a sidewalk terasse in Montmartre? I’ve seen how the Italians do it. They did invent the word “espresso”. They also invented macchiato and exported it to the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia. The cheapest Ethiopian coffee is on a par with Jamaican blue mountain, and the macchiato is nothing like Starbucks. My morning “café au lait” has to be drunk from a big bowl into which croissants or pain au chocolat can sometimes be dipped. I love coffee and am fluent in ordering it in many languages, but don’t drink enough of it, not even from my little espresso pot – what they used before machines. Just don’t order “ena ellenika” in Turkey.

    11. Latins and Arabs just seem to be more relaxed about whom they call friends. I have about 830 fb friends, about 800 of whom I have met in person (I’m old). The rest are maybe children of cousins or distant cousins whom I’ve never met but I know who they are. Unknown friends of friends are rejected. Current students are usually rejected with an explanation that we will be friends when they leave or when I leave.

    12. I have learned that deference is expected towards people in authority in most countries, including immigration officers at the airport. You don’t lose status by treating everyone with respect.

    13. I don’t think I’ve ever learned to haggle and don’t feel I was ever successful at it in Africa or Southwest Asia, although I have walked away paying considerably less than the first price quoted. I still know my American friend, Derek, would have got it for less. When selling my car in Bahrain, I was astounded at the Indians who would ask “What is your last price?”, meaning what is the lowest price I will accept? I’m not going to tell them that! Just make me an offer. I sold it to the guy who offered 50 dinars higher than the other guy.

    14. I’m a smoker. I love Egypt and Paris where they at least still allow you to smoke outside. Asking for a cigarette or a light is a way of opening conversation.

    15. I got used to thin crust European pizzas. I’m glad they have that in North America now. I put ketchup on my ketchup, but hot pepper sauce on pizza.

    16. Ah la sieste, not just for Spaniards! It’s pretty typical in some other Mediterranean and hot countries. It’s only civilized to have a two or three-hour lunch break and then go back to work when it’s cooler. Unfortunately, with rampant A/C this practice is dying out.

    17. One similarity I’ve found in Southwest Asia, Egypt and the French Caribbean is that you never have to tell the truth. You never do exactly as you say and vice versa. It’s divine hypocrisy. If someone invites you and you don’t want to go, you just say yes, but then you don’t go. Because “Oui pa ni poutchi” (You don’t have to give a reason if you say yes).

    18. I find “Aie!” works for sudden sharp pain. And “merde” suits many situations.

    19. English speaking communities living in countries where they have to speak another language often adopt foreign expressions into their English. Just what do you call the “Prefecture”? VCRs became popular after I left Canada; I didn’t know what they were called in English when I went back. Magnetoscope? I also spoke of going to see the movie “Four Marriages and a Funeral”.

    I still use Insha’Allah in the right way. It reminds us believers that everything depends upon the Will of God. Even atheists. France has so many Arabs that all French people (including Martinicans) understand it. Martinicans have always said “Si Dieu le veut” in the same situations. I like the English Caribbean expression ” (If) God spare life”.

    20. “Thumbing” a ride in the Caribbean is done with the forefinger pointing in the direction you want to go and an imploring look at the driver.

    21. All shoes off at the door in Singapore, even at home alone. The same for me everywhere.

    22. This was a thing for a while among French flyers. I think it has kind of died out now when people started talking on social media about how silly it was. I haven’t seen this for years and I never participated. It’s nice when a student thanks you on her way out at the end of a class (Singapore) but I don’t expect applause.

    23. I think part of the growth experience resulting from travel is (can be) a heightened sense of hearing. Beyond the words and gestures of differing cultures there is a basic oneness to humanity that allows us to sense when we are pleasing or offending another. People who have not had contact with other cultures find it hard to be tolerant of other people’s social “gaffes”, but often the most “primitive” societies are the most welcoming. If you go out into the world, as I think you do, Benny, with the attitude that all humanity is from one Source (You don’t have to call it God), you cannot but see the diversity as the different-coloured flowers of one garden and the leaves of one tree.

    • Benny Lewis

      Fascinating comment. Thanks!!

  • Jae

    In Japanese there’s an expression, “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu,” which roughly translates to “Please be kind to me.” There are times I catch myself almost saying this in English.

  • Alvaro Celis Núñez

    This is a very interesting post. I like the way you see and try to understand other cultures. I can tell you that in many parts of Mexico we have the custom to
    talk about our homes as if they were the listener’s home, as if we were
    offering it to them. For example, if I want to say “we have a lovely
    garden at home”, I’d say: We have a lovely garden in your house…and
    you should answer “gracias”. “Mi casa es tu casa”. We also beat around the bush a lot and never say no to any
    invitation, even if we are not planning to go, because we don’t want to
    offend people by saying no.
    People will tell you
    parties start at a certain hour, anticipating that guests will actually
    arrive one or two hours after said hour. So if you actually get to the
    party on time, you may find the hosts aren’t even ready yet
    We don’t usually touch each other as much as Brazilians, but we do greet each other every time we meet with handshakes for the guys and kisses for the ladies, even if we saw each other a few hours earlier.

  • Leo Farache

    Once I got to the Spanish siesta I started to think to my self if all the rest of the habits are true. It’s so unsual having a siesta in Spain!!! That’s a part of the past.

    • Benny Lewis

      Is 2004 (when I lived in Valencia and had siestas because everything was closed) that long in the past? Now you’re making me feel old :D

      • Leo Farache

        If you were in a small village probably most of the shops were closed,but not in Valencia. And I’m sure that hasn’t change all that much from 2004. Siesta and toros is the typical way of describing habits in Spain but both of them are quite away from what is the real spanish society.

        • Benny Lewis

          I never went to bull fights and appreciate that bringing that up can be nothing but satisfying superficial stereotypes. But siestas were a huge part of many workers’ lives when I lived in Valencia and required serious adjustment on my part as I had to work late because of them.

          And it wasn’t a village. I lived and worked on or very close to the Blasco Ibáñez Avenue.

          I don’t know if the other workers slept or not, but they had several hours of a lunch break; I am not dreaming this up! ;)

          • kjoyfig

            i live in central madrid and even today many many (smaller) stores and businesses close at mid-day. obviously not the big ones, and none of the stores on main shopping boulevards, but hundreds and hundreds of medium and small stores close from 14:00 or 15:00 until 17:00 or so. i’m from NYC and it drives me NUTS, still, even after 3 years here.

  • dragonfruit

    This is just brilliant! I can relate to many things.
    Los insultos y maldiciones en español son los mejores. Tarantino debería considerar hacer alguna de sus películas parcialmente en español.

  • Kayla Language Tips

    That’s a very funny article!
    I particularly like the comment about showers. I would feel weird taking a shower 3 times a day because it’s pretty cold where I live even though June is supposed to be a warm-ish month!

  • Suc Lima

    Hello from Spain, the best way to use Me cago en… is Me cago en tu puta madre,…o me cago en tó… but “la puta que te pario” has not too much sense…I’ve never heard, perhaps “la madre que te pario…” Bests.
    PS: I’ve lived in Dublin and was nice how close police is to citizend and they are not affraid of them, and also how irish citizen fight for everithing, amazing.

    “¡¡Me cago en…!!” (with colourful continuations of that, including la leche, la puta que te parió, la Virgen, la hostia

    • Suc Lima

      I also use socks or special shoes in my house, usually nobody does in Spain, got from when I lived in Japan. It’s cleaner and comfortable.

  • Katie Jurek

    Your articles are pretty awesome, Benny! However, there is an unsettling issue that I am finding as I read more and more of them. I can perfectly well see myself asking an American police officer out to a pub, for instance, and tipping isn’t about punishing for what’s out of the waiter’s control, but rather for their attitude toward you. I also don’t think the concept of tipping should even exist, but its purpose is not to punish; that part of this article almost seemed like a genuine rant, and since the reasons you pointed out aren’t the reasons your average North American would use for tipping, it comes off as a bit prejudiced. Most Americans I know tip based on the server’s -attitude- and their readiness to help you if something goes wrong with their order, not on how long the food takes or how it tastes. I’m a little saddened that it seems you have many issues with how North America does things, but in other countries, you instead seem to view it as charming when things are a bit weird.

    Other than that, though, great article; made me laugh at how awesome cultural differences can be! =)

    • Benny Lewis

      I have a huge readership in America, so teasing Americans is going to be a part of my writing because of that. It’s simply useful to read a foreign perspective, even if my bluntness is annoying. Such teasing is Irish culture, and something Americans have to deal with when on this blog ;)

      You can call it biased or prejudiced, but as I said in my article about Americans, I consider this over-sensitivity. I don’t see any point in being as critical of Egyptians etc. if very few Egyptians will ultimately read it to appreciate the other point of view.

      Yes, I pick on Americans a lot, but this is not for the reasons that you think. This is the very aspect of teasing more typical in Europe that I want to get across TO Americans. I don’t complain about such things whenever I’m IN America though.

      And on calling me awesome; you may want to see my other article about the US on that word O:-) I appreciate the sentiment though!

      • BumpIt McCarthy

        Hee. I had your “awesome” article on my mind when I for pizza with the director of a prominent language organization, who declared the pizza “AWESOME!” No ketchup, though.

        It would be lovely for the American custom of tipping to cease for all the reasons you list, PLUS never having to watch my husband try to get rid of all his change by carefully stacking it in tall, wavy piles on the table. “What? It’s money! They don’t mind,” he’ll say. I often “forget” something so that I can go back and substitute folding money for the miser’s fortune he leaves.

        Keep teasing!

    • Rachel

      The haggling isn’t really manipulation/deceit, because it’s expected, and the seller won’t sell to you for less than they can/are willing to. You are not forcing anyone into anything. Even in Hawaii, I saw many stalls clustered together selling the same wares for different prices. How can they not expect haggling with that? Of course, people will haggle back with you, but it is not malicious— it’s the culture!

      • Guest

        Everyone has a different stance on America. I personally have to stop myself thinking too many bad things about it because I’m going to go there on holiday at some point to see someone who’s just moved there.

    • Tomos Burton

      Every individual has a different stance on the US. Personally I have to learn to be a bit more enthusiastic about it because I’m going to go on holiday there at some point to see someone who’s just moved there.

  • Kayla C.

    I changed my screen name if that was the problem. :)
    That’s a very funny article!
    I particularly like the comment about
    showers. I would feel weird taking a shower 3 times a day because it’s
    pretty cold where I live even though June is supposed to be a warm-ish

    • Rachel

      I thought it was for the pilot :p

  • Florencia

    I can’t tell you enough how jealous I am that you have travelled that much! I and I also can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed reading your article. I didn’t realize up until today how difficult it can be to make friends and to learn other countries’ cultures.
    I am from Argentina, and we definetely are way too close with other people. We tend to hug, kiss, touch and say how much we love each other to friends and family. Whenever I come across an American (or the like) and he/she is distant, or is not willing to kiss me on the cheek, I get quite offended. But now, thanks to your article I have learned to tolerate and understand the differences among us. And I have learned that it is not their “fault” to be like that, they just were raised that way, just I was raised to be perhaps “over-friendly” with people :)

    • Benny Lewis

      In Ireland we are not raised to be so affectionate (by Latin standards) and I can confirm no unfriendliness is meant by it ;)
      But I admit that I much prefer it the Argentinian way!!

  • Tarek Tantawy

    Number 5: we used to have that in Egypt, too! Back when credit used to be too pricey, people used to do it all the time. Some still do. Personally, I think it’s very annoying, especially when someone who hasn’t called you in ages does it. And it’s also considered somewhat rude not to call back. Also, sometimes people do it because they just don’t want to pay for the call.

  • Meredith Permenter

    In the southern United States, specifically Texas, everyone is a friend, including the police, and we generally are suspucious of unfriendly people. This is where the notion came from about northerners or Yankees being rude, at least to our mind. My family and my mother’s family have always removed shoes when at home, though my father’s and husband’s families don’t. It seems to me that the more finicky homemakers prefer shoes off, and the more “country” or rural homes (or personalities) leave shoes on. However, I dread when visitors to my home do not take their shoes off – all that cleaning for nothing, I think. Also, most of the countries I’ve been to did tip, except for Japan.

  • Marie Laurent

    In case no one’s said it yet, in at least some provinces of Canada (and I believe all, but I’m from BC and I don’t travel much), the minimum wage for the service industry is the same as for everyone else, unlike in many US states, where it is much much lower. Tipping is considered polite and an important supplement to wages, but the servers are getting the provincial minimum and sometimes more.

    • Rachel

      Yep. And the minimum wage has been raised to 10.25/hour!

  • Yamile Yemoonyah

    Wow Benny, loved this post! And don’t worry about coming across as strange, that’s exactly what I (and I guess many others) like about you. And i definitely hope you will peck me on the cheek and hug me when I see you next time :)

    • Benny Lewis

      You got it!

  • Natasha Von Salza

    i love number 7 about tipping in the US. Im a server in California and this observation is dead on!! The custom makes no sense, but damn do i make good cash for a college student! LOL

  • Jake

    I also have never smoked a cigarette (or anything else) and I too always carry a lighter. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I constantly got asked for a light in the first place. At this point it feels like a security blanket. I feel naked without it. And it’s fun to flip around when you’re bored.

  • Phil Turk

    I’m not usually one to comment, but I’d like to point out that your treatment of North American customs and habits compared to your treatment of the customs in other countries is a bit ridiculous. It seems like you spent the most amount of time trashing the customs of a country based off of no real reason considering all of these habits are traditions ingrained in the culture. One could argue that making 10 second phone calls to a home is annoying, disruptive and a waste of time. Or argue that running blindly into the street is incredibly dangerous not only for yourself but also the drivers on the road who must account for your brash actions by suddenly stopping and potentially causing a collision. On the other hand, one could view tipping as a way of honoring a server for doing a great job in spite of the vast amount of evidence that speaks to why they should hate their work. Spending more time being polite to people may actually save you an argument make some feel better who may be having a shitty day. Just because you don’t understand it or it is not “efficient” or “makes-sense” to you does not make it worthy of your disdain and criticism.

    And Canadians are polite because we realize the value of treating others with respect (not to imply that Germans who are more “efficient” with their words do not treat others with respect). Just like you understand that saying hello and goodbye to someone in Brazil is a very important ritual that takes you out of your way of leaving immediately, try to realize that Canadians are, sometimes anyway, in no rush to explain why something is disagreeable and how much we appreciate them despite their “terrible” idea.

    If you’re going to depict some countries habits with respect and positive language, try to stretch yourself into affording that respect to other countries like “Canada”. No country is perfect, and you surely aren’t either, so try some humility. Otherwise, you sound arrogant and self-righteous. Also look, a Canadian is being mean. Take note, it’s a rare occurrence.

  • tyson

    I have to disagree with number 21! I’ve been living in Peru for the past 10 Months now and i have my shoes on all day until i go to bed. I’m from canada, where i never have my shoes on until im out of the house!
    Great posts though! im goign to clapp every time a plane lands from now on. I also will find it very hhard to greet people without kissing them or shaking their hand!

  • Brea

    I loved this list, i can’t wait to go to India this winter and “haggle” i assure you i will more than likely be paying full or over price :( ( fun fact, i’m canadian lol)

  • Ali

    I really enjoyed this list. I’ve lived abroad for a little over a year collectively and I can definitely identify with some of the things you’ve written. However, there are a couple points I really wanted to share.

    First, point 11, about calling people friends who are actually friends. My grandmother was born in Egypt, raised in France, and the french have a very similar way about them. They have their friends and they are people they have known for decades, and often children of their parents friends. Kids play with the kids of their parents friends, and it’s very difficult to break into a circle. People are also much more private in these countries than they are in America, which is where I am from. When my grandma and grandpa relocated to California for work, it was difficult for them to integrate into the community because they still had the same French mentality. My grandpa did not make many friends at work as that was not really how they did it.

    This way of relationships has trickled down to my mother, who has also had a difficult time integrating into groups. Many Europeans, I’ve found, are quite private as well, and that’s not the American way, so my mother was often thought to be quite a rude stuck up woman. In reality, she was just more private than Americans were used to. She has had the same friends for decades, and the same feelings about friendships have trickled down to me.

    One point I really did not agree with though was number 7, I believe, about tipping in the US. I completely agree that it is NOT okay for servers to rely on tips to feed themselves and pay rent; however, I do not tip based on how my food tasted, or whether it was cold. If it’s cold, just send it back and they will warm it up, no problem. But I have been in quite a few situations where there were servers who definitely did not deserve a tip, like the time a server forgot to enter my order and I waited for 45 minutes before finally asking where the food was. I then had to wait another 30 minutes to get the food I’d ordered over an hour ago. Needless to say, that server did not get a tip.

    Then there have been times where servers completely deserved more than 20% tip. I spent many years as a nanny, and often had to take up to 4 or 5 children to a restaurant. Often the kids were very small, picky eaters, and could not be left unattended. I’ve had servers who will escort a child to the restroom for me and wait to help her back to the table because I couldn’t leave the other kids. There have been servers who allowed for 15 adjustments to one menu item because a 5 year old didn’t want most of what was in the dish. I don’t judge the servers based on something that is out of their control (such as food quality), but I do judge whether they’ve made my time at the restaurant enjoyable, as well as my job easier for the day. But that is me, and I can’t speak for the rest of america!

    Over all though, I’ve greatly enjoyed your post, and I’m glad a friend forwarded it to me. I’ll definitely start reading more of your blog.

  • Rain Lee

    haha, I like this piece soooo much! I am from hk and have lived in England and Germany for some time, both with locals, so I understand really well what you are saying! especially the point about sign language. That’s why I try not to use any gesture when talking. I know some signs with fingers in my culture can be offensive in others.

    btw, I’ve got a mixed cultural practice too. well, as long as I don’t offend anyone, it’s fine. I am just in the middle of many things. ;)

  • Miss Williams

    I take it that you haven’t been to Spain yet, because a lot of the habits you describe in the article are pretty common here too!

    • Miss Williams

      Never mind, I was halfway through the article when I wrote this comment!

  • Ben Mackay

    Meeting you would be a wonderful, hilarious and unique experiance

  • Andrew

    #3. Pointing with the lips is also practiced in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. And probably other Latin countries too. In fact, I live in Miami and a lot of my friends who were born and raised in the US point with their lips too. I thought it was a Spanish thing because I have Filipino friends who also do this but I guess not being that you’ve lived in Spain!

    #16. I heard Spain was banning the siesta. Unfortunate, because it’s still practiced in many other countries with Spanish history.

  • Shayann Nowak

    Most people around my area in America don’t really take the 15% into consideration when tipping. we usually give 5 to 10 bucks depending on how good the service and call it good! It is sort of a dumb concept though.

    And in Minnesota here in America we ALWAYS take our shoes off when you go in a house…I would find it super rude if someone came into my house with shoes on…that would be dirty! That may show how different customs are from state to state here!

  • Anonymous_178

    The tipping thing in the us isn’t because the wait staff aren’t paid by their boss. We have minimum wage laws in the US, so they have to be paid. The tip is usually added to their salary.

  • Kyasarin Minyako

    On the tipping note, I think its ridiculous too. However, some restaurants INCLUDE the tip with the amount on your check. It is now 18% of the bill. I believe the reason why money was left on the table due to custom and tradition. Maybe way back when, when poorer people worked as bus boys and waiters, the nice thing to do was leave them some extra money on the table so they could place it directly in their pocket. I am not entirely sure, but I never conceive it as “here, take this dirty money along with my half eaten food”. And yes, I agree with Philip Kirkland.

  • LYME

    In Australia they have something called Tall Poppy Syndrome.. You ask about it if you’re ever in the area.

  • Not A Twat

    Okay wow you’re stupid. If you don’t understand a system, do not fucking write about it. That explanation of what tipping is was just horrid. You just made half that up you twat. You always, ALWAYS, pay what is on your bill. It is literally illegal not to. And, if you’re not a complete fuckwad, you ALWAYS tip at least %15. While i do agree that tipping is not necessary in our society, and don’t know why it was created how ever many decades ago, the rest is just bad journalism. Just get you’re facts straight next time please, jesus.

  • Francisco

    In mexico, we drown our pizza with Ketchup too! Not just brazil…

  • Vamshi Bandi

    Loved the article! As an Indian guy, I agree with the haggling quirk. Also, I thought you would mention the infamous Indian head bobbing.
    Coming to manners, I was busy scourging for a mention on Russians and was pleasantly surprised to not find it. Thanks for a lovely read!

  • Brent

    This is super fascinating. I haven’t heard of most of these customs (or been to most of these places), thanks for sharing the knowledge!

  • Betsy Kerr

    Lost my post?

    I enjoyed reading this. Wonderfully written. Sometimes you just need something fun and frivolous to read.

  • joooc


  • Anuja B

    Lovely post!
    I am surprised you didn’t pick most of those weird habits just in India ;) (I am an Indian)

  • Camille Phillips

    Awesome article :) What do you do for a living? Just curious :)

    • Benny Lewis

      I’m a travel writer. You can see more on my about page.

  • ENorth

    I will say that the habit of sitting at a cafe for hours in France nursing a tiny cup of coffee as students was mostly because we had to be paid customers, so we’d pick the cheapest thing on the menu, an espresso so we could stay. Then it just sticks with you.

  • Kayla

    I live in Colorado, in the U.S. I’ve come to understand that tipping itself is also very different within America. Where I live, typically you only tip waiters/waitresses, delivery men (pizza,) and sometimes hairdressers. But I’ve heard that in and around the New England area, it is customary to tip absolutely everyone who does any sort of service for you (the clerks who bag your groceries, the mail man, ect.

  • Liva Graudina

    Great article! I know how “sticky” some phrases can be. After my exchange to Germany I kept on saying “achso” and “also” and “aua” in my native language (Latvian). It’s silly how you actually can’t control it. Same happened after learning Spanish, “ay” is just too sticky!

  • Taylor Marie Shenberger

    this is by far the most interesting article/blog i have read in a long time. i only wish i had read it BEFORE i studied abroad!

  • Mia-nyanko Biggs

    i enjoyed this very much, but i was a bit offended that you scoff so heavily at us Americans’ idea of ‘a personal bubble’. I understand that we come off as standoffish pricks, but what many foreigners don’t understand is that people here simply are not as trustworthy. perhaps it’s sad that one person can’t trust another even in terms of personal space, but i know if i’m conversing with someone and they start getting closer, my immediate reaction is one of suspicion. honestly honestly, i feel like i’m about to be attacked, mugged, robbed, etc. i’m definitely not saying we’re right to be so paranoid, but i think our crime rates nationwide would back me up.

    • Janelle S

      I don’t know that I would say that “people in the US are not as trustworthy” – there are shady folks everywhere. (I had more fear of being pickpocketed in Florence when I lived there for three years than I have living in Chicago for the last 20.)

      My personal theory is that because the US has been an amalgamation of cultures since the very beginning, our culture has had the seemingly universal tendency of Distrusting the Other as part of its DNA since the beginning. If the Other wasn’t the Native Americans, it was another Protestant sect. It was the Dutch or the English or the Spanish. Other countries have a cultural bedrock of centuries of homogenous populations. Those homogenous populations typically did not (do not!) immediately embrace the Other in their midst. So, it’s not surprising that our culture would discourage immediate engagement with the Other, which has been pretty much *everyone* since our earliest days.

      I suspect you could probably carry that logic forward as a way to rationalize statistics that show increased crime in the US compared to other nations. Where half your neighbors are Other, and there’s a cultural emphasis on individuality (rather than community), it becomes easier to wave away offenses committed against Them, or even commit them yourself.

  • ellen

    7) A lot of people don’t understand the concept of tipping, especially when they are from countries where tipping isn’t a part of the culture. A 15-20 % tip can also seem a bit excessive because most other places, you only need to tip around 10%. I’m not sure if this applies elsewhere, but in the States our tips get taxed as income and we also have to share a portion of our tips with the bartender, host(ess), bus boy/girl, and sometimes the kitchen staff. So you can see how after all of that a 20 % tip can quickly dwindle into much less.
    But Philip is right, tipping directly encourages the team to do well as opposed to resting on a sound wage or salary.

  • Rory

    I definitely do things similar to some of these. Mouth (and chin) pointing, toilet guilt, run across traffic, friend confusion (few close friends but friendly with everyone!), haggle without saying numbers, carry a lighter for other people, no shoes in the house, applauding when the plane lands, be brutally honest.
    I’ve mostly lived in Canada and the Carribean and I can’t do all of these things in both places, or they just don’t make sense. I can’t imagine having more cultures bouncing around in my head.

  • Romana Hossová

    I cannot understand why the Americans walk around INSIDE their house IN their shoes. Why would you want to walk on you clean floors and carpets with shoes that have just stepped on basically everything outside (sh#% and so on :/ ). its just so logic … or is it not? btw I’m from Slovakia ;)

    • Lola Lee Beno

      Not me. I don’t understand why more Americans don’t do this. In my house, I leave my shoes by the door and I prefer to walk around barefoot, in socks, or wearing slippers, depending on the weather. It just seems so uncomfortable to wear shoes all the time in one’s own house. I grew up walking around in socks or wearing slippers, so I guess I’m not a typical American when it comes to this.

      Now, when it comes to visiting someone’s house – well, I take my cues from them and it is also dependent on how long I’m going to be at their house.

  • Amanda

    I loved this! I’m brazilian and never really thought about how weird sounds offering your guests to have a shower. Personally, I am a bit of a hygiene freak. I simply cannot leave my house without taking a shower, even though I also like to take a shower before going to bed. Depending on the day (if I exercise, if I have the time, if it’s too hot, etc) I take 3 showers a day. And the idea of crashing on a friend’s house or spending the entire day with them without taking a really nice and refreshing shower freaks me out!

    Now that you’ve mentioned, whenever I go swimming I take a shower before and one after (of course). It sounds really weird, but swimming pools would be so much nicer and cleaner if people showered before entering them. haha

    • Stacey

      I have never heard of this custom before reading this blog! Do people carry a change of clothes with them, or do they wear the clothes they were wearing before? I live in Florida, so this idea sounds fantastic to me. (although I would not want to wear the same sweaty clothes, haha)

      • Amanda

        Sometimes, yes. If a friend of mine invites me to spend the day with them and I know I will be sweaty in the end of the day, I bring with me a change of clothes.
        But if I’m not prepared and need to shower, I can always borrow some clothes from the friend.

  • Melissa B.

    Great post! I just found your blog but I love it. I haven’t traveled as much as you have (though that would be awesome), but I am American and I have to say I find tipping strange as well. I always worry about tipping too much or too little and I hate pulling out my phone to figure out percentages but I can’t do it very well in my head so I just guess. Freakanomics had an interesting podcast on tipping that I listened to not long about if you’re interested in podcasts.

  • Disha Bharadwaj

    Your experiences sound awesome!! An excellent read, glad I stumbled upon this. Need to make my way through all other posts. Btw I am an Indian and your description is bang on!!

  • Maddie Alburtus

    I love this post, but the tipping one is actually incorrect. (I live in the US.) the waiters/waitresses do have a normal pay, the tips they get to keep on top of that.

  • NerdTravels

    Very interesting post, Thanks for taking the time to put this list together. I love 22 the most about clapping when the plane lands. I haven’t had that happen to me yet. But I’m looking forward to the day that it does :)

  • Aisha Rose

    This is hilarious! I’ve been living in Brazil for almost 2 years and make so many cultural mistakes. The bit about Brazilians hugging and kissing like they didn’t just see each other yesterday is so true! I am often considered rude because I usually just say “oi” or “tchau” and walk away. I also don’t like gazing into peoples eyes while I talk to them, or touching them… it feels too intimate. When I first got here I often thought someone was hitting on me, when they were just being friendly. But now I cant tell when someone is actually hitting on me… And when I visit the States, people think I’m being too friendly! Culture is so much harder to learn than language!

  • Lindsey Johnson

    That’s so funny that you think tipping is so weird! I’ve always seen it as a great way to make a little extra money and to compliment your server wherever you are dining. This really opened up my privileged American tunnel vision eyes! Haha! Keep traveling the world and learning tons!

  • henry bullwinkle

    You’re a douche.

  • Thiago Meller

    Ketchup on pizza is something relatively usual around Brasil, specially in Rio de Janeiro and Northeast Region. In other hand, in Sao Paulo, where we have a very solid Italian heritage, it´s a deadly sin to do such thing. It´s very unusual that a pizza place even serve it, and if you ask for it the reactions can go from just a awkward look to hearing some italian profanity words :)

  • Stepan Chervyakov

    That’s just awesome! Thanks for all of these stories :) You may find a lot of interesting stuff in Russian culture as well – try it someday. Feel free to message me if you’ll ever to Siberia someday :)

  • Jacqueline Baidoo

    I’m really happy that StumbleUpon found this page. This was a really amusing and interesting read partly because I enjoy traveling and learning new cultures and customs, and partly because I expect to do much, much more of it. My dad’s in the Navy, so we move around quite often, but I can’t believe that I’ve been living in Sicily for the past two years without knowing about squillos! Guess I have to be more open…

    Anyway, I noticed that you didn’t list any voyages into the sweltering deserts and voracious jungles and conventional villages of Africa. Specifically, West Africa. As it’s unlikely that I might ever meet you, I hope you give other Ghanaians to get the chance to tempt you with fufu and abenkwan and waakye and shito and maybe be your friends in the stricter sense of the word.

  • Hassan Selim

    number 6 made me LOL for a very long time :D
    You really described how people cross the roads here in Egypt … “as if you had enough of this cruel world” :D
    I’ve been to Germany before so I know how it feels like trying to follow the pedestrian traffic lights in Germany when you’re used to not even seeing crossing lines let alone pedestrian traffic lights! and on many occasions when I’m walking in the streets in Germany and thinking about something, I accidentallyjust glance the screet/cars and cross and see the surprise on people’s faces :D
    But I wish we had Germany’s traffic system, I really miss being able to listen to music (using earphones ofcourse) while walking from home to the market without worrying at all about my surroundings!

  • Bentley Anderson

    sounds like Americans are not your favorite…

  • EJ Westlake

    Tipping – I agree. Wait staff should make a living wage. But having waited tables, I leave 15% if the service is bad (not the food – that’s not the server’s fault), and 20% if it was good. These people make less than minimum wage and are taxed on their tips whether people tip them or not! I prefer Europe – where waiting tables is a career for which you are paid a reasonable salary and no one tries to hustle customers out too fast to turn over a table for more tips.

    • Stacey

      I love that you mention turning tables. My first thought when he mentioned sitting at a cafe for hours sipping espresso–the waitress would hate you! This type of thing is not feasible in the U.S. except for maybe a Starbucks or other coffee shop with no waitress.

  • Gloria

    Enjoyed this! As an American living in Africa for the past 11 years, I have picked up some funny habits and ways of speaking (back translated from one of the local languages). When I came stateside the first time after being in Africa a couple of years, I perplexed a toll-taker as I kept maneuvering my stick-shift car with difficulty to get close enough to hand her my tip. She asked, “Why didn’t you just hand it to me with your left hand.” I didn’t have time to explain, but just drove away laughing at myself. Of course, I’m sure you know in many places, including where I live, the left hand is “dirty” and never used to hand over money or other things (or to eat with–God forbid!).

    Regarding tipping, I admit I never saw it the way you do. It makes sense the way you explain it that it is an odd custom. Personally, I have found that in America an appeal to generosity or the appearance of it (or shame of being perceived a jerk) is a strong motivator to be a “big tipper.” I am from Texas and have only lived in the South, and in my experience if we sell a book for a set price of 12.00 we get 12.00 for it. If we set the price for a “suggested donation” we get $20.00. Someone might pay less or nothing, but rarely. I am guessing the same principle goes for tipping. Some days you may get less, but many days you may get more than you would for a set salary.

  • Gloria

    By the way, I am definitely going to be checking out your language learning stuff for newcomers (and myself!- never stop learning)

  • Kasey Whelton

    I enjoyed this very much. Cultural norms from around the world fascinate me – what is acceptable in one country and deplorable in another. I imagine it is so easy to slip up. And I loved your description of tipping, I’ve always agreed with that. But in Italy where there is no tipping there is often a sitting charge, so that sort of evens out.

  • George_Spelvin

    I spent a couple of years in France and one thing I still can’t shake is the “reverse kissy sound” one makes when one doesn’t know the answer. Sometimes you just say “bof” and shrug, other times you’ll do the lip sound. It’s just a completely concise way of saying, “I have no idea.”

    I also think “beurk” sounds waaay better than “yuck” or “ick”.
    And I caught myself saying “Ai!” even after ~15 years away from there.

  • Kyle

    As a Canadian, I would just like to help clarify why we tip and why I think it’s a good thing. Contrary to how you put it, tipping is seen more as a way to reward a server for good service rather than a way to exact revenge for poor service. Servers, in Canada at least, earn a base pay of minimum wage or higher, which is what servers are paid in most countries regardless whether they have a tipping culture or not. The difference is that in Canada, servers also have the possibility to earn additional income based on customer satisfaction. They therefore have an incentive to satisfy customers and ensure that they have a pleasant experience. Having lived in France, Peru and Argentina in addition to travelling to neighbouring countries, I can tell you that the service I have received in restaurants in countries that do not tip is far worse than anything I could expect to find in my home country. In non-tipping countries, I find that servers act as if you are burden and take forever to bring menus, drinks, refills and the bill. Whereas in Canada, it is reasonable to expect a cheerful “How are you today?” from your waiter followed by a prompt bringing of the menus and drinks. When your drink is getting low, it is not uncommon for the server to bring you a free refill without you even having to ask for one. The service is quick, efficient, courteous and is often interspersed with bits of humour and levity Plus, the waiters here seem to have mastered the rare art of being able to provide separate bills for each diner – something that cannot be said for many other countries, including the U.S. Whenever I come back from a stay abroad, I always experience reverse culture shock when I go to restaurants and am blown away by how friendly, efficient and caring the wait staff is here and I believe that it is partially thanks to our tipping culture.

  • Suresh Kumar

    Nice article, several wonderful comments. Thanks. Suresh, India.

  • Vicky Passmore

    in my experience I lived in Austria for a year and I also lived in Greece for 8 months and I had a short time in America as well. In Austria we eat larger cooked meals at lunch and a small meal at dinner, and they love their sausages a lot. In Greece they have big family gatherings and have music, dancing, and lunch was late after a 2 hour afternoon nap, so usually we ate around 3/4pm and dinner was always real late, people would sit down to eat at 9 pm with their friends and family.

  • Vicky Passmore

    I found Americans loud speakers, very open and asking you personal questions like it is normal, which it is not in Britain the opposite mostly.

    • Lola Lee Beno

      You say this like this is a Very Bad Thing. As a deaf American . . . well, that is how we are, sorry about that.

      • Benny Lewis

        I found deaf culture in America VERY different to that of hearing Americans, and much preferred how direct they are.

        You can see some discussions on this when I interviewed some staff at Gallaudet:

  • Noela Kambosky

    Haha. You should come to romania! While reading this very long but interesting article I was thinking that most of the habits you describe here are part of the romanian culture. Like tipping at restaurants, taxis, and any kind of services, including hairdressing. In rural areas and even in some very old part of bucharest you have to throw the toilet paper in a trash bin. Many people smoke and it is quite frequent to ask for lighters or even cigarettes to others on the street (but not as bad as in france where if I was smoking on the street almost every time someone was asking for a cigarette). We cover pizza with ketchup but also eat french fries with mayonnaise. It is sometimes considered rude to show things with your index finger so we point at them with all the fingers from one hand with a very theatrical gesture. Except for students and the working class, almost everybody sleeps a few hours in the afternoon, but we don’t call it siesta, it’s just the afternoon nap and it is very frequent in rural areas. When we feel pain we say “Auu!”. In most of the houses we have to take our shoes on, but this started to change with the new generation that doesn’t have carpets in every room but anyway you don’t walk in your socks, almost always the host will give you some house slippers for you . And many other habits that might seem wired to foreigners. Like in rural areas you just have to say “hello” to everybody you pass by on the street – the younger person has to say it first and also on the mountains the same rule applies but the one who goes down has to say it first to the one that climbs (being from Bucharest this seems odd to me too but I’m sure here we also have some that might seem weird to others). Have fun in your world adventure!

  • ohheyb

    You’re just so fascinating to read!!!

  • Amber Wells

    Waiters make more money in the U.S. than teachers. Some can make more money waiting than using their college education. People are very nice and often tip well. If a waiter is bad…. I mean Bad like selfish and dumber than rock that is when you don’t tip.

    • Mary Gebbie

      I agree that most people tip well. There have rarely ever heard of someone tipping below 15%, even when the waiter isn’t the best. Only when the waiter is really dreadful would someone consider giving only 10%

  • Mary Gebbie

    In Japanese, people often give affirmation with a simple “mm” and slight nod of the head, and when listening to someone’s story you are expected to do so every chance the speaker pauses. Back in the US, I cannot break the habit, despite the fact that it often confuses the people I’m talking to because they don’t realize my “mm” means “yes”.

  • Jennifer Saxin

    I love this and can totally sympathise! As an American of German heritage and character/language traits, married to a Swede, living in Scotland, I’m always confused or offending someone! lol

  • Rocío

    Number 4 threw me off. We keep a trash can beside the toilet for used paper, and we’ve been here in the US for a long time now. I guess it’s a Mexican thing in our case. I always feel so guilty flushing toilet paper in a friend’s house.

  • Kyle

    Interesting how you accept other countries’ cultures and customs, no matter how strange or different they are, but criticize and demean America and our tipping culture. It’s insulting and quite obnoxious, specifically because of your claims of “cultural acceptance” and “open-mindedness”. You don’t have to understand American tipping culture, and there are ways to present your discontent in a polite manner. Get over yourself, Benny.

  • Tomos Burton

    I know loads of people with Facebook friends they don’t want. I’m thinking of making a new Facebook account, just because it causes so much trouble. I mostly just look at what my family are doing now.

  • prz_

    In theory it sounds really nice, but… don’t you feel that “acting like locals” without any deeper thinking about it is not being truly yourself? I think it’s okay when you take some of the others’ behaviours because you like some of these ideas, but if you do it only because, for example, “Italian people do like that”… If (in my case) i’m far from being a stereotypical Pole, why should I be a stereotypical Spaniard? It’s not me! + It’s kinda sad if people can only accept you if you act like they want to…

    P.S. Since it’s kinda connected topic I’d also like to comment the “body language issue”. Do you mind the fact that some people simply can’t act in some ways, even if they’d like to (social phobics etc.)? Plus, again, about not being yourself and being accepted only when you act like the others want to…

  • jchthys

    Interestingly, English did used to have the “oui/si” distinction: “yea” meant “oui”, and “yes” meant “si”. Unfortunately the latter word took over both functions.

  • RudolfBond

    Cool post! But hey, I have to say something about the espresso thing: in Italy we also do like the french, enjoying a bar for literally hours ordering just 3 euros worth of stuff. Then, of course, there’s the “shot way” to drink coffe ;) The latter is usually for the mornings, the first one for the evenings.
    Anyway, I just love your posts about living abroad and I have to make you my best congratulations, they are simply great!

  • Monika_PL

    Habit 15) in Poland poeple also LOVE ketchup on pizza, actually we love souces on any food in general; Habit 5) we also do “squillos” and also when it comes to the term “a friend” in Polish “przyjaciel”, it has a meaning of the closest person you can talk with about your biggest secrets :-)

  • Jacqueline Zeller

    love it! These are great & hilarious insights. Now, living in China, I’ve started blogging just for family & friends about life here and just wrote about the amazing “squatty potties” and toilet paper in the trash bin. I still can’t get used to it and family back home is completely baffled. :) This post also made me think of the one habit I don’t want to bring back with me: yelling across the restaurant and waving your arms back and forth to get a waiter’s attention. So common here, but would be so rude (& embarrassing!) back in the US. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  • SusieQ

    i always take my shoes off and would find it odd if people didn’t (and i am American)! But i do agree, idk why we tip, it’s strang… but a good waiter/waitress can actually make a very good living. Thanks for the interesting customs! i enjoy reading your posts!

  • Pauline Magnusson

    I haven’t traveled abroad nearly as much as I would love to, but absolutely love this post! The mid day siesta is one that keeps appealing to me. I find it interesting that a biphasic sleeping pattern is the one that babies are born hardwired with…and we train them out of it. Maybe they’re smarter than we give them credit for… :) Anyway – intriguing post and blog!

  • Erika Freeman

    7.) The reasons for your tip are a little different I believe than you currently understand. I agree with you about the ridiculousness of the concept; however I believe that you have the motivations of the tip a little skewed. I am and American, I live in Missouri; when I tip someone it is not based on my liking the food or setting, it is based on the servers performance. Does my water glass go below half, do I have to wait for a long period of time to order, do they get my order correct, are they prompt to clear my plates or do they leave them sitting on my table long after the meal is over (if I choose to stay and chat a while with whomever I am eating), is the server cheerful and personable. If their performance in these areas is satisfactory I give 15% on top of the original price. If I feel that the server went above and beyond and had high marks in all of the above listed areas I give 20% or higher. I rarely leave less than the 15% except on occasion when the service is extremely poor. I do not base the tip on whether I liked the food because that its my taste and the chef’s cooking style; it has nothing to do with the server.

  • Carrie Thunder Refugee Ambury

    I’m from Canada, and about tipping. It’s strange because when you’ve lived here your entire life you don’t know any different. You tip without thinking about it and leave money on the table without thinking about it. I don’t think anyone looks upon this strangely here either. It’s strange thinking about customs that you might have that other countries don’t have.

  • Maria Laura Valdez

    Yes, I’ve only lived in two countries for more than a year and the truth I still do things that are socially awkward in both places. ¡Es el destino del híbrido! On the one hand, I’ve accidentally flipped of my American friends while trying to express that “I didn’t know” something the Argentine way. On the other, I’ve felt my personal space invaded by my Argentine friends and have played “ring around the hallway” while having a 15 minute conversation. We actually studied about kinesics, proxemics and paralanguage in Linguistics this last term…it was fun to read your perspective on the subject.

  • aLONie

    I generally liked this article. Thought a lot of it was quite clever. I’ve been living abroad for the majority of the last 7 years as well (but I’m a New Yorker). I have to say you were not shy with the subtle jabs at American and Canadian culture here. I mean, if you don’t like the tipping system, that’s fine. I can definitely see the negatives to it, but also the positives: I think most people tip accordingly in the states (though of course not all of them). If a restaurant is crowded, I don’t use that as an excuse to tip less unless the service is exceptionally bad. Sure, the waiter’s job gets harder when it’s crowded, but this is their moment to earn their cash (as opposed to the Tuesday day shifts where they are just sitting around for hours). Besides, restaurants are supposed to be crowded. That’s what the owners want. They also want customers to return. As any good businessman knows, the lifeline of any business is repeat customers. Well, how do you encourage your waiters to provide good service and make sure the customers enjoy themselves and continue spending their hard-earned money at your restaurant. Give the waiter’s incentives to be good servers of course! Also, often times the waiters will tip the chefs at the end of their shifts. This encourages better cooking (which in turn, encourages better tipping).

    Other than that, I noticed a couple other slight jabs like calling our loudness a skill. Please, you’re telling me Brits aren’t loud in groups? And Australians either? I’ve also witnessed plenty of Germans that are unnecessarily loud. We’re definitely not the only ones!

    Other than that, I just wanna say that I’ve been fortunate enough to travel more than the average Joe since I was a kid (my parents are both European so we spent many summers in their “motherlands”) and clapping was definitely around a lot when I was a kid (I’m 30 now). I miss that custom as well.

    Finally, the shoes thing. “You ALWAYS get the weirdest looks?” I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I think more than half the people I know in the states prefer you to take your shoes off at the door.

    But other than those points, I liked your post. When travelling often, of course, one picks up certain habits and finds some customs charming. I spent a year and a half living in Buenos Aires as well and I definitely miss the warmness of the people sometimes. I prefer living in Europe as well, but it’s clear to me you have something against North Americans and their culture/customs/habits. I wish it wouldn’t come out so clearly in your writing.

  • Kristin Shaw

    I am an American waitress, and your post just made me giggle! On behalf of all the tables you’ve dined at, thank you for tipping 20%.

  • Angie Jones

    Working in a tipping industry myself, I have to say you’re a bit off on the tipping standards in North America. I tip waitresses for good service, not for the meal the chef prepared, and most people are aware that the waitress didn’t prepare the meal. While they’re wages aren’t entirely tips as you mentioned, they are less then the minimum wage standards, so they do rely heavily on tips. There are people who tip all the time, no matter what, there are people who never tip, there are people who tip poorly. One thing I have noticed is that people who have less money tend to tip better than those who do. I’m assuming that’s because those with less are more aware of the value of money. But that’s not set in stone either. Bellmen, Waitresses, Valet, Hairdressers, Taxi Drivers, Masseuse’, all tend to get paid less then minimum wage, and tend to rely heavily on tips. So always tip good, unless of course, that person is just a huge jacka** then I’m sorry, I’ll tip way less then what I would have, if any at all.

  • Kristi H. Garcia

    I come from a large Mexican family and I think it’s cute when I bring friends around who are from different backgrounds and they see how long our hellos and goodbyes are. Everyone gets a kiss and either a hug or a handshake. Anything less is considered very disrespectful.

  • Jenna Bagan

    I live in America and it’s funny about the whole tipping policy. It is absurd and I always question it as well, I like that you mentioned that. However, I believe people do applaud pretty regularly when a plane lands here. I used to fly out in planes at least 2 times a year since I was 6 and it’s not every flight but i’d say a good 50% of the time it will happen. Just letting you know. This whole read has been pretty enlightening to say the least, I never realized how much effort one has to put in to fill the social norm in that country. I’m definitely thinking about traveling in a few years once I’ve completed college and I think this article has inspired me to actually get up and do just that (I’ve been on the fence about the idea for awhile). Also, that habit about taking a step forward when in conversations did give me a funny mental image. I think I’m going to step forward just to watch a friend involuntarily back up next time I’m in a conversation. Then again, it might not work, my group of friends don’t really have personal bubbles (well some) but we are the type that hug each other when we are greeting or leaving.

  • Maria Felicia

    In Romania, most people tip nurses and postmen as well but only if they have enough money on them. :)

  • Andy Parthenopoulos

    I implore you to go and live in Japan….you’ll get another 23 habits from there alone! I’ve lived there, Australia and Canada and definitely relate to a lot of this.

    This post alone has convinced me to subscribe to your blog. Excellent writing!!

  • Smitha

    Haha!!! This article had me laughing so much this morning! Thanks, Benny :-)

  • Javier

    I don’t like the idea of “picking” habits just because you travel a lot… you are who you are no matter where you live, and you act as you want too… it actually sounds too presumptuous that you brag about gettin’ the habits of any country… i’ve travel to brazil, italy, rome, france, germany… and yeah maybe you get used to the country but when you get back to the place you live you go back being yourself…

  • The Guy

    I just discovered your site today and I love this post. I can relate so much to it in so many ways. I was forewarned about using both hands when handing over a business card/money/credit card in China and I still find it novel.

    I’d never noticed that telephone etiquette in Italy before, I’ll be sure to look out for it.

    I notice that you haven’t mentioned how a lot of Arabs hold hands with each other, even the guys. When I worked in the Middle East a lot of us westerners found it strange. Like you though we adjusted and just blended in.

    (By the way this is my author name as people on the internet know me by, I’m not hiding anything. I noticed your comment guidelines and didn’t want to upset you.)

  • Chris

    I think siestas should be adopted globally! My brain functions a lot better after having one.

    Great post!

  • Ayesha Zaragoza

    19. Also In México when you’re eating or going to eat even if you just ate it is polite to say: ” provecho ” wich means something like “make the best advantage of your food” wich just doesn’t sound right.

  • Thomas

    Having spent a year in China where tipping is rare, and even then only for a token amount as an expression of a superb job, I’m having an extremely hard time getting used to tipping again. It’s been fully 6 months now and I’m still surprised when the cash register rings up a full 10% above the price for tax and people look at me like I’m a barbarian if I forget to have change for tipping.

    However, I do find the practice in China of servers not showing up for work the next day if they receive a tip as equally odd. I’m not sure what kind of tip one could give that would offset the lost wages for the next day. I would presume that this is some sort of superstition that I’m not aware of.

  • Count Dracula

    Not sure why the hell you keep calling tipping punishment. I worked at a car wash where I received tips and I made great money. The only time you don’t tip Is if they do a really bad job or you’re just an asshole. Lol anyway, I think the tipping idea is great because it ensures that the waiter/service person gives their job 100% in order to receive that tip. Durrr

  • Belgischer Pommes

    I’m from Germany and currently living in Egypt. I wouldn’t agree 100 % with what you said about “us” Germans waiting patiently at a red traffic light. Many friends I know including myself would check if there are any kids around. Only then would we wait. If there are no kids we don’t see the point of waiting for the green light if there are no or only a few cars – which is of course exactly what you wouldn’t find in Egypt. I definitely agree with your perception of handling the traffic here and I do the same. On a field trip to Alexandria, my Egyptian university students found that I had become an expert in crossing 6-lane streets packed with cars racing at 100 kilometers an hour downtown (Corniche el Nil, for example) and they are now using me as their protective shield to cross the street “safely”… ;) I think it’s hilarious because as far as this is concerned I now feel extremely “Egyptian”.

  • Lotus

    when taking about tipping the writer of this articale makes it seem like waiters and waitresses only get paid in tips, they do not, they also get paid a regular wage by their bosses. So in reality you aren’t “punishing” them by not tipping, you’re just not giving them EXTRA money.

  • bzzfft

    Haha! Some of this stuff made me laugh out loud! As a Saudi, sometimes I find myself worrying about people on TV when they don’t say inshallah, and I take it as foreshadowing. Dumb of me, I know!

  • Alva

    This is just a list of stereotypes…nothing too new…
    Taking a nap or siesta because you have been in Spain…? I don’t know anyone in Spain who can enjoy such a luxury, unless you live very close to your office which is not usually the case.
    Most part of tourists in Spain do so, but local people do not usually have the time.
    The same for business cards and Asia. it is a custom, yes, but no one here has the time to stare at your card, instead of looking at it, they will check your name, and then ask you questions.
    Same for the expresso in France, not if you have been in Paris.
    I agree with being nice to the Authorities, when you travel a lot you do that.

    • Benny Lewis

      “I don’t know anyone in Spain who can enjoy such a luxury, unless you live very close to your office”

      Not everyone in the world works in an office. My friends here continue to have siestas

      – all the best from Valencia Spain right now.

      • Alva

        Siestas are something more common in China than they are in Spain.
        I still say the same, I don’t know anyone in Spain who can enjoy siestas, but now I can add…except from Benny Lewis friends :)

        • spin

          Wait, you know people in Spain who work?

  • Kim

    In Canada we always leave our shoes at the door.

  • Anya

    Very interesting, insightful article! I enjoyed reading it very much. :)
    About the clapping in airplanes after landing thing…
    I don’t know if you’ve ever been in Russia, but people there do this all the time. At least in Russia, (most) airplanes and the road the airplane lands on (lack of vocabulary – sorry!) are of very poor quality, so landing the plane gently can be quite a challenge for the pilot! So if the plane lands as nice and softly as possible and the flight overall was comfortable, the passengers applaud loudly and can even whistle for the pilot or express joy in other ways, even if the pilot can’t see or hear it. If the landing is poor and hard, little people will clap. I could imagine that it’s the reason for people clapping in airplanes in other countries, too. It actually was very odd for me when I went to other countries in Europe by plane and after the landing, people didn’t do anything and just left. Those spoiled Europeans and their fancy aviation. :P

  • TJ14

    Fantastic article that I can connect with on many levels. As soon as you mentioned India, I knew you’d mention bargaining. It’s a feature, I think we Indians have bred into our genetic structure.

    And finally your last point about social expectations of your behaviour, I agree completely. I am so exhausted sometimes of meeting the expectations of different groups of people. Although I’ve lived in only two countries, in India I get accused of being too western-like and pretentious, and in the United States I get accused of being too Indian. But in truth, I am always only me. If I get so frustrated between living in 2 places, I can only imagine how bad it could be living in so many places and learning so many new things.

  • mica

    I’m from Brazil, from a very hot and humid region no less, and never have I offered or had someone offer me a shower when visiting. If they look tired or sweaty, we offer a glass of cold water. But this shower thing is something I never heard of.

  • GeoffreyToday

    7) Doesn’t actually apply in Canada. Canadian wait staff get paid at least minimum wage, if not more. It’s the US that pays their wait staff less than minimum wage on the understanding that they are to make up the difference in tips.

  • Sarah Warren

    This really made me chuckle. I’ve only actually lived in one other country – Russia – and that was well over a decade ago, but I STILL randomly sprinkle Russian phrases and words into speech, say “oy” instead of oh, oh dear, etc, exclaim over prices, etc.

    Russia being not especially English friendly, we used to chat in English without any particular fear of being overheard/understood, which could be useful. I remember on returning to uni, going to a cafe with a couple of friends I’d been in Russia with, and it was so jarring to get to the front of the queue and not have to switch into English.

    I also took a long time before I stopped saying “but that’s 50 roubles!” and expecting that any trip to the train station/post office/wherever would require a passport, visa, ID, and might involve queuing for an hour or several.

  • titfucker

    lol you’re an atheist, i don’t follow any religion, nor i’m an atheist, but lol an atheist “hey errybody look at me, i believe in nothing!” lol fucking cunt

  • Olivia Treptow

    19) In Spanish (mostly Cuban Spanish) when someone is being lazy, it is said they are “cominedo mierda” which translates into English as “eating sh*t.” In Miami and other predominately Hispanic parts of the US its totally normal to say someone is “eating sh*t.” The only trouble is when you travel to non-Spanish speaking parts of the world and everyone thinks your disgusting! Ahaha
    Much love from a Cuban American in Miami, USA :D

  • enso

    Having grown up and am now working in Southeast Asia, I find it hard to pass between two people talking without crouching as if their face contact must not be broken.
    I’d like to say this about tipping in other countries:
    If you leave money on the table in (say) Cambodia, the restaurant owner gets it. The bus staff may not keep it. If the owner sees that you are willing to put out more money than was asked for, they raise the prices. Those of us who live and work there end up paying more and more for the same dishes. Don’t import this useless practice to the rest of the world. Keep it in the US where (as most Asians believe) money must grow on trees.

  • sunsetfriend

    I was born to European parents in Africa, 50 years ago, and haven’t stopped travelling since. I was born in Ethiopia (3yrs) and then moved to Ghana (6yrs) Nepal (9yrs), England (1st time – 5yrs), France (1yr), Papua New Guinea (6yrs), England (2nd time – 2yrs), Mali (2.5yrs), Slovenia (4yrs), Tanzania (4.5yrs), and the USA (7yrs) averaging 4.5 years in each country. I don’t feel any connection to any particular country, am definitely not nationalistic in any sense, would never go to war on behalf of one country and feel completely at home anywhere and everywhere. I’m a global nomad!!!

  • Vlaix

    The point 8 is not exclusive to South America. I experience it everyday in my own Provence (Southern France), and it’s spread (though not as enforced) to the rest of the country.

  • Mark Lines

    After my stay in Switzerland, I have ended up using “Scheizen” as my expletive of choice, and find myself starting conversations with, “So….”

  • Lauren Carey

    My father travels quite often with work and has picked up several of the mannerisms you mentioned. As a result, I learned several of them as well. I get strange looks as an American when I study a business card and then carefully put it in my breast pocket (when wearing a jacket). I also always offer to remove my shoes when entering any house, mostly because I lived in New York state for several years, where wearing shoes in the house meant mud on carpets and floors.

    With #7 (tipping), I work as a waitress at a small restaurant. The way tipping functions works fairly well there; If the party is 8 or more customers, a 20% gratuity is included in the bill, eliminating the need to leave an additional tip. Below that, it is at the discretion of the customer. 15% is taken from whatever tips we receive and is put into a “tip pool”, which serves two purposes. The first is to tip the host, who does not “officially” wait tables (and therefore does not earn tips directly). The second purpose is to cover any low tip nights, which ensures that all the employees make at least $7.25 an hour.

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  • superstarr

    I enjoyed reading this,thank you:)

    I’m from Serbia,instead of Inshallah we say :”Boze zdravlje”-it means “If God give’s us health”.And if you ever come over,DO NOT even try to come in someone’s house with your shoes on,we will give you slippers:)

  • Jared Huston

    Loved this article, thank you, i really enjoyed your writing style

  • Timothée Ambroise Pierre Hayes

    Very on the ball with most observations. Your running to save you life in Egypt where there aren’t any stop lights and his comments about Germans who wait to cross the street at a red light even if no cars are around (but it is against the law to do so so I think that they are conditioned as well so as not to be fined) reminded me that in most of the world, if you are a pedestrian you have the right-of-way when crossing at a crosswalk. In France, that means the car will stop but maybe 2mm from your legs. In Brazil, like Italy (and apparently Egypt), forget it — they will mow you down. I learned too that while in 99% of the world, flashing one’s headlights is a way to say, “go ahead”, in Brazil it means, “get the #(*@&#?/*@ out of my way!!!!” In fact, in Brazil, most people don’t even stop at a light if they don’t have to — a habit formed as a result of so many assaults on cars stopped at stop signs or lights. In my case, I have lived in only 7 countries but visited over 30. One thing German has contaminated in my other languages is that I often finish a sentence with “or” (“oder”) as they do — “Do you want to go the cinema, or ?”. There is a “baaaoooh” noise that the MIlanesi and many in Northern Italy make when they don’t believe you or are shocked that I still do. I totally related to the espresso dilemma.

  • Torie

    I live in Canada, and I found it so strange when I found out that they wear shoes in the house in America! Wouldn’t that just make your floors dirty? Here it’s often rude to keep your shoes on, because you’re probably bringing snow in with you.

  • Srijan12XU

    I envy your life :(

  • Essie

    It is very interesting article and i enjoyed of reading it.
    Personally i do find Germans rude after living there for 4yrs and specially,when you don’t speak the language.They can be really surly and unfriendly (in small towns rather than big cities).

    I am surprised that you came out only with one habit from Turkey.As a Turk myself,native of Istanbul,we do have many weird customs and habits =))

    I never experienced a “squillo” when i lived in Italy but what i found weird is that :they can understand?! ,hear each other ,while they talk at the same time all together ! : )))

    Let me please add my observation of Irish people (including my ex bf.) :
    Continue to drink despite of being extremely drunk ! :))

  • Shushed

    You talk some amount of shite.

  • Panagiota Dermatis

    you should visit greece, about every single think you mentioned here (minus numbers 20, 25, 3 and 2) is found within that beautiful country. i have spent every single summer of my life there, and if you have the chance, i suggest you visit. if you would like any suggestions on where to go feel free to contact me

  • Cristina Espinoza Moreira

    i was worried about how easily i pick up expressions from other people but this is just awesome… i think there are also some traits in personality that differ from cultural background… i’m from Ecuador and it gets categorized into warm…but i really like that personal bubble jaja. I just say goodbye and leave without kissing everyone, as expected.
    There must be some things that you should really coudln’t stand no matter how flexible you could have being… Some rigid rules that belong to your personality..

  • Spanish Thunder

    Unless a server is downright rude, you shouldn’t have to give them a lesser tip. They get paid 3-4 dollars an hour, are on their feet all day and take crap from everyone; including their coworkers..

  • Joe Baird

    How have you had the opportunity to travel to all these countries? I often try to imagine doing something like this in my lifetime, so how did you accomplish it?

  • Kassiopea Millenia

    Ehm… Actually the thing about the “squillo” is totally wrong. We don’t use it in that way. Dunno who you met but they were totally out of their mind.
    We used it mostly in case we don’t have money in the mobile device and we want the other person to call us back (if we are texting).
    Never used or see others used it in the way you wrote…

  • Bruno Barbosa

    LOL, okay, I can understand that Dutch people could not be friendly people, okay, I’m not disagreeing and neither saying the opposite, but what I really found strange is that from someone who says that only got ‘REAL’ facebook friends like from the ‘real life’ seeming like you don’t care that much about facebook or to have your life spread around or whether to gossip, being a stalker or simply to stay as much as private as you could get, but fyi that’s a little bit hypocrite, sorry to tell you like this, but it sounds a lot hypocritical because if you don’t care about facebook, so why do you care about other people having more ‘friends’ on facebook, they’re VIRTUAL friends, when are you going to realize that some of you Americans? C’mon, they are not suppose to be real friends and everybody on these days wants to get known, to have a big social life, (at least almost everybody), but when I say I don’t mean that everybody has to be equal like (melting pot you guys have there) lol, but what I meant to say is that you should respect other people’s mind/thoughts/ways of being about that matter and you named them hypocrites, but the one who’s being hypocrite now is you, and btw of course they would get offended if you didn’t accept the friend request on facebook, it’s obvious, because since you had been friends or you have hanged out together it’s normal people wanting to be in touch and stay friends, or do you like “one night stand” with your foreigner friends? Lol So now Benny please give it a thought to what I’ve said and see if I’m not right, take your own conclusions, but at least give it a thought! It doesn’t hurt to try, right? ;) #InsensibilityIssues #fixingsomepeople #OneAmericanAtAtime #NoOffense ;)

  • Heather

    As a Canadian I do not like the term as “punish” for tipping servers!!!! You failed to mention they can actually receive a fairly generous tip- one they wouldn’t receive making minimum wage and they are not taxed on their tips. Don’t kid yourself, servers are doing just fine with their wages+tips! A server makes $8.90 an hour and minimum wage is $10- servers make more with tips!!!!

  • Hunny Bunny

    I’d like to weigh in as an American on #21 — I’ve never been to a house where people leave their shoes on…the thought of trekking dirt and God-knows-what into the house repulses me…I take my shoes off and leave them at the door and most Americans that I know do the same!

  • Elise

    21: I was born and raised in the US and I always take off my shoes when entering a house. I didn’t know that some Americans found that odd. Where in America did you go if you don’t mind me asking?

    Maybe it’s just my crazy mother, but I’ve always been taught that it’s rude to leave your shoes on, especially on the carpet. I’ve never gotten any funny looks taking my shoes off in other people’s houses and I’ve visited people’s homes in a fair few different parts of the country.

  • Stephanie

    I’m from Canada and I have to say I had no idea how weird tipping is as a practice until I read it from an outsider’s eyes! There is pretty much no excuse for it except capitalism- businesses pay servers LESS than minimum wage on the assumption that they will be tipped by the customer, leaving it up to the customer to make up the remainder of the wage. So it doesn’t cut into company profits but their servers are still usually paid well (my sister makes up to 3-4x minimum wage sometimes serving- that’s $30-40CDN per hour!!) I think part of it too is the assumption that the “service” industry is all about creating experiences for customers, so you reward someone for giving you a good experience… I don’t know it doesn’t really make sense to me either but yes, in Canada, DEFINITELY tip or you are being very rude lol!

  • Amanda Joy

    Random phrases in other languages tend to infiltrate my English so much that my friends and family have actually begun using them too, from sheer force of habit. I almost always say “Yani…” when struggling to explain something, a word I picked up in Palestine. “Enshallah” and “Alhamdulillah” too, despite being an atheist. I have never found a good equivalent to “Yallah” either… I constantly sigh, “Mwen pa konprann ou” when I am frustrated with someone, and mumble “Eskize mwen…” in a very sarcastic way when somebody gets annoyed with me. I am also prone to cursing in any language but English, I suppose because few people are likely to understand and be offended here in the US. Anyway, I love reading your blog,thankyou and keep up the awesome inspiration! :)

  • Santiago

    I really like your post!!! I can confirm that in France you spent a lot of time drinking an expresso with maybe a glass of water. Many students in colleges or universities use to spent their time in bars doing their homework or preparing their exams.

  • Brandon Roberts

    good i never lived outside the us but always sounded fun

  • Ankur

    Interesting that Italians have the same custom of “squillo” as we Indians have. In India, missed calls reign: and their purpose is multifunctional, as is your squillo’s. Good article, except that Facebook friends are often for networking, not necessarily real friends. You have missed the point there. I do agree with the ridiculousness of tipping, but I think the custom is spread far and wide in the so-called civilised world.

  • Dante Hernández

    It’s incredible how customs change from place to place. And even in the same country you have ambiguity in this. I’m from Argentina and in some places we find quite inappropriate and offensive if someone uses that expresions from Spain and my very country that are listed in 18): ”me cago en la Virgen” could translate (not literally) as ”fuck the Virgin (Mary)”, the same with ”Hostia” (Host).

  • Amanda Roycroft

    7) Pretty much spot on except that in Canada you legally must receive minimum wage and therefore all tips received will simply add to the about 10$ an hour that the waitress is already making. So Canadian waitresses don’t rely on tips, it’s just something we do to be nice. Somehow though it has gotten to be the norm to tip and considered rude if you don’t. Also, some businesses do what’s called a tip out, where the tips earned in a certain time period are pooled together and split evenly between all the staff that worked during that time. In many ways Canada & the US are similar, but just remember their cultures do differ slightly. :b

  • romi

    Im from the Netherlands and I didn’t realise that our definition of friendship is different from the rest of the world, though I do think it’s way too hard to becone froends with someone.
    I think the article was quite interesting, and even though i haven’t traveled all that much, i do have a lot of friends who used to live somewhere else and i recognise a lot of the habits you described as habits i picked up by spending way too much time with my friends.

  • Luciana

    I’m pretty sure people applaude the pilot for a perfect landing, not the plane itself. : ) but in Brazil I haven’t seen that for a while now.

  • David Atherton

    Fascinating. Thanks.

  • starduest

    I found #21 quite interesting as I wasn’t aware that there are countries in Europe where shoes aren’t worn indoors. I’m in Ireland and no native person here takes their shoes off. Hence it’s awkward all round when they come to mine and I ask if they can remove their shoes, as I tend to get the “why the hell am I being made to do this in Ireland” kinda vibes.

  • Biondi Sanda Sima

    Thank you for writing this very elaborative yet witty and enjoyable piece of writing. Although I have limited traveling experience, I am always fascinated to learn about different cultures and how they can enrich our perspective in life. Having read this really is a mind-opener to be less judging and more intuitive should one happens to meet people with quite a unique social demeanour.

  • Darryl Hall

    the practice of tipping is basically in place to allow you, as a regular patron of an establishment, to control your level of service. Some people prefer anonymous service while others do not. more importantly, if you’ve ever worked food service you’ll quickly realize that servers even at a single establishment do not provide the same level of service ie do not put forth the same level of effort and care and thus should not be paid the same amount as others. patrons, being the only barometer available, are provided with a margin of choice to pay according to how well the server performed to provide you with care.

    • Brandon Rivington

      I definitely understand where you’re coming from and I don’t think that the concept of tipping is bad. However, I think the fact that we tip as a percentage of the total is the problem. If get a burger from a little restaurant on the corner for $5 and one from some high end place for $15, there’s no reason why the waiters should be tipped differently (assuming that they offered the same level of service).

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  • ancela

    In Spanish you say “a cuerpo de rey” no “a cuerpo del rey” the second makes no sense. Good article.

  • Michele

    In the US, the idea isn’t to punish people with bad tips, but to show the server your appreciation for their attentiveness or skill. A server is required to serve your food and fulfill the job description for which he or she is paid by an employer. However, in addition to working for the employer, service work involves a direct relationship between the server and customer. The server is, in a way, working for the customer directly. If that person does a good job, we tip them as a sign of appreciation. It’s kind of rude not to tip them at least 10-15% so typically we only do not tip unless they were rude or just plain awful. We also understand that most server positions are NOT long term careers, but are just an in between phase as the server fulfills his or her real ambitions in life. Tipping helps that person along, whereas a teacher or bus driver is already working as a professional within a career and so a tip for them would be insulting.

  • Daniel Thompson

    Tipping is required in order to keep the cost of operations low. Restaurants operate at razor thin margins most of the time. Additionally many places pool tips in order to distribute amongst all the staff. Wait staff in the US are paid less than minimum wage and I some states can be paid as little as $2 an hour. In Canada it varies from ravine to province but the highest wage they will earn is $8 and hour. My thoughts have always been if I can afford to eat out I can afford to tip the person who served me. Tipping serves another purpose however – for example I have always been able to get a table at my favourite restaurant even when they are overbooked because I tip the staff well. I can always get a last minute appointment with my stylist even though he books months in advance because I tip him well and give him $100 at Christmas every year. Tipping serves as a way to ensure hot only good service at the moment but preferred status for future needs. My stylist has even cancelled other clients to accommodate me because I tip well.

  • Candido Santos

    well done….keep it up, but the question to you is where is home?
    I been traveling since 1993 and home as it should be Portugal no longer feels like the place I can call home. is good to go back see family and familiar faces but very quickly I’m bored and back on the road. I don’t think I will stop any sooner as my job goes well with the travel. so all the best!

  • Jared Khyle

    Haha loved the article and would diffinately agree on the “point like your making a kissy face” thing because my mother is a filipina but I grew up in the states and whenever she points like that we just laugh and laugh!!

  • Angela

    This post is awesome! After living in China for 4 years I’ve definitely started to have a kind of identity crisis with all the weird habits and customs I’m now used to. I can’t even imagine adopting this many different countries customs! They do over lap a bit, but still!!

  • DCAllen2

    Excellent. Great list. Beautifully written.

    Tipping in the US will probably never go away. You also need to tip taxi drivers and haircutters, something I can’t stop doing here in Germany (they actually like it when you round up) and Ireland (where they don’t like it at all).

    I waited tables for 12 years in the US. Then, waiters were paid something like $2.30 an hour; the rest was tips. At the end of the month, I had to pay my “employer” to cover my taxes–which is normal and legal.

    The logic of tipping is that the waiter works for the guest, not the restaurant. It is not acceptable to punish the waiter for bad food. It is acceptable to tip poorly if the waiter didn’t deal with your complaint appropriately. I’ve lived in Germany for 20 years, so I know bad service. When a German waiter tells you “Gleich, gleich” (immediately, immediately), he means he’ll come to your table whenever he gets good and ready. When I first moved to Germany I thought “gleich” meant around 20 minutes. It must be said, though, that the German waiter has at least 20 tables to serve. The US waiter usually has no more than 6 tables, if that. When the service is awful in Europe it is a consolation that you aren’t expected to pay for it.

  • Mia

    It is quite amazing that you can understand these differences only if you travel and get to live in different cultures or societies. When I first came from Poland to Scotland, I had a feeling of a sinking heart every time I would address my line manager with their first name and not the surname. Now every time I go back home, I am not sure which direction to look first when crossing the street. I still get into trouble for being too direct towards people at work in Scotland and I honestly get into trouble in the least expected moments. It took me quite a while – as well – to understand that someone asking ‘how are you?’ doesnt really give a f***, they are just being polite in saying hello :)) And what is this British custom of collecting the money from everyone to then go and buy a drink one wants from the collected money?
    Thank you for your post – I feel normal ;))