Laughing with Your Mouth Open
A head-back belly laugh will be taken as a compliment stateside - after all, nobody wants their joke met with a polite chuckle. But laughing with your mouth open and teeth exposed is a social no-no in Japan. They'd rather you zip your lips while laughing.
Opening Gifts in Front of the Giver
Half the fun of giving gifts is watching people open them, right? Wrong, if you're living in many Asian countries. Americans are used to birthday parties and holidays where gift-giving is a shared social activity. But tearing off the wrapping paper in front of the person who gave you the gift is considered greedy and uncouth in some countries. Wait until you get back to the hotel to unwrap your present.
A Firm Handshake
Crossing Your Fingers
Americans often cross their fingers in lieu of saying "I hope so!" It's a sign of good luck. But in Vietnam, crossing one's finger's is a crass gesture that refers to a woman's private parts. Maybe just stick to your lucky rabbit's foot while abroad.
Saying You're from 'America'
Our cultural vanity is such that we've co-opted the name of not one but two entire continents and assigned it to ourselves. That's right - the very word "America" is offensive in most (if not all) South American countries. Don't refer to yourself as an American when you're visiting South America - just tell people you're from the United States.
Giving a Peace Sign
How could a peace sign be seen as rude? Though most people in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia will know what you mean (provided they know you're American), it's probably better to leave this gesture at home while you're visiting. To them, it's the same as flipping someone off (especially when the hand is held with its knuckles facing the person you're trying to give peace to).
Showing Your Soles
Touching Someone's Head
You might not have cause to touch many heads while traveling, but be careful. Even an act as innocent as patting a cute child on his head is considered taboo in countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, and China. Buddhist cultures see the head as the most sacred part of the body - to touch it uninvited is a major social intrusion.
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