International Etiquette: Being A Guest

published Jul 23, 2008
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One advantage of working with people in Europe and Asia is that we get a different kind of perspective when it comes to etiquette. Despite the universal truths (i.e., Don’t chew with your mouth open, thank your host for the invitation, etc), there’s also potential pitfalls that surprised us. We’ve been inspired to round up a few global etiquette tips below, and feel free to add your own tips or experiences in the comments…

An example: a French co-worker recently came to the States and upon his arrival at our home, he brought a bottle of wine, flowers, and an anxious smile. “This is how you do things in the U.S., yes?” Apparently, it is customary in France to bring flowers. Bringing a bottle of wine could be considered an insult in the form of, “You thought you would have nothing to drink in my home?!”

Here are some helpful tips from Mark McCrum for The

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  • In parts of the Middle East, India, and Africa, it’s normal to eat with your hands…er, actually, just one hand: your right. The left one is considered unclean.
  • In China or Japan, it’s rude to stick your chopsticks straight up in your bowl of rice, as it is considered too close to the action of placing incense sticks during a funeral. Also, feel free to pass on the beano–farting after a meal is a compliment to your host.
  • The giving and receiving of gifts in the Middle East and Asia should be done with either the right hand or bath hands.
  • If you’re thinking about giving flowers to your international host, skip the chrysanthemums which is a reminder of death in many European countries. For that matter, you might want to skip yellow carnations too–in Russia or Iran, yellow flowers are a sign of hatred.
  • The subject of splitting the bill. In China, the very idea of going dutch can be considered rude, especially if your host is a bit older. However, there is the polite insistence (up to three times) of picking the tab up yourself if you’ve been invited to a restaurant. Ultimately, the host will pay, but even suggesting to cover the dessert could be a serious faux pas. How do you show your appreciation to your host? Invite ’em out to dinner at a later date.
  • In Germany, if you are invited to a friend’s home at a specific time, it’s imperative you show up on time. Anything after the 15 minute buffer, and it’s considered rude. The French are wee bit more forgiving on the punctuality, but if your tardiness disrupts the flow of the courses, you may not be invited back.
  • And finally, we had to include this one, although it’s not about etiquette: In Germany, it is customary for individuals who have reached the tender age of 30 and are single to get publicly punished. “Accompanied by their friends, the offenders are taken to a local church, town hall or opera house, where the men are made to sweep the steps while the women have to clean shoe polish-covered door handles. They can only be released from these onerous tasks when kissed by a virgin of the opposite sex, possibly one who may release them from their offensive state of singledom. An all-night party generally follows.”

Got any other tips or stories? Share it with us in the comments!