18 Things You Should Never Do in Japan, Russia, and 7 Other Countries

When you’re traveling abroad, you probably think you’re out of the woods when you arrive on time and with your luggage in one piece. But you need to be careful about how you conduct yourself, even after you get through airport security and spend hours on the plane. Americans inadvertently do plenty of rude and offensive things when they travel abroad.

Check out some of the things you should never do when you travel to Japan, France, Morocco, and other exciting destinations.

1. Don’t point at people in China

man walking with suitcase traveling abroad

When traveling abroad to unfamiliar countries, make sure you know the proper etiquette. | iStock.com/m-imagephotography

Vogue reports traveling to China sets you up for some major culture shock. “Many of the etiquette taboos with which Americans are indoctrinated seem to go out the window, like: Don’t slurp your soup! Don’t ask personal questions to strangers! And whatever you do, don’t invade someone’s personal space.” A good example? You should never point at someone. Even though the gesture is harmless in the U.S., it’s considered hostile and rude in China. 

2. Don’t try to split the bill in China

Female friends smiling and laughing With Each Other.

In China, you shouldn’t try to split the bill. | iStock.com/bowdenimages

Another custom you’ll need to remember when you visit China? You shouldn’t expect to split the bill when you go out to a restaurant in China. Vogue explains, “One person will pay — usually the most senior person or whoever extended the dinner invitation. And whereas in America it might be polite to do the obligatory fight-over-the-bill scramble, this is unacceptable in China. If it is clear who the host is, don’t try to pay — it’s offensive.” The only exception would be if you’re in a group of friends your own age. In that case, splitting the bill might be acceptable.  

3. Don’t pour your own wine in France

pouring red wine into a glass

In France, you should never pour your own wine. | iStock.com

Condé Nast Traveler reports among certain Americans, “France has a prickly reputation.” After all, the country’s language gave us the words etiquette and faux pas. But “getting along in this ancient European culture is relatively simple” if you play by the rules. One of the most surprising? You should never pour your own glass of wine at a restaurant. Wait for the server to pour it. If you find yourself at a dinner party, your host will pour the wine for you. If you don’t want more, don’t finish your glass. And if you attend a dinner party, always arrive 15 minutes late and never bring a bottle of wine. 

4. Don’t talk loudly in France

smiling young woman at a cafe table

In France, you shouldn’t speak too loudly in public. | iStock.com/jacoblund

Another rule to keep in mind when you visit France, whether on vacation or for business? You shouldn’t speak loudly in public. Condé Nast Traveler reports doing so is regarded as an “‘ugly American’ trait.” You shouldn’t shout into your cellphone. In fact, you should silence it when you’re in public or with company. Additionally, you should try to avoid taking up too much space in public. Carry a smaller bag if you can.

5. Don’t eat with your left hand in India

Indian food

In India, you should only eat with your right hand. | iStock.com

A trip to India can quickly feel overwhelming, both because of the chaotic streets and the numerous social rules you’ll need to follow. Condé Nast Traveler reports when you sit down to a meal in India, you should never eat with your left hand. You should use your left hand only to hold your drink or to pass food to others. Only use your right hand to tear the chapati (flatbread). And before every meal, you should wash your hands.

6. Don’t call businesses in India

young female worried by what she sees on cell phone

In India, many businesses would prefer that you text, not call. | iStock.com/nandyphotos

Another interesting etiquette tip Condé Nast Traveler says visitors to India should keep in mind? Most small businesses are run with cellphones. But many business owners prefer that you text them instead of calling them. In fact, some will be surprised if you first contact them via a phone call instead of sending a text. When in doubt, send a text message. 

7. Don’t tip in Japan

Japanese ramen soup with chicken, egg, chives

When you eat at a restaurant in Japan, don’t leave a tip. | iStock.com/tbralnina

Japanese culture can feel equally welcoming and inscrutable, according to Lonely Planet. Most travelers know you should bow politely when you meet someone. And they’re also aware you should remove your shoes when you enter a private home or a temple. But did you know even when you get great service at a restaurant in Japan, you should never leave a tip? “There is no custom of tipping in Japan. Leaving a little extra cash on the table at a restaurant will often result in a waiter chasing you down the street to give it back.”

8. Don’t talk on your phone on Japanese public transportation

beautiful girl posing in the train with phone

On Japanese public transit, don’t talk loudly on your phone. | iStock.com/Marjan_Apostolovic

Another interesting rule you should remember to follow when you visit Japan? You should never talk on your phone when you’re on a train or a bus in the country. Lonely Planet reports, “It’s considered rude to speak on your mobile phone while on trains and buses, and announcements encourage travelers to switch phones to silent mode. People also tend not to speak loudly when traveling on public transport, so as not to disturb fellow passengers.”

9. Don’t talk about ‘America’ in Mexico

Three happy friends talking and drinking coffee

You shouldn’t refer to the United States as “America” when you’re in Mexico. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

According to the SFGate, “Everyday Mexican customs can feel just as foreign as Español to a U.S. traveler — and can present a potential minefield of embarrassment.” One of the most interesting things to keep in mind when you visit Mexico is you shouldn’t refer to citizens of the United States as “Americans” or even “North Americans.” (The term “North America” includes Mexico and Canada, as well.) The publication advises, “If you can’t work in ‘I’m from the United States (or California),’ then ‘U.S. American’ will work.”

10. Don’t smoke during a meal in Mexico

Man smoking a cigarette

In Mexico, you shouldn’t smoke during a meal. | iStock.com/Minerva Studio

Many people know in Mexico, you’ll have to ask the waiter for the check. He won’t just give it to you, for fear of making you feel like he’s rushing you out the door. But speaking of restaurants, you should know it’s common to smoke in restaurants — but never during a meal. SFGate explains, “Lighting up is acceptable only after the plates have been cleared.” And keep in mind Mexicans don’t split the bill. If you’re dining with a Mexican, either “pay the whole bill or keep quiet.” 

11. Don’t wear revealing clothing in Morocco

Man wearing white clothes posing in sea scenery

In Morocco, you should dress conservatively except for when you’re at the beach. | iStock.com/Kiuikson

Frommer’s reports though Morocco is a Muslim and conservative country, Moroccans understand Western culture. But you shouldn’t take advantage of their tolerance and dress disrespectfully. “Travelers will be treated with undoubtedly higher respect by all Moroccans if dressed conservatively.” Men should wear a collared shirt or a T-shirt with long pants or jeans. You should only wear running shorts, sleeveless shirts, and beachwear on the beach or when playing sports. Women should wear loose pants, short-sleeve shirts, or even a full-length Moroccan robe. Frommer’s recommends “classy over revealing” when choosing your wardrobe for a trip to Morocco. 

12. Don’t photograph the interior of a mosque in Morocco

Koutoubia mosque, Marrakech, Morocco

In Morocco, you shouldn’t photograph the interior of a mosque. | iStock.com/mmeee

We all love taking photos when we go on vacation. But Frommer’s advises that you should always show respect when you’re near a mosque. “Photographing a mosque is usually acceptable, so long as you’re not too close or appear to be photographing the interior. You may be invited to come closer, but it’s best to wait for this.” Other subjects that are off-limits to amateur photographers in Morocco? Border checkpoints, military, police, and airport installations. 

13. Don’t use your car horn in Norway

Driving on a rural road

When you drive in Norway, you should never honk the horn. | iStock.com/ BrianAJackson

Depending on where you live in the United States, you might be used to honking the car horn to express your frustration with fellow drivers. But TripAdvisor reports in Norway, you should never use the car horn. In fact, Norwegians only use the car horn in an emergency. And TripAdvisor warns that “abuse is an offense.” Other traffic violations that might get you in trouble with the police? Failing to keep your headlights on, neglecting to yield to pedestrians at intersections without traffic lights, and making risky maneuvers to pass other cars. 

14. Don’t shout or whistle for a taxi in Norway

woman going on business trip

When you need to catch a taxi in Norway, don’t shout for one. | iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

If you choose to travel by taxi instead of driving in Norway, TripAdvisor notes Norwegians consider it rude to shout or whistle for a taxi. And “drivers are likely to ignore you if you do.” Instead, you should wave your hand or phone at the taxi, or simply walk up to one that has a lighted sign on its roof. If you take a bus or another form of public transportation, it’s unusual to say “excuse me” to someone who’s blocking your exit or seat. You should grunt, shuffle, or clear your throat to get their attention instead. 

15. Don’t give a firm handshake in the Philippines


When in the Philippines, don’t greet people with a firm handshake. | iStock.com

In the United States, most people prefer a firm handshake. But the opposite is true in the Philippines. Fodor’s reports, “Men and women shake hands with everyone present at any gathering, both on arrival and departure.” That sounds easy enough. But don’t count on your usual handshake to do the trick. The publication warns when you’re meeting Filipinos, “Handshakes should be limp, not firm.”

16. Don’t eat all the food on your plate in the Philippines

riends Enjoying Evening Meal In Restaurant

When you eat out in the Philippines, don’t finish everything on your plate. | iStock.com/bowdenimages

Fodor’s also has a word of advice for travelers who eat out at restaurants in the Philippines. You shouldn’t expect people to arrive on time when you schedule a dinner together. In fact, Fodor’s explains, “Filipinos are relaxed about time and are usually late for appointments.” Another custom you should keep in mind when you meet friends at a restaurant? You should never finish all of the food you’ve been served. Instead, “leaving a small amount of food on your plate shows you have had enough.”

17. Don’t smile at strangers in Russia

businessman with headphones travelling to work

When traveling in Russia, don’t smile at strangers. | iStock.com/Halfpoint

The Atlantic reports, “Grinning without cause is not a skill Russians possess or feel compelled to cultivate. There’s even a Russian proverb that translates, roughly, to ‘laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity.‘” The society doesn’t encourage casual smiling. And psychologists have determined Russians associate smiling with a lack of intelligence. NPR reports Russians think “the American smile” is insincere. Smiles in Russia are personal and intimate, exchanged only between family and friends. So if you smile at strangers in Russia, you might make them feel uncomfortable or suspicious about your intentions (or intelligence). 

18. Don’t be too familiar in Russia

friends drinking beer together

When in Russia, you shouldn’t get overly friendly. | iStock.com

As you might imagine after learning Russians don’t casually smile at strangers, you might want to avoid being too friendly when you visit Russia. Condé Nast Traveler explains, “One thing to control is an American’s natural tendency to go straight into personal topics like family, upbringing, and education.” Most Russians would prefer you don’t get so friendly or familiar too quickly.