When in Rome do as Romans do

In another thread Groin said something about greeting in China:

And I thought that it would be nice to share this kind of usages and situations since here we have people from many different places and also people which visited many countries.

I just don’t know how to start this.

In another thread we were discussing whether people uses a spoon to eat spaghetti.
All that kind of stuff that is related to culture and places and habits.

How people blow their noses, how they put their trousers on, if they piss standing or sitting (*), if they know what’s a “bidet” and so on :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

So, do you have some funny or interesting tale on this subject?

(*) this reminds me a funny video by Steve Mould which I’ll definitely share in another thread


I’m reminded of one story, about a Nigerian pastor who had travelled to England to meet his counterparts in the ongoing church twinning program.

At the “house reception”, he was given a cup of tea, which he complained was too strong – he apparently wanted it very weak – and “sent back carelessly”. It seems he had violated hospitality etiquette by not either manning up and drinking the tea or else adding some sort of niceties.

In the West, if you’re given a cup of tea, it’s ofc taboo to say directly “This is no good, take it away.” or suchlike. Anyway, apparently they were all very offended and the gossip of how rude this Nigerian was spread around the parish.


In Italy we don’t have school uniform unless in some very exclusive boarding school.
Our tradition is to use a sort of dust coat for children up to middle school, blue for kids and pink for girls but we are losing it: my 6yo daughter doesn’t use it. My 12yo daughter used it at elementary school for a couple years.

Changing topic, in my recent English studies payed by my company they were talking about involuntary rudeness when abroad.
An example was touching women in Arabic countries (such as offering to shake hands) which most people here already know.
Another quite funny example was about Thailand (IIRC), were people could be very upset if you show them the sole of your shoes. This looked quite weird to me.

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It’s strangely enough quite hard to describe this for your own country, as I’m not sure what’s weird that’s normal in other places.

I think the major thing that may be weird to foreigners in the Netherlands is our blatant and sometimes rude honesty. Like, when somebody is wearing an ugly shirt, people will tell them it’s an ugly shirt.
Generally we don’t use polite speech unless it’s in a strictly business setting.

Like, this wouldn’t be much of a problem in the Netherlands, I think…

We’re supposed to be frugal, but I don’t really see that apply to myself. Going Dutch on the bill is definitely a Dutch thing, though.

As for Japan, some things that I found unusual:

Never wear your shoes inside a house. There’s a slight raising of the floor to indicate that you should take your shoes off. Inside a house, you’re supposed to wear slippers. This is true even for some restaurants. Also, leave umbrellas at the entrance of a store.

People bow instead of shaking hands, kissing or hugging, even among good friends. Also, people bow deeper to show more respect, and often it becomes a bit of a competition where people bow several times in answer to the other people’s bow to not appear arrogant.

Slurping while eating noodles is not considered rude. In fact, it’s considered a bit weird if you don’t make any sound. I’ve seen people slurping while eating spaghetti as well.

Always stand in line for anything. That includes when waiting for the bus / train. For trains, there’s markings on the ground where the doors will appear. Often there’s different marks for different trains (triangle for the rapid train, circle for the stop train, etc), so make sure you’re lining up for the right marking.

You can be (what I would consider) rude to the waiter, calling them over loudly with a “sumimasen” and ordering without saying “please”. In return, they will speak a completely different language to you, where most common verbs are replaced by highly respectful forms.

Everyone brings their garbage with them: there’s no litter on the streets. There’s also a distinct lack of garbage bins, even in train stations. If you have garbage, find a convenience store to throw away the trash. Also, trash is sorted, so cans / PET are separate from general plastic, or paper. The bins next to drink vending machines are only meant for cans and PET, so don’t throw general garbage in them (this was pointed out to me once :stuck_out_tongue: )

In general don’t break any rules, however silly they may be. People usually won’t tell you it’s wrong, but they will watch you like you’ve offended them personally. Things like this are crossing the street without a green traffic light, talking loudly on the train, skipping lines or not bringing your garbage with you.


I think the major thing that may be weird to foreigners in the Netherlands is our blatant and sometimes rude honesty. Like, when somebody is wearing an ugly shirt, people will tell them it’s an ugly shirt.

I’ve heard the same thing about other “full-blooded” Germanic cultures as well, eg. in the Nordic countries.

There’s also a distinct lack of garbage bins

That reminds me of London, although there the motivation, I believe, is counter-terrorism (bin bombs).

Same in Japan.

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On 6 July 2018, after exhausting all appeals, Asahara and six followers were executed as a punishment for the 1995 attacks and other crimes

Interesting, I didn’t know that Japan had the death penalty.

I think it’s only used for serial murderers.

(Personally I think even then capital punishment isn’t good)

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They apparently do it by hanging, which is how civilian executions were carried out in the UK (the last execution in the UK was in 1964).

… Let’s steer away from this conversation.

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This is true in India too. Feet are not a noble part of body and I saw people fighting or insulting each other, starting by throwing their shoes to the feet of their opponent.
In China too it’s ok to be noisy when eating. It’s usual to drink and wish something for others. Then. You get up every one get up you tell your wish and then everyone drink his glass. If you said gambei everyone will show that his glass is empty and then everyone sit down. That can happen many times and you may go invite some people at another table too.


This is quite an interesting topic. :slight_smile:

I have not stayed abroad much, so the only things I can add is what I have noticed about tourists here.

a) Wearing sandals and (white) socks in Greece immediately brands you as a tourist. No local ever does that on pain of much ridicule. Either you wear sandals with bare feet OR shoes with socks. Anything else is just funny.
b) As a tourist in Greece you should always ignore the locals and their non-chalance about the sun. The sun is dangerous, wear sunscreen and a hat. The locals are either used to it or pretend to not mind. This is starting to go away, with helicopter parents here slathering their kids with sunscreen even to go for a small walk, but if you are over 25 years old in Greece you have probably never worn sunscreen, unless it is 14:00 at the beach and you are starting to bake.
c) You can tell the Greeks from the tourists in a tavern, just by looking at the table. It is traditional here to eat a lot when going out. Foreigners, even on vacations, usually eat for sustenance. Greeks eat for fun.
d) One thing you should never do in Greece is wave at someone with your hand, while your fingers are wide open. That is called “mountza”/“faskelo” and it originates iirc from the Byzantine empire era, where a judge would smear someone’s face with ash, while having an open palm.
e) Stand in the middle of a town square or some other crowded place e.g. a beach, shout “re malakaaaa” and enjoy while 70% of the Greeks turn their heads to check if you are referring to them :rofl:
f) Locals used to be very shy of using photographing equipment, before the advent of smartphones. It was considered as “a lame thing for tourists”
g) In Greek outdoors taverns there are always stray cats and dogs. Usually the owners shoo them away, but they always return. Feel free to toss them any bones/leftovers.
h) Also, there are a lot of peddlers that might stop by while you are eating and try to sell you minor stuff (pens, handkerchiefs, flashlights etc). Feel free to politely ignore them. If they get annoying, call the waiter instead of engaging with them. My policy is to buy stuff from them if, and only if, they seem honest, but that’s hard to tell if you are not local.
i) You do not have to tip the waiters. You can if you want to. Most people just leave the change (e.g. if the bill is 19 euros, you give 20 euros and say “we are ok/fine” or “keep the change”) and that is considered quite the appropriate amount. You should be polite to waiters, though, unless the waiter is a jackass in which case get up and leave, now, even if you ordered. A tavern that employs a moron for a waiter, never has good food.
j) There are taverns that have “criers” that stand outside and “advertise”. Avoid those places like the plague. No local goes there, so you shouldn’t either.
k) On public transport and ships, you will see locals put their feet on another nearby seat, but rarely on a table. A local would rather place their feet on their baggage, than the table. So, avoid the feet on the table idea, no matter how perfectly placed a table might be.
l) The only Greeks with round-rimmed hats, are hunters on a mountain. If you are wearing a round hat, chances are you are not local.
m) Locals not in big cities almost always say good-day and good-by when entering/leaving shops. Usually in a relaxed way. If you do not want to be immediately recognised as a “fresh tourist” it is a good idea to adopt some “entering the shop” swag.
n) Past a certain age, Greek males will NEVER wear shorts. 40+ male with shorts == Tourist … I have no clue why, but it is what it is. My guess? It is considered undignified for their age. Again, do not follow the local idiocy. If you are feeling warm, in a blistering Greek summer, just wear shorts.

A “funny” story about the last one and a combination of some of the others.
It was late June and I was in front of an announcement board, inside a building, right underneath a staircase looking for grades announcements for my university exams. With the side of my eyes I realise that someone is standing over me. I take a side look and it is tall, bulky, 40+ year old man, with a huge backpack, wearing a round-rimmed hat, huge sunglasses, a tight T-shirt and short tight pants, with white socks and cargo boots. You cannot get more tourist than that! :thinking:
I thought that the fellow was probably lost, but how did he get in the middle of the campus, which was in the middle of nowhere, and in that particular building spot. A mystery.
So, I ask in English “Excuse me, are you lost?”
And he replied in Greek “No, I am quite fine.”

I recognised the voice then and the cowface behind those ridiculous hat and sunglasses combo indoors. It was a professor we had, that was Greek-american, dressed like a Lara Croft cosplayer while trying to go backpacking, damn him. :rofl:


We have a book:


An interesting topic. First some responses:
—The insult about the sole of the shoe, or shoes generally, is widespread in the Middle East and other places.
—The bidet mystery is a prominent joke in the movie Crocodile Dundee.
—Noisy eating is polite in many places because it is regarded as a compliment to the food and therefore to the hospitality. Quiet eating I associate with Puritanism and a certain repressive strain in Western culture generally. This extends to rambunctious versus quiet table manners, How Green Was My Valley, book and movie, has a memorable line about how they always ate in silence because the father said, “No conversation was better than good food.”
—That same repressed quality comes out in the historical reluctance in some parts of the U.S. to complain about something, especially in restaurants. You are not supposed to “make a scene.” This has obviously weakened in the last 50 years, although ironically it is more dangerous to do so today. Many restaurants are notoriously hostile to lone customers. I’ve walked out on two occasions, after drinking he water and ruffling the place setting. The traditional response to bad service is to leave a nickel tip.

Back n the day, when many English and Australian fans came to the World SF Convention in North America (Torcon I, maybe), I first learned from one of them that they thought pancakes for breakfast was weird, as they considered pancakes as strictly a desert.

One of my father’s favorite stories about his experiences during the occupation of Japan, was when he was unsure of his route when at a crossroads. He asked a passerby whether this direction was the way to such-and-such, and got a positive response, but there was something in it that seemed uncertain, so he waited and then asked another person, who acted in the same odd way. Then he thought to rephrase the question, “Which way is it to such-and-such.” It was the other way. It was impolite for them to disagree when he had suggested a particular direction. Not sure if this was particular to the interaction with occupiers or whether it was a traditional aspect of culture.

The United States is so large and diverse that there are different folkways in various regions and localities, although modernity is beginning to flatten such differences. (My best friend and his neighbors lamented the building of a McDonalds on the nearby 2-lane highway.) In rural areas especially in the South and West, you should make vigorous efforts to announce yourself when approaching an isolated house. If you are in a country store high in the Rockies, don’t be alarmed if someone walks in with a pistol on their hip and carrying a rifle, they are just visiting their local gunsmith, who doubles as a storekeeper. When in various bad areas, especially in the inner city, never look at anyone directly—at the least you are calling attention to yourself and at the worst it is regarded as a challenge or an insult (you are judging them).

Dogs are revered in many parts of the U.S., especially in rural areas, where they serve as outstanding guardians against prowlers and nuisance critters (bears, bobcats, etc.). In some parts of the world, of course, dogs have a low reputation.

Finally, if you want to excite paranoia on this topic, see The Wicker Man, a cult film, or read Richard Matheson’s classic story about “out-of-towners,” “The Children of Noah”:

SpoilerA small town in Maine has a speed trap, and they cannibalize the violators. Now you know where Stephen King got his inspiration.

I first learned from one of them that they thought pancakes for breakfast was weird, as they considered pancakes as strictly a desert.

In England, we also have “Pancake Day” on Shrove Tuesday, when pancakes can be eaten for any meal. This is, ofc, a feast tradition marking the start of Lent.

In my experience, these are the “English pancakes”, which are like very thick crepes, which are similarly rolled in tubes, rather than the small, round American stack pancakes.

Aside from Pancake Day, I’d say that pancakes can be either sweet or savoury in England. As a savoury dish, they’re often filled with chicken, sweetcorn, and a cream sauce, or ham and cheese. This might just be my more personal experience though.


Pancakes for breakfast is weird. Pancakes as desert is also weird. Pancakes are totally fine as lunch or dinner; Dutch eat pancakes, often with savory toppings like cheese, ham, bacon and/or onion, but also with apple, syrup or sugar.

We have restaurants where all menu items are pancakes. Many of those are on boats.

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Lemon juice and sugar?

That’s the classic for me.

I used to go for bacon, cheese & stoop (Dutch syrup usually eaten on pancakes) and bake them whenever I was hungry at night, but lately it has become cheese & stroop in an effort to bring down my meat consumption.

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As a kid I was all about drowning them in maple syrup… but now sugar and lemon juice is my go to every time :slight_smile:

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