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American Customs That Will Shock Your Student

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Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Paraguay, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Vietnam.

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Cultural differences are part of the fabric of our values, beliefs and traditions. Knowledge of these variations will help you to understand certain behaviors and avoid cultural misunderstandings.

When your ETC student is showing a different attitude than expected from a teenager in America, she or he may be just acting according to her/his cultural background. 

Let’s review some aspects of American customs that may shock our ETC students! 

American Customs that will Shock your Student

Keeping your shoes on: While you probably think you’re doing the world a favor by keeping your socks under wraps, in most Asian cultures it is expected that you take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. 

Eating anywhere that does not serve food: In Japan, it is considered rude to eat anywhere that isn’t a restaurant, bar or hotel. Eating a banana on the bus? Ice cream outside? All no-nos. 

Touching: Americans are notoriously friendly, but hugging and touching others, even if only on the arm, is offensive in places like China, Thailand and Korea. Respect to personal space varies from country to country. 

Not declining gifts: Americans are quick to accept gifts, favors, and invitations, and often without offering something in return. However, many cultures (like in Japan) expect you to decline things a few times before ultimately accepting them. In China, you’re even expected to refuse a gift three times before accepting it. 

Polishing off your meal: To Americans, finishing a meal shows the host how much they enjoyed the meal. In other countries, like China and Thailand, it signifies that you’re still hungry and that they failed to provide you with enough food. 

Having one hand in your pocket: This is considered arrogant in some Asian countries, like South Korea. 

Opening a present immediately: Most Asian countries, most notably China, tearing into a gift in front of the gift giver is poor form. It looks greedy. 

Laughing with your mouth open: In Japan, laughter that exposes your pearly whites is considered horse-like and impolite – sort of like noisy, open-mouthed eating is considered rude to Americans. 

Tipping:  A contentious issue even here, both over- and under-tipping can quickly make you the least popular person at the table. But in Japan and South Korea tipping is seen as an insult. In those countries, workers feel they are getting paid to do their job, and take pride in doing it well; they don’t need an added incentive.  

Telling people to help themselves: While you think you’re being a host extraordinaire, graciously opening up your home to someone and essentially telling them to feel right at home, in some cultures (like in Asia) this hands-off approach is uncomfortable. To them, hosting guests is a little more involved. 

Asking certain questions: Asking “what do you do” is a common American icebreaker, but is often considered insulting, especially in socialist countries like the Netherlands, where people feel that it’s a way of pigeonholing them, and of being classist. You might as well just ask someone you just met what their salary is. 

Throwing a thumbs up: In a lot of countries, especially in Latin America and Greece, a thumbs up basically has the same meaning as holding up a middle finger does for Americans. 

Calling the USA “America”: In South America, claiming you are from America, rather than the United States, is seen as being politically incorrect, as it implies that only the US should be considered America, and that South America is unworthy of the title. 

Being fashionably late: Americans often make appointments for “around x” or “x-ish.” Being a few minutes late, or as we even call it “fashionably” late, is standard to Americans, but unacceptable in many other countries (like Germany), where leaving people waiting is taken as you thinking your time more valuable than everyone else’s. 

Being on time: On the other hand, many South and Latin American cultures, notably Argentina, would consider it bad form if you showed up to a dinner party right on time, akin to someone arriving an hour early in America. 

Wearing sweatpants, flip flops, wrinkly clothing, or baseball caps in public:Sure “athleisure” (stylish sportswear worn outside of the gym) is a hot new trend in the States, but in most countries, notably Japan and most of Europe, this sort of sloppy appearance is considered disrespectful. 

Altering your meal: In foodie cultures like France, Italy, Spain and Japan, asking for ketchup, hot sauce, soy sauce or salt to alter your meal may raise some eyebrows. Before you ask for a condiment, see if there are any on the tables – if not, you should probably refrain. 

Blowing Your Nose: In countries like China, France and Japan, blowing your nose in public is not only rude, but considered repulsive. 

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