Hospitality and Manners Around the World

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From country to country, manners and etiquette vary based on cultural beliefs and customs. This page will outline some of the customs of countries around the world.

Africa

Senegal – In Senegal, greeting are ritualized and extended. It’s considered rude to jump right to the main point of discussion without asking how the other person and his/her family is doing. Their conversation style is indirect and direct eye contact is usually avoided.

When invited to a meal, it’s customary to bring a small gift. Guests should wait to be seated and should not eat until the oldest male does. People often eat from a communal bowl, using only their right hands. It’s polite for a person to not eat all the food that has been offered to him/her.

Kenya – In Kenya, it’s considered polite to greet someone by their formal title or honorific, not their first name, until one is familiar enough with that person. Handshakes are the most common kind of greeting. Kenyans who are Muslim may or may not shake hands with members of the opposite sex.

When dining, it’s important to wash one’s hands before and after a meal. Washing basins are used in certain homes. Since second helpings are usually offered, it’s advisable to take a smaller first portion. Turning down the second portion could be considered rude. It’s polite to eat all that is on one’s plate.

Libya – In Libya, handshakes last longer than they do in America, as extended pleasantries are exchanged. Smiles and brief eye contact are the norm. When entering someone’s home, it’s polite to see if one should remove one’s shoes. When there are multiple people in a household, it’s polite to greet the eldest people first.

When eating at someone’s home, a short prayer is said before the meal. Even if one is not religious it’s polite to observe the custom. Libyans only eat with their right hand; guest should do the same. If offered coffee or tea, accept the beverage. Libyans will offer you more food, even if you are full. It’s polite to leave a little bit.

Egypt – In Egypt, when invited to someone’s home, it’s polite to dress nicely, as appearances are important there. It’s considered good taste to bring a small gift for the lady of the house and to compliment the host on their home.

When dining, it’s polite to take a second helping, but hosts will keep putting food on one’s plate if it’s empty; therefore, its good form to leave a little bit of food on the plate at the end of the meal. One should always eat with their right hand and applying salt to one’s food implies that it wasn’t prepared properly.

Nigeria – In Nigeria, it’s polite to bow one’s head when meeting someone that is clearly older. Advanced age bestows upon people rank and respect. As some of the population is Muslim, men may or may not shake women’s hands. If they do, they will usually wait until the woman has extended her hand first.

When invited to someone’s home, it’s polite to bring a gift for the host. A gift for their children is also a sign of class. If giving a gift to a woman, a man should state that it comes from his wife, mother, or sister – never himself.

Morocco – In Morocco, there is a concept called hshuma, which means “shameful”. Above all, Moroccans believe in honor and respect and they equate their sense of honor to how others perceive them. As a result, there are certain acts, like blowing one’s nose in public, smoking, or not removing one’s shoes that are considered taboo.

When dining, food is often served out of a communal bowl. It’s impolite to reach into parts of the bowl that are not directly in front of you. If you are a guest, you will have choice selections of the meal placed in your part of the bowl. Washing bowls are provided at the beginning and ends of the meal; people often eat without utensils.

Middle East

Saudi Arabia – In Saudi Arabia, natives are usually devout Muslims, and as a result pray five times a day. Since Friday is the Holy Day, businesses are closed and it is considered rude to discuss business. When invited to someone’s home, a small gift is acceptable, but it should never be alcohol as devout Muslims abstain from it.

When dining in Saudi Arabia, men and women eat separately. Meals are a relatively quiet affair; there is not much talking during meals. Meals have many dishes, and it’s polite to try a little bit of everything. Sometimes meals are eaten on the floor; in these cases, one should cross their legs while eating.

Iran – In Iran, when invited to a social event, it’s rude to show up late. Punctuality is expected. When arriving at a host’s home greet and shake everyone’s hand individually. Wait to be told where to sit. It’s polite to bring a gift, but it’s considered proper to downplay its cost or significance and apologize for its shortcomings. This is part of their tradition of taarof, which is overt politeness and humbleness. Iranians will usually feign protest over compliments and downplay their achievements.

When dining, it’s considered taarof to first reject their offer of food; this is a formality. After further insistence on the host’s part, it’s acceptable to take what they offer. Second and third helpings are usually offered, because Iranians consider it taarof to be very generous to their guests. One should still be polite and refuse their offer; they will just insist further anyway. A little bit of food should be left on the plate at the end of the meal to show that one is full and that the host has offered one enough food.

Iraq – In Iraq, a handshake with moderate levels of eye contact and a smile is the most common form of greeting. At a small gathering, if one is a guest, one will usually be introduced individually by the host to others. At large gatherings, it’s acceptable to introduce oneself on a case by case basis.

Iraqi’s like to invite other people to their homes for meals. When entering a host’s home, one should check if people remove their shoes at the home. It’s considered polite to dress conservatively and in poor taste to discuss business at the dinner table. Small gifts are polite, but should be offered with two hands. Gifts aren’t opened right away when received and Iraqi’s do not consider this to be rude.

Kuwait – In Kuwait, greetings are usually between members of the same sex. They are rather formal and circuitous; it’s considered impolite to not ask about the other person and his/her family, health, business, etc.

When eating at a host’s home, meals are served family style. The guest will usually be served first, followed by the oldest members of the family, working downward in age. Like many other countries, it’s impolite to eat with the left hand. When the host stands up or leaves the table, the meal is considered over.

Lebanon – In Lebanon, greetings often mix in French customs, such as three kisses alternating on both cheeks. They enjoy having guests in their home and view it as an honor. When visiting a host, it’s polite to bring a small gift. Flowers are always acceptable; a sweet dish or dessert is acceptable if invited over for a meal.

It’s considered rude to talk about business, religion, or politics at the table. Table manners are similar to European ones: knives are held in the right hand and forks are held in the left, and forks are not switched from hand to hand.

Israel – In Israel, greetings are usually “Shalom” along with a normal handshake. Orthodox Jewish men and women, however, do not usually shake hands with members of the opposite sex. It is not polite to point with the fingers; motioning with the whole hand is acceptable.

When invited to someone’s home, it’s polite to bring a modest gift such as candy or flowers. A unique gift from the guest’s home country is always classy, as it makes the host feel more cosmopolitan in their relationships.

Asia

China – In China, greetings to guests usually include handshakes. Chinese society can be quite formal, so it is considered appropriate to greet the oldest person in a room first. People prefer to be addressed by their title or honorific first before being called by their first name; calling someone by their first name is a sign of a close relationship.

When invited to a meal at someone’s home, it’s appropriate to bring a gift, but it should not be flowers as the Chinese associate them mostly with funerals. Four is an unlucky number in Chinese culture, so four items to the gift should be avoided. When eating, use chopsticks and hold the food dish close to your mouth to avoid spilling or splashing. In Chinese culture, slurping one’s food isn’t considered rude; it’s a sign that one is enjoying their meal.

Japan – In Japan, there is a concept of “face”, which means honor or reputation. Above all, the Japanese seek to save face and strive to never cause another person to lose face in a situation. As a result, they are very polite and formal. Direct rejections of requests are rare; to save face, a Japanese person would imply noncommittal to the request but would not directly say no.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s important that one bows to the host, as this is the formal, traditional greeting in Japan. The longer and deeper the bow, the more respect one shows to one’s host. Gifts are considered appropriate and need not be expensive, but should not be white flowers, as they are associated with funerals and death. Odd numbers are considered lucky, so an odd number (other than 9) of items to the gift is better than an even number. When dining, chopsticks are used, but they should always be placed back in their special rest when talking, in between bites, or when finished eating. Do not put chopsticks in an empty bowl. In Japan, there is minimal conversation while dining.

Cambodia – In Cambodia, the society is collectivist, meaning they value harmonious relations among the family and group above the individual. To maintain that harmony, conversation styles are indirect and utilize a lot of subtle body language. Honor and respect are important, reflected in their traditional greeting: the bow.

When invited to someone’s home for a meal, it’s appropriate to bring a small gift, but it shouldn’t be a knife or blade; this is symbolic of “cutting ties” with someone. When dining, the oldest person in the group is the first to sit and the first to eat. It is considered poor taste to discuss business matters while eating or other social situations.

Russia – In Russia, society is typically collectivist in nature. It is not considered rude to intervene in a conversation or one’s affairs if it is done so for the benefit of the larger group. Greetings are firm handshakes or hugs for males, alternating kisses on the cheek for females.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s appropriate to give a gift. If one is a male, it’s polite to bring flowers. Russian culture dictates that first offer of the gift be refused; this is just a sign of being polite. Further insistence of the gift will usually be accepted. When dining, it’s rude to put one’s elbows on the table. To show that the host has offered enough food, it’s important to leave a little bit of food on one’s plate at the end of the meal.

India – In India, they traditionally used the caste system in society, which creates clear hierarchies in social relationships. Even though the caste system is not used as much today, the legacy of hierarchies still remain. Therefore, it’s very important to show older or more experienced individuals the proper amount of respect. Indians do not like to say “no” directly. They may give an ambiguous or uncommitted response rather than a rejection; these types of responses should be evaluated in other contexts, like body language and/or facial expressions.

When invited to someone’s home, it’s polite to bring a gift, but it should not be white flowers, as they are associated with funerals. Most Indians practice Hinduism, so leather goods should be avoided; some are Muslim, so pork products and alcohol should be too. When dining, most Indians are vegetarians and may not offer or eat any meat products. If you are offered a drink, it’s polite to turn it down the first time, but upon further insistence, you can accept it. Indians commonly eat with their fingers and leaving a bit of food on one’s plate at the end of the meal is a sign that one is full and has been given enough food by one’s host.

Pakistan – In Pakistan, society is very hierarchal; prestige is often given because of age or rank. The oldest person in a group is usually greeted, introduced, and served first in social situations. The oldest or most experienced person is also usually expected to make decisions for the group.

If invited to someone’s home, a gift is polite, but a man should not give a woman flowers and alcohol should be avoided entirely; most of Pakistan is Muslims and abstains from alcohol. When dining, many people, especially in nonurban areas, eat without utensils. One should observe and emulate the behavior of others to determine what is appropriate. Hosts will commonly offer second and third helpings; they will interpret initial rejections of food as being polite.

Thailand – In Thailand, the common greeting is a bow with the hands joined together at the palm and raised to the chest. The greeting is called the wai. The deeper and longer the bow, the more respect one shows to another. Buddhism is the main religion there and since it preaches nonviolence and harmony, conflict and arguing are avoided at all costs.

If invited to someone’s home, it polite to bring a small gift, although the colors blue, green, and black should be avoided; they are the colors of mourning. When entering someone’s home, check to see if people take off their shoes. When dining, meals are usually served buffet style and one can eat right after being served. To show one has had enough to eat, it’s polite to leave a little bit of food on the plate at the end of the meal.

Europe

France – In France, the family is the most important social unit. As such, much of French tradition and interactions revolve around the importance of the family. They are also private by nature and are their friendliest and most intimate mainly with close family and friends.

When dining, it’s important to send flowers to the host beforehand so the flowers can be displayed at the meal. The French take pride in their wine so if bringing a bottle, it should be of the highest quality one can reasonably afford. Meals begin when the host or hostess says Bon Appetit, which means “good appetite”. Unlike many other cultures, one should eat all that has been put on one’s plate. However, one should not finish their wine unless they want another glass, which one will most likely be offered.

Germany – In Germany, they pride themselves on their careful planning and precision. Careful and deliberate use of one’s time is considered to be important. As such, being late or taking too long to complete a task suggests thoughtlessness, which can be interpreted as rude. If one must be late, it’s important to call ahead of time. The Germans use rather formal titles, calling males Herr and females Frau.

When invited to a home or meal, it’s polite to bring a bottle of wine or a small gift. Table manners are continental; diners do not switch forks from one hand to another while eating. It’s considered rude to put one’s elbows on the dinner table and one should wait until one’s host has put his/her napkin on his/her lap before doing the same.

Italy – In Italy, the family is the most basic and most important social unit. Loyalty to and respect for the family trumps all other obligations and relationships. Italians also have a concept called bella figura, which means “good image.” How one dresses and presents oneself is very important in Italian culture. First impressions may be permanent ones, and people assess one’s education and social standing by their appearance and manners.

When dining, wait until the hostess sits to be seated. If a toast is offered by the toast, it is polite for the guest to offer another toast later, before the meal ends. It’s acceptable to leave a bit of food on the plate at the end of the meal to show one is full and has been offered enough. One should leave their wine glass mostly full if they don’t want another glass.

England – In England, greetings usually consist of brief handshakes; contact such as hugs and kisses is generally avoided. Slouching is considered poor taste and good posture is valued. British culture can be very reserved and stoic; excessive displays of emotion are not as common in other countries.

When invited to someone’s home, it’s considered polite to bring a small gift. If a gentleman is wearing a hat, he should always remove it indoors. Table manners are continental; diners do not switch forks from one hand to another. Conversation can occur while dining, but it should business and controversial topics like politics and religion.

Spain – In Spain, people meeting each other for the first time normally shake hands. After a relationship has been established, men may pat each other on the shoulder and females may kiss one another on the cheek. Spain traditionally had a culture of machismo, or male-centered life. Although that is eroding more and more, in older generations, it is still present.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s appropriate to bring a small gift, perhaps a bottle of wine. Wait to be shown to your seat and wait until the host or hostess begins eating before you do. The host may make a toast at the meal; it’s considered polite to return the toast later on in the meal. Unlike in other cultures, is not poor taste for women to make toasts.

Ireland – In Ireland, greetings are usually a handshake and normal levels of eye contact imply trust and truthfulness. The Irish are well known for their humor and the “gift of gab”, so extended, friendly chatter is common, even with strangers. However, the Irish have a long history of conflict with religion and politics, so it’s best that these topics are avoided.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s polite to bring a gift and it need not be expensive. If flowers are given, they should not be white, as they are associated with funerals and death. When dining, manners are relatively informal, but it’s considered rude to eat with your elbows on the table. Manners are also continental; diners do not switch forks from one hand to another.

Sweden – In Sweden, key characteristics of society are humility, equality, and moderation. They are rather subdued in their behavior and avoid flashiness, bragging, and any behavior taken to the extreme. They are practical by nature and try to avoid overt displays of emotion, both positive and negative. They are very polite and perceive not saying “thank-you” or “you’re welcome” as slightly rude.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s considered rude to be early or late; punctuality is expected. Swedes are very private in nature, so they will most likely not give tours of their home other than the dining or sitting areas. It’s not polite to take the last helping of anything during a meal, and while toasts can be offered by guests, it should never be to someone older than he or she is.

Holland (The Netherlands) – In Holland, greetings are usually brief handshakes accompanied with a smile. The Dutch tend to be practical, conservative, and disciplined. They prefer to be prepared and pay attention to details. They are private by nature and do not disclose feelings or personal matters much, certainly never with strangers.

If invited to someone’s home for a meal, it’s polite to bring a small gift. Chocolates are always acceptable, but wine is not. It implies the host or hostess hasn’t chosen or supplied a wine with the meal. Guests should wait to be seated and should always clear their plate. It’s not polite to leave food on your plate – it’s considered wasteful.

Greece – In Greece, greetings between strangers consist of handshakes with normal eye contact. Between friend, hugs or slaps on the shoulder are common. The Greeks pride themselves on their culture and contributions to art, literature, and other areas. Because the Greek Orthodox Church plays a big role in society and Greece has endured many conflicts, its best to avoid religion or politics in conversation.

If invited to a home for a meal, it’s common to be “socially late”, usually by 15 to 30 minutes; this isn’t seen as rude. A gift is polite, but gift giving is often reciprocal. Presenting an expensive or ornate gift puts a burden on the receiver to return it. When dining, wait to be seated and the oldest person is usually served first. Wait to eat until after the host or hostess does. People tend to share food and eat off of one another’s plate. It’s expected that you eat everything put on your plate.

Norway – In Norway, society is very egalitarian; people are treated as equals and humility is a virtue. It’s considered poor taste to talk excessively about oneself and to boast or brag. Even individuals who are wealthy tend to dress and act plainly and avoid ostentation. Greetings are brief and firm handshakes accompanied with a smile and eye contact.

If invited to someone’s house in Norway, it’s important to show up on time. Punctuality is expected and being late is considered rude. A small gift is appropriate, and flowers are usually well received, provided they are lilies or white flowers, which are associated with funerals. When dining, almost all meals, including sandwiches and “finger foods” are eaten with utensils. Toasts are common by the host and should be returned with a toast in turn. A guest should thank the hostess with the phrase takk for matten, which means “thanks for the meal.”

Latin America

Brazil – In Brazil, society is very diverse and made up of many different cultures and traditions. Greetings are usually handshakes with eye contact, but males should wait until females extend their hands first to be polite. There is a class system based on appearances and Brazilians do judge people by how they dress, speak, and talk.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s custom to show up a little bit late; this isn’t perceived as rude. It’s polite to bring a gift, such as flowers, but the colors purple and black symbolize death and mourning and should be avoided.

Venezuela – In Venezuela, they pride themselves on being hospitable to guests. They will usually make extra efforts to make their guests happy, so guests should thank them for their hospitality. Greetings are a handshake accompanied with a salutation based on the time of day: buenos dias, bunenos noches, etc.

If invited to someone’s home for a meal, it’s better to show up later than earlier. Being exactly prompt or early is interpreted as assuming or excessive. Venezuela is known for its coffee and is offered commonly; it’s perceived as rude to turn it down.

Chile – In Chile, greetings are usually a firm handshake and smile, although pats on the shoulder are common between women. People use honorifics like Senor and Senora; it’s not polite to use someone’s first name until he or she asks you to.

If invited to someone’s home for a meal, it’s polite to send flowers ahead of time so they may be shown during the meal. A gift of sweets or wine is acceptable as well. One should wait to be seated and women are usually seated before me. Toasts of salud are common and one should make eye contact with the person one is toasting. If pouring wine, always use the right hand.

Argentina – In Argentina, greetings consist of handshakes normally, but can be quite formal. It’s polite to greet the oldest people in a social situation first. Eye contact is expected during greetings, as it implies interest and respect.

If invited to a meal at someone’s home, it’s appropriate to bring a gift. Since taxes and tariffs on imported liquor and spirits are high, these usually make for a classy gift. Never offer bladed presents; they symbolize the act of severing the relationship. Like much of South America, it’s customary to show up a little late and a little rude to show up right on time. One should not drink wine or beverages until a toast has been made and in general, wine pouring is complicated with a lot of traditions and taboos. It’s best to ask someone else to pour wine.

Bolivia – In Bolivia, the family is the most important social unit and loyalty to the family is one of the most important aspects to culture there. Greetings consist of handshakes for strangers and acquaintances, parts on the shoulder or a hug between friends. People use the surname of their mother and father, so both names should be included when addressing people.

If invited to someone’s house for a meal alcohol, flowers, or dessert are considered polite, but gifts are not usually opened right away when received. When dining, utensils are used for almost all foods, including fruits and sandwiches. Elbows should be kept off of the table and because toasts are common, one should wait until after the first toast by the host or hostess before taking a stop of one’s drink.

Columbia – In Columbia, greetings consist of firm handshakes with normal levels of eye contact for people just meeting. For friends, males will pat each on the shoulder and females will kiss each other on the cheek. Columbians use both their maternal and paternal surnames, so both should be used when addressing someone there.

When dining at someone’s home, it’s impolite to begin eating until the host or hostess say buen provecho, which means “have a good meal.” Elbows should be kept off of the table. It’s polite to bring a gift, but flowers should be sent ahead of time. If invited to a girl’s 15th birthday party, the quinceanera, gold is the customary gift.

Dominican Republic – In the Dominican Republic, greetings are relatively informal and consist usually of handshakes accompanied with a smile. Because family is important there and households are often multi-generational it’s considered good taste to greet the eldest family members first and be polite to them at all times.

When dining at someone’s home, it’s acceptable to be a little bit late. A small gift is polite, but should not be purple or black, the colors of mourning. Dominicans pride themselves on being good hosts, so their hospitality should be remarked upon and they should be thanked. Meals are often served family style and guests of honor will usually be served first. It’s polite to leave a little bit of food on the plate to show one is full and has been offered plenty of food.

Ecuador –In Ecuador, handshakes are the most common greeting along with time-specific salutations like buenos dias or buenos noches. Honorifics like senor or senora are used and only close friends call each other by their first name.

If invited to someone’s home, it’s not polite to show up on time or early; it’s considered polite to show up a little bit later than requested. Table manners are in the continental style; forks are not switched from hand to hand. One shouldn’t eat until the host or hostess does and if a toast is offered to a guest, the guest should return the toast later on. If one doesn’t want more beverages, one should leave a glass a little bit full.

Mexico – In Mexico, culture is very family oriented and centers around the males – a concept called machismo. Being masculine is very important to them and anything that might call into question a male’s masculinity is considered an insult. Men making suggestive remarks to women based on their looks is quite common and not perceived as being as rude as it does in other cultures.

If invited over for a meal, it’s polite to bring a small gift like wine or dessert. Gifts are opened immediately and if given a gift, thanks and effusive praise should be showered upon the person who gives it. Meals begin when the hostess starts and it’s customary for only men to give toasts. To show one has been properly fed, it’s important to leave some food on the plate at the end of the meal.

Australia & New Zealand

Australia – In Australia, humility is a virtue and even successful or wealthy people downplay their accomplishments. Bragging and boasting are very distasteful there. For such a large land mass, populations can be quite small, so interpersonal relationships are very important there. Conflict is avoided at all costs and people are overtly polite to one another.

If invited to a meal or “barbie”, it’s polite to bring beer or wine. In some cases, it’s polite to bring your own meat. Punctuality is expected and it’s appropriate to offer help setting up before the meal and cleaning up afterwards.

New Zealand – In New Zealand, society is made up of the descendants of Europeans and the tribal groups that lived there before colonization, particularly the Maori. Both groups are gregarious and known to chat in a friendly manner with strangers. Society is rather egalitarian and there is no formal class structure, although in Maori culture, the oldest male is usually deferred to. Greetings are typically a handshake and a smile for non-Maoris. The Maori do have traditional protocols for greeting someone and sending him/her off.

If invited to a meal, it’s polite to wait until the hosts seats the guest. Dining manners are relatively informal but continental in style; forks are not switched from one hand to another. Elbows should be kept off of the table and to indicate one is full, the knife and fork should be laid alongside one another on the plate.

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