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How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

If you’ve done any traveling at all, you’re likely quite aware that customs and etiquette differ from one culture to another: what may be perfectly innocuous in one place may be hideously offensive in another, and vice-versa. Granted, even if you haven’t traveled at all, you’re probably aware of the fact that certain types of behavior aren’t exactly acceptable in other countries: belching at the table may be a sign of gratitude in some places, but in most areas of North America and Europe, such a display will earn you a fair bit of ire. Whether you plan on traveling to any of the places listed below or just doing business with a foreign client, it’s important to educate yourself on the standards of politesse and etiquette beforehand—the last thing you want to do is offend someone with any ignorant, boorish behavior. Here’s how to be polite in 20 different countries:

Japan

When dealing with Japanese clients, be sure to dress fairly conservatively, and make sure that you bow lower than they do upon meeting them. Accept gifts with both hands (and open them later, not in front of the giver), and never blow your nose at the dining table. Avoid asking and answering direct questions: it’s better to imply rather than ask, and to answer with vagueness during conversations.

Sweden

Keep personal distance and don’t touch people when you talk to them. Ensure proper table manners, never discuss religion or politics, and try to maintain a level of quiet dignity. Silences during conversations are not considered uncomfortable, and it’s better to be a bit quiet, rather than overly verbose. When dining out, don’t drink before the host offers a toast, and don’t get drunk.

Mexico

When meeting others, women should initiate handshakes with men, but all people should avoid making too much eye contact; that can be seen as aggressive and belligerent behavior. If sharing a meal with others, keep your elbows off the table and try to avoid burping at all costs. Keep your hands off your hips, and make sure you never make the “okay” sign with your hand: it’s vulgar.

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Kenya

When greeting someone older or of a higher status than yourself, grip their right wrist with your left hand while shaking it; it’s a sign of respect and deference. Do ask questions about their health, family, business etc. before getting to major topics, as skipping these niceties is seen as impolite. If sharing meals, do not begin eating until the eldest male has been served and starts to eat.

Jordan

Keep your voice low and quiet when conversing with others, as that is seen as being mature and respectful. Be aware that people will speak to you at a closer distance than you may be used to, and you may be touched on the arm or shoulder during conversation. Polite jokes are acceptable, as is inquiring about family members. Never show the bottoms of your shoes.

Germany

Much like Scandinavian people, Germans tend to be reserved and polite. Ensure that handshakes are firm, and always address people with Mr. or Mrs. followed by their surname (“Herr” or “Frau” if you’re confident that you’ll pronounce them well). Decent table manners are of great importance, and be sure to say “please” and “thank you” often.

China

Be generous with saying “thank you” when someone does anything from pouring you tea to offering you a gift, and if or when you receive a gift, take it with both hands. If someone makes a comment about your weight/appearance/idiosyncrasy, try not to take it as offensive: it’s merely an observation on their part.

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Barbados

Years of British rule in Barbados established a high degree of politesse, so be sure to greet people as Mr./Mrs./Miss and say “please” and “thank you” often. Formal table manners are a must, as is modest dress anywhere but at the beach. Avoid discussing religion and politics, and stick to neutral-yet-friendly topics of conversation with others.

Pakistan

Be sure to dress modestly (especially if you’re female), and if you go out for a meal, eat with your right hand; the left is considered unclean. Sit on your left hand if you need to, but keep it away from your food. Don’t show anyone the bottom of your shoe, and try not to touch anyone with your feet.

France

Be sure to say “please” and “thank you” often, and always thank people for their time. If you need help at a shop, apologize to the staff for bothering them with a question, and be sure to thank them before you leave. Make sure that you chew with your mouth closed during meals, don’t speak when your mouth is full, and for goodness’ sake, don’t slurp anything!

Korea

Don’t be offended if a Korean woman merely nods instead of offering her hand to shake, and don’t extend yours to her. Never touch a Korean person while talking to them (unless you’re on very friendly terms), and maintain a respectable distance: personal space is rather vital. Try to avoid talking too much during meals, and offer to pay even if you know that the other party is treating you.

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Argentina

This is another country in which people will lean in close when they speak to you, and touch you often during a conversation. Pulling away is considered rude and “cold”, so be prepared to sacrifice your own personal space for the sake of social courtesy. Maintain strong eye contact, and don’t put your hands on your hips.

The Netherlands

Shake hands with everyone, ensuring that you smile and make eye contact while doing so. Make appointments for meetings and social functions well in advance (like, a couple of weeks in advance), and be punctual when you show up. Feel free to bring gifts such as chocolate or flowers when visiting people.

Russia

Turning down an alcoholic drink is considered terribly offensive in Russia, so it’s a good idea to fortify yourself with some greasy food before heading out for a meal with Russian or Ukrainian clients. Don’t smile at strangers or they’ll think you’re deranged, and when paying for items, place your money on the counter rather than trying to hand it directly to the cashier.

Canada

Canadians are (for the most part) polite, respectful, and fairly reserved people. It’s important to remember social niceties such as saying “please” and “thank you” when dealing with them, and if you open doors for people and offer firm handshakes, you’re sure to stay in the good books. When ordering food or drinks, never begin with “I want…,” as it’s considered rude and ignorant to do so.

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Italy

Dress formally and respectably in churches and upscale restaurants, and ensure that your table manners are impeccable. Be punctual, always be generous with social niceties, and under no circumstances should you ever be drunk in public. Say “please” often, and if possible, try to make at least a bit of an effort to learn a few Italian words and phrases.

Nepal

It’s best to dress modestly when traveling around Nepal, and if you end up exchanging gifts with others, never do so with your left hand. When it comes to sharing meals, use utensils so you avoid contaminating anything with implements that may have touched your mouth, and take care to remove your shoes upon entering someone’s home, or a temple.

Israel

Greet people with a warm handshake and ready smile, and invite them to address you by your first name. Don’t be offended if someone shows up 15 to 20 minutes late, or if they take phone calls during your meeting with them. If asked personal questions, answer with generalizations. If you’re male, don’t speak to another man’s wife if she hasn’t been introduced to you.

The U.K.

Like in Canada, people in the United Kingdom tend to be fairly polite and reserved. Possibly more so. Be very courteous in your speech, never address anyone by their given name unless invited to do so (always address them as Mr./Mrs./Miss followed by their surname to begin with), and ensure that you use proper table manners when sharing meals.

Brazil

Smile often, don’t be afraid to touch others during conversation, and be generous with the “thumbs-up” sign. Avoid the “okay” gesture (it’s offensive), and if you eat a sandwich, use a napkin to hold it rather than your bare hands. Don’t use a toothpick without covering your mouth with your free hand, and if you’re going to wear a tiny string Speedo on the beach, be sure to strut around in it.

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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

30 Small Habits To Lead A More Peaceful Life

In today’s world, true peace must come from within us and our own actions. Here are 30 small things you can do on a regular basis to increase your overall sense of harmony, peace, and well-being:

1. Don’t go to every fight you’re invited to

Particularly when you’re around those who thrive on chaos, be willing to decline the invitation to join in on the drama.

2. Focus on your breath

Throughout the day, stop to take a few deep breaths. Keep stress at bay with techniques such as “square breathing.” Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, then out for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Repeat this cycle four times.

3. Get organized and purge old items

A cluttered space often creates a cluttered spirit. Take the time to get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year and invest in organizational systems that help you sustain a level of neatness.

4. Stop yourself from being judgmental

Whenever you are tempted to have an opinion about someone else’s life, check your intentions. Judging others creates and promotes negative energy.

5. Say ‘thank you’ early and often

Start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude. Look for opportunities in your daily routine and interactions to express appreciation.

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6. Smile more

Even if you have to “fake it until you make it,” there are many scientific benefits of smiling and laughing. Also, pay attention to your facial expression when you are doing neutral activities such as driving and walking. Turn that frown upside down!

7. Don’t worry about the future

As difficult as this sounds, there is a direct connection between staying in the present and living a more peaceful life. You cannot control the future. As the old proverb goes, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Practice gently bringing your thoughts back to the present.

8. Eat real food

The closer the food is to the state from which it came from the earth, the better you will feel in eating it. Choose foods that grew from a plant over food that was made in a plant.

9. Choose being happy over being right

Too often, we sacrifice inner peace in order to make a point. It’s rarely worth it.

10. Keep technology out of the bedroom

Many studies, such as one conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have connected blue light of electronic devices before bed to adverse sleep and overall health. To make matters worse, many people report that they cannot resist checking email and social media when their cell phone is in reach of their bed, regardless of the time.

11. Make use of filtering features on social media

You may not want to “unfriend” someone completely, however you can choose whether you want to follow their posts and/or the sources of information that they share.

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12. Get comfortable with silence

When you picture someone who is the ultimate state of peace, typically they aren’t talking.

13. Listen to understand, not to respond

So often in conversations, we use our ears to give us cues about when it is our turn to say what we want to say. Practice active listening, ask questions, process, then speak.

14. Put your troubles in a bubble

Whenever you start to feel anxious, visualize the situation being wrapped in a bubble and then picture that sphere floating away.

15. Speak more slowly

Often a lack of peace manifests itself in fast or clipped speech. Take a breath, slow down, and let your thoughtful consideration drive your words.

16. Don’t procrastinate

Nothing adds stress to our lives like waiting until the last minute.

17. Buy a coloring book

Mandala coloring books for adults are becoming more popular because of their connection to creating inner peace.

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18. Prioritize yourself

You are the only person who you are guaranteed to live with 24 hours a day for the rest of your life.

19. Forgive others

Holding a grudge is hurting you exponentially more than anyone else. Let it go.

20. Check your expectations

Presumption often leads to drama. Remember the old saying, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.”

21. Engage in active play

Let your inner child come out and have some fun. Jump, dance, play, and pretend!

22. Stop criticizing yourself

The world is a hard enough place with more than enough critics. Your life is not served well by being one of them.

23. Focus your energy and attention on what you want

Thoughts, words, and actions all create energy. Energy attracts like energy. Put out what you want to get back.

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24. Assign yourself “complaint free” days.

Make a conscious decision not to complain about anything for a whole day. It might be harder than you think and the awareness will stick with you.

25. Surround yourself with people you truly enjoy being in the company of

Personalities tend to be contagious, and not everyone’s is worth catching. Be judicious in your choices.

26. Manage your money

Financial concerns rank top on the list of what causes people stress. Take the time each month to do a budget, calculate what you actually spend and sanity check that against the money you have coming in.

27. Stop trying to control everything

Not only is your inner control freak sabotaging your sense of peace, it is also likely getting in the way of external relationships as well.

28. Practice affirmations

Repeat positive phrases that depict the life and qualities you want to attract. It may not come naturally to you, but it works.

29. Get up before sunrise

Personally witnessing the dawn brings a unique sense of awe and appreciation for life.

30. Be yourself

Nothing creates more inner discord than trying to be something other than who we really are. Authenticity breeds happiness.

Featured photo credit: man watching sunrise via stokpic.com

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