You’re Welcome: Be a Great Guest Around the World

Don’t put your elbows on the table. Do say “please” and “thank you.” Don’t talk with your mouth full. Do hold the door for the person behind you. And these days, put down your phone and enjoy the company you’re in! These are just a few etiquette rules that seem universal; no matter where you are, follow them and you can’t go wrong. Of course, every culture has customs that are unique, so take a quick trip around the globe with us to learn more about some of the interesting customs and etiquette rules you might encounter in your travels.

 

Denmark

Among the Danish, greetings are casual: First names are often used upon introduction, which typically includes a firm handshake, eye contact, and a smile. Danes shake hands upon arrival and departure, and always shake hands with women first. And don’t forget the little ones! In Danish culture, children are always included in such pleasantries, so be sure to extend a hand to everyone. However, avoid using the common American expression “How are you?” unless you have a true personal relationship with someone and sincerely want to know.

 

As a guest in a Danish home, be sure and ask if you should remove your shoes — after you arrive on time with a hostess gift of flowers or good quality chocolates or wine, of course. Toasting is an important part of social culture in Denmark. Don’t toast your hosts until they have toasted you, and never toast anyone senior to you in rank or age. The traditional toast “Skol” indicates it is time to eat. Dinners can be long and filled with conversation, so be prepared for a few hours of merriment. Be sure to try all of the different foods you’re offered, and expect to eat everything on your plate!

 

Japan

In Japan, people greet — and thank, apologize, or make a request — by bowing to one another. A bow can range from a small nod of the head to a deep bend at the waist. A deeper, longer bow indicates sincere respect while a small nod is more casual and informal. Most Japanese do not expect foreigners to know the proper bowing etiquette, so a combination of a bow and shaking hands is expected and accepted.

It is considered an honor to be invited to someone’s home in Japan. As a guest, remember that shoes are never worn in someone’s home. Your Japanese hosts don’t want the floor to be stained by soil, sand, or dust that may be attached to the soles. But don’t fret! There will always be a place to put your shoes, and you will be given slippers to wear. There are often different slippers for the bathroom, which should only be worn into the bathroom. Likewise, normal slippers mustn’t be worn in the bathroom.

The most important table etiquette in Japan is saying customary phrases before and after a meal. It is traditional for Japanese people to say “itadakimasu” — meaning “I humbly receive” or “let’s eat” — before a meal and “gochisousama” after a meal, an indication that it was a “feast” that was very enjoyable, as a way to show appreciation to the host. Making an effort to learn and speak these phrases is appreciated. Equally important is chopsticks etiquette. Never use chopsticks to pass food to someone else’s chopsticks, and don’t stab your chopsticks vertically into food, such as a bowl of rice. The vertical placement of the chopsticks is reminiscent of incense sticks that are placed vertically in sand as offerings to the dead. However, if you are enjoying a delicious bowl of noodles, don’t worry about being quiet — slurping is considered a sign that you are enjoying the meal!

 

Brazil

Brazilian people are open and friendly, a trait that is quickly noticeable in communication styles. Brazilian men shake hands and maintain steady eye contact while greeting each other, and often use both hands to add warmth and sincerity. Women generally kiss, starting with the left cheek and alternating. Among friends, hugging and backslapping are common, and women and children are likely to walk arm in arm. But if a woman wishes to shake hands with a man, she should extend her hand first.

If you are visiting a Brazilian home, keep in mind that it is perfectly acceptable to arrive 15 to 30 minutes after the intended start time for a dinner or party. Be sure to bring a hostess gift — flowers, particularly orchids, are an ideal choice, but avoid purple as this color is related to mourning. Sending flowers the day before or the day after a dinner or party is also fine.

 

France

Expect a more formal approach as a guest in France. While a handshake is a common greeting, first names are reserved for family and close friends, so wait until invited before using someone’s first name. Friends often greet each other with a light kiss on the cheek, alternating from left to right.

As a guest in a French home, arrive on time for dinner. Should you anticipate being more than 10 minutes late, you must call your host and let them know. For a large dinner party, particularly in Paris, send flowers on the morning of the event so that they may be displayed later that evening. However, be aware of the symbolism of some flowers: Avoid white lilies or chrysanthemums, as they are used at funerals; red carnations, which symbolize bad will; and white flowers in general, as they are used at weddings. Bouquets should have an odd number of flowers, but not 13, which is considered unlucky. French dinner parties often include a seating plan, so wait for the hostess to direct you to your assigned place at the table. Likewise, don’t start eating until you hear the classic phrase “Bon appetit!”