What NOT to Do During International Travel

International travel is on the rise right now, and CLS bookings are no exception. In fact, about 10% of our reservations are made outside of the United States.

Needless to say, social etiquette varies widely across countries, so what’s perfectly good manners in one country might be a repulsive faux pas in another. Treating others with kindness, courtesy, and compassion–as well as basic hotel etiquette–serves you well both at home and abroad. What we’re going to focus on is what NOT to do in these common international business trip hubs. If you make too many of the same mistakes, you’re likely to get little respect from the people you want to impress the most–your international clients and friends.

What not to do in China:

  • Finish your whole meal in front of the host. It tells them that they didn’t feed you enough.
  • Open gifts right in front of the giver. It could be considered greedy.
  • Blow your nose in public.
  • Tip. Cab drivers, bartenders, and waiters will likely consider it rude.
  • Leave your shoes on in someone’s home.
  • Give gifts in sets of 4s. It’s considered an unlucky number.

What not to do in Mexico:

  • Arrive too early. Come right on time or just a few minutes late.
  • Joke around about differences in punctuality between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s considered very rude by some.
  • Expect everyone to speak fluent English. In fact, try your hand at Spanish, even if you’re not especially proficient. Most Mexicans will respect you for it.
  • Say estupido. It literally translates “stupid,” but carries a much more pejorative meaning too. Use tonto instead.
  • Sit down before being told where to sit.
  • Rest your hands on your lap when you’re not using utensils. Keep your hands visible above the table.

What not to do in Canada:

  • Say “eh” to sound more “Canadian.” It’s offensive…and not even accurate.
  • Compare Canada to the United States.
  • Or call a Canadian “American.”
  • Reach for items at the dinner table.
  • Point your index finger at people. You can use it for pointing at objects, though.
  • Start a scene. Showing excessive emotions in public is generally frowned upon.

What not to do in Great Britain:

  • Stare or speak in a loud voice. Privacy and coyness are respected.
  • On that note, avoid personal questions about salary, marital status, or health.
  • Rely on the bar tab. Drinks are generally purchased on a “pay as you go” system.
  • Eat off a knife while eating a meal.
  • Throw cigarette butts onto the ground. The police are everywhere and will ask you to pay a massive fine.
  • Schedule anything at the last minute.

What not to do in France:

  • Ask for salt and pepper, condiments, etc. while eating your meal. It communicates that the food is inadequate.
  • Use first names until you’re invited to do so. Address the person by their last name or academic/professional title
  • Make hugging a habit. There isn’t even a real word for “hug” in French, after all.
  • Refill your own wine glass. Wait until someone serves you.
  • Leave food on your plate; unless you have food intolerances, try to taste everything that is offered.
  • Dress too sloppily.

What not to do in Japan:

  • Tip anyone! The person is likely to (angrily) return it.
  • Talk on your cell phone on the train.
  • Walk around while eating or eat in areas in which food isn’t served.
  • Expect toilet paper or Western bathrooms. Do your research on the bathroom situation before you go to Japan. Some toilets play music and check your blood pressure while you’re using them.
  • Speaking of toilets, there’s a special pair of slippers for using the bathroom. Don’t wear them anywhere outside the bathroom.
  • Walk into someone’s home with your shoes on.

What not to do in The Netherlands:

  • Be surprised when it’s time to pay the bill and you’re expected to split it. It’s called “going Dutch” for a reason.
  • Show up late! The Dutch pride themselves on being very punctual people
  • Expect soft-spoken people who beat around the bush. Dutch people are very direct and offer “yes” and “no” answers with few reservations.
  • Chew gum in public. It’s considered bad manners.
  • Refer to The Netherlands as “Holland.”
  • Keep your hands in your pockets.

What not to do in Sweden: 

  • Talk about hockey, unless you’re praising their team.
  • Act like a know-it-all. Swedes are often very educated and might just call you out for being pretentious.
  • Cut in line: It’s even more offensive than it is in the U.S.
  • Expect a lot of small niceties from the Swedes, such as holding the door or asking about your day. You can certainly say “good morning”; just don’t force an extended conversation.
  • Take a seat next to someone if there’s another one available.


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