Is It Bad to Say Thank You? (And Other Cultural No-Nos)2 min read
Thank you. It’s a common way of politely expressing your appreciation to someone who did you a favor. But in some parts of the world, it’s actually considered rude.
In every culture, you’ll find people use a variety of phrases and gestures to convey different messages. More often than not, we don’t even realize it. We grow up accepting these phrases and behaviors as “normal,” so it can come as a shock to discover that a friendly gesture can actually be interpreted as offensive in other places.
As a result, it’s important to be mindful of these communication differences when traveling. We recently looked at how to be a better global citizen, so here’s a closer peek at some of the specific phrases and behaviors to avoid.
Please and Thank You
Saying “please” or “thank you” can be seriously offensive to those in other parts of the world. While it may be an appropriate expression of gratitude in places such as the United States and Brazil, don’t expect to hear it in other countries.
In the Philippines and India for example, friends and family are expected to do things for one another. This means there’s no reason for a special comment; it’s just assumed you’ll eventually return the favor later down the road, and that conveys “thank you” more than actually saying it. Acknowledge the favor, but there’s no need for the formality.
Have a Nice Day and Smiling
It’s fairly well known that Germans have a very direct, but polite, way of communicating. This means that certain superfluous phrases such as, “Have a nice day,” often come off as insincere and inappropriate. Since it’s a generic phrase that’s overused, it holds little value among Germans. This is where the old platitude, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all,” comes in handy.
The same also goes for smiling. In Germany (and most of Northern Europe in general), there are certain expectations for interacting with strangers or acquaintances. While you shouldn’t be unfriendly, smiling for the sole reason of conveying a friendly disposition is perceived as strange. Unless someone tells you a joke or does something that makes you happy, it’s best to avoid smiling, or risk looking like a loon.
Americans (looking at you, New York City drivers) have a reputation of being openly aggressive. However, public displays of anger are frowned upon in many countries around the world. In fact, people from other cultures might misinterpret your anger for something else. In Kenya for example, it can be perceived as a sign of a mental illness. So keep your cool when traveling abroad!