Learn these unwritten rules from around the world.
As an expatriate travel blogger. I thought it’s about time, to do a roundup on the unwritten rules in countries, contributed by a panel of expats from around the World.
Soley using Instagram, I sent messages to expats introducing myself and asked if they would like to contribute their Top 3 Unwritten Rules in the country they currently reside in.
The responses I received back, were all very positive and exciting. Such as, “This sounds really interesting, I’d love to participate.”
and “sounds good, I’d love to be involved.”
“Thanks so much for reaching out! I would love to contribute to your post.”
“Thanks for reaching out to me. I’m all on board with your idea! Sounds like fun!”
Some even gave additional rules, as a bonus.
Thank you to all the contributors listed below. You made this post possible.
To find out more about each expatriate, click on their Instagram handle.
A Virtual Trip Around the World
In no particular order …..
3 Unwritten Rules in Hungary by Kim
The leonies_fantasyland are a Belgium family living in Hungary. I found these insights really intriguing, as I’ve never visited. Kim’s IG pics are really beautiful, earning Hungary a spot on my places-to-visit List.
Kim writes, “Here are some things I find strange in Hungary.
1) A man will never shake the hand of a woman other than his one, just because it’s a form of respect towards women.
2) Never buy flowers for Hungarian people because they will ask you who died. Flowers are for graves and not in a vase on your cupboard.
3) Hungarian people love to talk about money. In the pub, after a few Pálinkas they will literally tell you everything.“
Sounds like Pálinkas are truth serum. Duly noted!!
7 Unwritten Rules in Indonesia by Susan
Susiegrbali is an Australian living in Bali, Indonesia with her husband and furbabies. Susan’s Insta’ will have you wondering if her house has a room for rent 😉
Susan says, “The ones that most come to mind are….
1) When visiting Hindu temples or religious sites you must obey the rules of dressing conservatively. A sarong and sash must be worn and footwear left outside. Footwear must also be removed when entering a local’s home.
2) Never touch the head of a Balinese person .. not even a child’s head as this part of the body is considered the purest and most sacred part of the body.
3) Do not walk in front of someone praying to take pictures. Stay to the side to be respectful and discreet without any interruption.
4) Don’t point your finger at Balinese as they consider it to be very disrespectful.
5) Don’t point at or touch someone with your feet as the Balines consider it very offensive.
6) When shopping at local markets and shops haggling over price is a must.
7) Always wear a helmet on bikes and scooters .. or else!
I could go on and on Sarah as there are soooo many do’s and don’ts. “
Noteworthy, Susan’s beloved, Glen Hulley is the founder and CEO of Project Karma. A not for profit charity organization that is combating the sexual exploitation of children throughout Southeast Asia.
4 Unwritten Rules in Netherlands by Whitney
Whit_the_shwit is an American expatriate living in the Netherlands with her husband. Find out more about this fun loving couple and life in the Netherlands, on The Shwits blog. Pssst, their travel vids are brilliant!
Whitney writes, “Ok, so my husband and I were talking about unwritten rules in the Netherlands, and we decided on coffee culture.
1) 10am & 3pm. Coffee break at work. No exceptions. And this is built in your work day. For example, where I work, when you’re hired you’re told you have two 15 min coffee breaks and a 30 min lunch break. Which is fantastic!… Until you’re in the middle of something and everything abruptly stops for coffee. Need a decision from someone? If it happens to be around coffee time it will have to wait.
2) If you go to someone’s house they WILL offer you coffee. Accept it. Otherwise you will be asked no less than once every 10 minutes “are you sure you wouldn’t like some coffee?”. Not a coffee drinker? Tea is acceptable. This also applies to job interviews and other small group meetings.
3) If it’s your birthday, the expectation is that friends and family will be invited to your house. Everyone must (awkwardly) sit in a circle and drink coffee/tea. Only after can the real party start.
And actually, writing that made me think of another one. Birthdays.
4) If it’s your birthday, you have to buy your own cake. Which is just bizarre, as an American. Especially at work – if your colleagues know when your birthday is they will ask you what kind of cake you’re bringing for them.“
Me thinks I would love the work life / coffee culture in the Netherlands. Yet, I might have to go decaf for any coffee after 12-noon. Also, would it be weird to bring coffee cake to one’s own office birthday party?
3 Unwritten Rules in Abu Dhabi by Daniel and Natalie
Ourwaywardlife, are a lovely American couple living it up in Abu Dhabi. Follow their Gram to catch where these two adventurer seekers are off to next. In the meantime,
Daniel and Natalie write, “In the UAE, some interesting snippets (though not typically enforced) are:
1) It is considered rude/offensive to show the bottom of your foot. When sitting, you must be mindful to not point the sole of your foot or shoe toward another person.
2) You are supposed to have a license to buy alcohol and it is allegedly limited to 10% of your salary.
3) You can get a hefty traffic fine for driving a dirty car. We were actually pulled over by the police when picking up our car after a three week holiday – thankfully we were on the way to get it washed and did not get a ticket!“
I’m glad that Natalie and Daniel didn’t get a dirty car ticket!
3 Unwritten Rules in South Korea by Keda
MissKeeds is an American/Jamaican living in South Korea. Her contribution had me shaking my head ‘yas, girl, yas’, because I can relate to 1# and 2#.
”1. Throwing toilet paper into the trash can instead of in the toilet. I still don’t know if I will ever get used to seeing soiled TP in the trash.
2. Not saying “Bless you” or “God bless you” after someone sneezes. No one says anything. I now just whisper it to myself.
3. This isn’t an unspoken rule, but something that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. In gyms in SoKo, there aren’t any doors or curtains. You are showering in one huge communal shower. Think of jail showers. It took me a very long time to get use to walking in front of complete strangers completely naked. I’m still getting use to it.“
To learn even more, about Keda and life in South Korea, have a listen to her podcast Soju Black Podcast and their IG is thesojublack. Keda and her co-host, tell ALL about life in South Korea. I love their hook, “We don’t just spill the tea, we spill the soju!“
3 Unwritten Rules in Germany by Emily
Emily_in_Germany is from the States and is a nature and travel addict (ahem, sound familiar? I’m with you, girl! Lol). She lives in Germany with her pup and husband. PS, her Gram has beautiful Fall pics!
Emily writes, ”Here are 3 unwritten rules I thought of for Germany:
1) DO NOT mow your lawn or do anything loud outside of your house on a Sunday. It is a “quiet day.”
2) In a German restaurant, don’t expect to be seated, seat yourself.
3) When you are clinking glasses with someone, you must look them in the eye or you will have bad luck.”
I will be sure to make full, direct and locked-eye contact when cheers’ing in Germany and with Germans.
3 Unwritten Rules in Estonia by Michelle
MichelleEnRoute is an American living in Estonia with her husband, Mark and two dogs Watson and Sherloc. Michelle and Mark just celebrated their 5 year anniversary in Portugal 🙂
Find out more about Michelle on her website, Michelle En Route where she provides expat guides, travel tips and insight to expat life in Estonia .
Michelle’s shares, “Here are three unwritten Rules for Estonia;
1) Don’t ask “how are you?” as a social pleasantry.
2) It is unusual to say “hi” or smile at strangers.
3) Avoid engaging in small talk about the weather or trivial topics.”
All very interesting, as 2# is a thing here in Singapore, as well. Personally, I can’t seem to break the habit not to smile at strangers.
10 Unwritten Rules in Vietnam by Anastasia
From Russia with Love! Anastaciarom is from Russia and teaching in Vietnam. Anastasia amazingly sent in 10 Unwritten Rules, she mentioned,
“ So I’m gonna write a few and you choose the ones you like………,
(I chose all of them) 🙂
1) You have to take off your shoes before entering someone’s house or even a small shop.
2) You get a complimentary glass of iced tea in any local coffee shop in southern Vietnam and hot tea in central Vietnam.
3) Some parents don’t put a helmet on their child’s head because they think it will affect the head shape.
4) Traffic rules exist but no one cares.
5) People are friendly and always smile at you.
6) New moms have to stay at home for a month and aren’t allowed to go outside.
7) People nap everywhere after lunch , in the office each has their own pillow and blanket.
8) There’s street food literally on every corner.
9) High school female students wear a traditional dress, ao dai, which is a long dress with slits on the sides and long pants – really elegant and practical at the same time.
10) Sugar is added into everything. When you’re ordering a drink, like coffee, juice or smoothie, you have to specify “no sugar”, and most of the time they will just add less sugar.”
3 Unwritten Rules in the Netherlands by Kaitlin
MissKway is an American from Chicago and lives in the Netherlands with her husband, son and their doggo. I’m loving her IG, as her captions are on point!
“1) For a city that gives the right of way to bikes over cars, trams and even pedestrians. And who have only just recently (July 1st, 2019) made it illegal to text and cycle– it still shocks me that in 5 months of living in Amsterdam I have seen 1 person wearing a helmet, as it’s actually not illegal to no wear a helmet. It’s actually encouraged to fit in. It is however illegal to not have a light and bell on your bike.
2. Lines. The Dutch don’t use them, or follow any sort of rule around them. When headed to checkout at shop, or entering or exiting the tram, it’s a free for all. An unspoken non-rule that anyone has the right to form a line (or not form a line) if that’s what they want to do.
3. Fireworks. Illegal for 362 days a year. Except for the 3 days leading up to and including New Years Eve. People can buy fireworks and light them off whenever and wherever they please on NYE. The whole city lights up and it’s magical to see.
3 Unwritten Rules in Puerto Rico by Kristen
GingerinPR is an American having fun in the sun, in Puerto Rico. She’s sharing her nutrition tips and fitness lifestyle through her ‘Gram.
Kristen’s insights to living in Puerto Rico are;
1) Women are greeted with a kiss to the cheek. Man to man greeting is either hand shake or pat on the back (except family).
2) ‘Hola’ is rarely used as a greeting. Most commonly used is ‘buena’ or ‘buenas’. Buenos dias, buenas tardes, and buenas noches are also used.
3) After midnight, you don’t need to stop at red lights. One should slow down and check for traffic (even if green) and then proceed.
3 Unwritten Rules in America from by Julia
TheRedHeadStory is from Germany and living the Cali life in SoCal.
As an American, who misses the Californian lifestyle. I was very intrigued to hear Julia’s insight.
Julia writes. “Here’s three unwritten rules I’m personally experiencing here in the US…
1) People tend to hold the door open for others whenever possible. I’ve experienced this as a very thoughtful action.
2) You don’t cut the line. No matter if you’re at a bus stop or in line at the grocery store – just be patient. No stress; know your place in line and you’ll be next.
3) Waiters / waitresses depend on tips. Of course, up to you how much you’d like to tip after all, BUT it’s technically expected to tip at least 20%.“
If you have read What Expat Life in Singapore is Really Like . You know, how opposite Julia’s 1# is to my current experience with doors and people. LOL!
Find out more, about Julia and her experiences in California on her blog The Redhead Story.
3 Unwritten Rules in Oman by Ellie
The_Muscat_Diaries is from the UK and lives in Oman with her daughter and husband. They are new expats and so far, her observations are;
“Here are the top 3 which I have come across so far. I’ve only been living in Oman for 2 months so I am sure there are others that I will be made aware of as time flies by….
1) No public displays of affection which includes holding hands in public areas.
2) Women should ensure their shoulders, chest and knees are covered in public areas.
3) If you’re in a lift you should let whoever is on your right go out first.”
Learn more about Ellie and the lifestyle they are leading in Oman on The Muscat Diaries.
3 Unwritten Rules in the UAE by Allyson
AWanderingDay is from the States and living it up, in the United Arab Emirates with her family. Allyson loves to travel, read, is an animal lover and enjoys taking pictures.
” 1) One aspect that I love about UAE culture is when you go into a building, say the hospital (especially the hospital), you’re greeted with Arabic coffee in their beautiful coffee makers and dates.
Arabic hospitality is very important, they pride themselves on it and thus why the first thing you’re greeted with, is something to drink and eat.
2) I think like most Asian cultures, here you’re also obligated to take off your shoes. But it’s considered rude to show the soles of your feet.
3) I’m always mindful of this when sitting down on the floor, but as a Westerner, I haven’t been sitting like that to eat and talk, so I struggle.”
To Allyson’s 1#, I think I would be entering many buildings multiple times a day 🙂 I really love coffee.
3 Unwritten Rules in China by Aimeè
Aimee_maree15 is a South African living in China with her love-to-be (they are a super cute couple).
Aimeè wrote, “Here are my 3 snippets:
1) Spitting: this is something I don’t think I will ever completely wrap my head around. Spitting in public here is completely normal and not frowned upon. It is combined with a loud snorting sound, so whenever I hear that I make sure to get a good distance away from the person otherwise it will land on your feet.
2) Tipping/gratuity: it is not customary to tip your waiter/waitress at restaurants. In fact it is often perceived as insulting if you try insist on tipping.
3) The appeal of foreigners: Chinese locals really get so excited to see foreigners (we are known as Laowai’s). They will stare intensely, and often take pictures, or videos. Sometimes they will be polite and ask to take a photo of you/with you, but other times it is as if we are on display at a museum.
In the beginning I found it a bit overwhelming, but with time you get use to it.”
Find out more about Aimeè’s lifestyle and her contributions to being a registered dietitian on @bloom.bride . Aimeè is helping others towards a healthy, and long lasting relationship with nutrition & health.
3 Unwritten Rules in Iceland from Lara
Fromicleand_withlove is from Germany living in Iceland. Lara gives fun facts about Iceland every Friday on her IG stories.
Lara writes, “Here is what I find some unwritten rules in Iceland,
1) The work makes the man – the more you work, the more you are respected. Even though it is Sunday, storm, and 2300h…. (in Germany you wouldn’t be allowed to make ANY noise really on Sundays…)
2) B.Y.O.B applies for all parties: Bring your own booze! Alcohol is way too expensive in Iceland. That is why everyone brings what he or she wants to drink and can even take his or her leftovers back home at the end of the evening.
3) Take off your shoes before you enter any house … adding to 3.: in rural areas this even applies for the doctor, the pharmacy, the swimming pool, schools ….”
5 Unwritten Rules in Japan by Marvin
Mrvn_365 is an Australian/Filipino living in Japan. Currently, Marvin is on break from the medical profession, and on a mission to experience cultures as a local rather than a tourist.
Marvin writes, “Here are my list of unwritten rules (which have been supported by a few Government Tourism Associations) in Japan.
1) Make sure you bow every time you past a main torii gate before entering a shrine and walk on either the left or the right (not the centre as it is for the Gods).
2) Be prepared to bring some “inside” shoes (わばき) with you to most areas. Japan has a phrase called “uchi soto” which translates to outside life. Essentially, everything used outside your house should not enter indoors. It’s primarily to keep things clean. Some gyms may ask you to bring your own indoor training shoes or you can rent some.
3) When handing items of value (like currency), try to make the effort that the “best side” (like the most visually appealing part) of the present or the money, is facing the receiver and is handed to them with both hands. There’s a concept of ensuring that full focus and concentration of respect is given to the receiver of the item, so handing it in this manner is both highly favourable to you and the receiver.
4) This isn’t an unwritten rule as per say but one of the reasons why Japan has the highest rate of lost items being found is because people who hand in lost items are entitled to a 8%-10% value of the item being handed if it could be monetarily priced.
For example, if you find a wallet with $100 inside and you hand this into the police, you are asked if you would like to claim a “finders incentive” for your act of honesty.
5) There was a clip of a French Tourists celebrating inside of a train after their win in a match of the world cup. It caused major commotion amongst Japanese locals because they caused major disturbances inside the train by creating a lot of noise and the biggest one complaint they had was that people were sitting with their feet on the seats (remember about the “soto uchi” phrase.)
Quietness in the train is prized especially in a society where long hours of work is almost a fabric of society so keeping this unwritten rule is a great way to show respect to the person next to you.
This was such a fun post to put together, and to connect with adventurous expatriates. I’m so impressed and thankful for their willingness to contribute.
A million thank you’s to those listed above. One day, I hope to meet in person. Until then, we will keep connected via Instagram.
….. and…. what about YOU?
Do you have unwritten rules in your country, city or town (work place, gym…. book club)? I would love to learn about them. Please share in the comments below.