While in APAC…Watch Your Hands and Feet!
Learning as much as you can about cultural etiquette in a new country will save you from blundering into a disrespectful (and embarrassing!) situation. This is especially true in Asia Pacific and the Middle East, where some unintentional use of your hands and feet can land you in a tight spot.
In many APAC countries, the left hand is considered “dirty” and is generally used for bathroom habits. Make sure you use your right hand to eat and do other important things if it only requires one hand. In Asia, you should pass things to someone else, receive a gift from someone or pay money using both hands as a sign of respect. In the UAE, it is especially important to remember to always use your right hand when you shake hands with someone or raise your hand in greeting.
Do not point. It is considered rude to point your finger at someone in most Asian countries and in the UAE. When you need to indicate a person, you may gesture towards them with your chin. In Thailand, if you would like to gesture to someone so they come closer to you, you should use your whole hand, palm down, and make a patting motion in the air while keeping your fingers straight.
Watch your step.
Because the feet are the lowest part of the body, they are considered “unclean” in these countries. It is typically inappropriate to point your foot at someone, show the bottoms of your feet when sitting or touch someone with your feet. Crossing your legs should be avoided as it is thought to be rude (and shows the bottom of your feet). In the majority of APAC countries, you should always remove your shoes before entering someone’s house. The ultimate insult in a Muslim country is to hit someone with a shoe or walk across the image of someone. And in Thailand, stepping on money can get you arrested, as the paper money has the likeness of their king on them, and by stepping on his likeness, you are showing disrespect.
Respect the head.
While the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body, in countries with a large Buddhist population, the head is sacred and to be revered. Touching someone’s head or hair is considered very rude and invasive and should never be done, even to children. Avoid raising your feet to someone’s head level or stepping over them if they are sitting or laying on the ground.