I imagine that anywhere in the world opening your car window when a bear is outside is a bad idea. But in many other instances, what is appropriate, polite or mannerly in one place is inappropriate, impolite or bad manners in another. These differences aren’t limited to different countries, but can easily exist within the same country, even the same neighborhood or the same church.
I come from a faith tradition where everyone is expected to know everyone and to chat with them before the service. When we started attending our Catholic church I discovered a much different expectation. I thought the person who sat down next to me in a pew should say hello. The person had no such expectations. I thought they were rude for not speaking. Some person at one point told me that they were taught to be silent before the service. They must have thought I was the rude person.
When we bought our house here we wanted the same kind of privacy in our back yard that we had enjoyed in Portland. We installed an attractive, expensive fence to surround our back lot. We learned that this was seen as unneighborly. Our neighbors apparently enjoyed looking across and through our yard at other yards and other neighbors. No one had fences, and they liked it just fine.
And then there is the two cheek kissing by older Italian men at church. I recognize that there is no element of “me too” in their behavior. But it throws me every time I am enveloped in an embrace and kissed on both cheeks. Am I supposed to kiss back? Where do I put my nose anyway! I still struggle with the practice, but do know that it would be rude to pull away from a well intentioned greeting.
I loved the responses about table manners from readers. I would enjoy hearing of cultural missteps any of you have made either around your country or in visiting another.