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Cultural differences: manners in Asia vs West

The cultural differences between Asia vs the West are notable and causing innumerable misunderstandings in the daily relationships between people from both regions.

The differences are so many that what for Asians is rude, for Westerners it turns out to be expected and well-received behavior, and vice versa.

Verbal and non-verbal communication, manners and protocol for certain situations are expressed with big differences in Asia vs West. The different ways of acting of Asians and Westerners are the reflection of the vision of society, the values ​​and traditions of each other.

The collective before the individual

The differences in manners in Asia vs. West are based on thinking more focused on the collective of Asians, and more on the individual of Westerners.

For Asians, a gesture of courtesy and respect is be modest and inferior to other people. Putting other people’s wishes and decisions before your own is considered polite.

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For Westerners, the respect for individuality and independence of people, make decisions according to their own wishes and will.

It is a difference that could cause confusion in the interaction between Asians and Westerners. For example, if people from the West are invited to eat at an Asian house, especially in China, hosts will express modesty with their behavior.

Although the table is full of diverse and exquisite dishes, they will say: “We haven’t cooked enough, but we hope you enjoy the frugal food we have prepared. “. This expression, which could be contradictory for a Westerner, is just a show of hospitality and respect towards the guests.

The greeting in Asia vs the West

Respect for hierarchy and age makes the difference between Asia and the West when it comes to introductions and greetings.

The greeting in Asia vs the West

In the West, visual and physical contact is appreciated when greeting. It is polite to firmly shake hands with everyone equally, and look the other person in the eye. If there is trust, hugs and kisses are common, as well as physical closeness.

In Asia, on the other hand, they greet with a bow of the head or with a bow, it is not considered correct to touch the other person. The gaze towards the interlocutor, especially if it is direct and sustained, is not polite.

The first person to greet is the oldest, who deserves the highest bow. Between peers, a slight bow is enough as a greeting gesture, and a medium bow is sufficient when bosses and subordinates greet each other.

Shaking hands is not at all frowned upon, but it is not such frequent behavior.

At lunchtime

There are behaviors at the table that are frowned upon in the West, but that in Asia they are not considered bad manners:

  • Speak with full mouth.
  • Burping (it is considered a gesture of satisfaction and appreciation of food).
  • Make noise while drinking.
  • Slurp the soup.
  • Put the bones directly on the table.

But not all Asian countries follow the same rules when it comes to eating. In China, for example, burping is not always accepted. If a Westerner shares a meal with Chinese, it is best that he burps only when he watches other diners do so.

At lunchtime

Leave the plate empty in the West, it is a sign that shows how tasty the food was. It is frequent that the food is praised and whoever prepared it, it is a sign of courtesy and gratitude.

In Asia, the meaning of eating the entire contents of the plate varies by country.

  • In China, South Korea and ThailandIf food is left on the plate, it means that the diner was satisfied, that what was served was enough.
  • In JapanOn the other hand, it is a demonstration of courtesy not to leave leftovers on the plate, it means that the food was enjoyed.

In both Asia and the West it is polite to bring gifts to your hosts. Asians give and receive gifts with both hands, and it’s no wonder they don’t open them right away as a courtesy. For Westerners, on the contrary, it is polite to open gifts as soon as they are received.

Manners when toasting

When making toasts, there are also differences between Asia vs West. Westerners look into each other’s eyes, touch glasses or goblets, or bow their heads toward each other. In some countries, such as France or Spain, it is considered unlucky not to look into each other’s eyes while toasting.


In Asia, in countries like South Korea, it is a shows disrespect to look into each other’s eyes when making a toast.

In Japan it is not polite for each person to serve himself the drink. It is an expression of deference, especially between friends, to allow another person to serve us the drink and to serve it to others.

In China, glasses are often filled to the top when toasting. It is not polite to raise the glass above the host or of the elderly present.

Good manners

In western countries it is considered rude spitting or littering in the street, and farting or picking one’s nose in public. In Asian countries such as China, this behavior is not counted among bad manners.

Good manners

Manners in Asia vs West also manifest differently in:

  • In Asia, business cards are handed out and received with both hands, as is the cup of tea. In the West, it is indifferent.
  • In the west, expression of emotions is not considered rude. In Asia, it is polite to show them as little as possible in public.
  • Westerners regulate the volume of their voices when conversing with others or on the phone in public places. In these cases, Asians tend to raise their voices.
  • For Asians it’s polite to politely decline a gift, so that whoever offers it can insist until it is accepted. Westerners usually accept it without insistence, thanking and emphasizing that it was not necessary to bother with buying a gift.
  • Pointing at people and objects with the finger is rude in Asia, it is done with the open hand. In the West it is not well seen to point a finger at people.

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