13 of the most peculiar cultural customs you'll find in Asia (2022)

Asia is an extraordinary continent full of diverse cultures, traditions, religions, languages and cuisines. For many travellers, it’s like a whole new world with so many beautiful landscapes and cultural experiences to explore. Wherever you travel, it’s important to be respectful of the local culture and traditions. Since they’re often quite different from what you’re used to, it’s best to start learning about it before you go! To help get you started, we’ve rounded up 12 of the most interesting Asian customs and traditions to know before you visit Asia.

1. Different greetings

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While you might be used to a handshake, it’s not always the best way to greet someone in Asia. In Thailand, the main way to greet someone is the ‘wai’. You bring your hands together in a prayer gesture and give a slight bow or nod of the head while saying hello or goodbye. You should also acknowledge the oldest people in the room when you arrive and leave, as this is a great sign of respect.

In Japan and South Korea, bowing can be used as a greeting and symbol of respect. You perform a bow by bending from the waist with your back straight and eyes down. There are lots of different etiquette rules that go into the bow, including the depth and duration of the bow. A deep bow is usually reserved for formal settings, so an informal bow is perfectly acceptable for travellers.

You may also encounter bowing in China. However, it’s usually reserved for very formal events such as funerals or religious ceremonies. A small head nod is more commonly used to express thanks, rather than as a greeting. And if you do find yourself shaking hands as a greeting in Asia, don’t shake too firmly. This is seen as a sign of aggression or rudeness, so remember to keep it light!

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2. Kick off your shoes

One of the most common Asian traditions is taking off your shoes! You’ll find yourself removing your shoes before you enter homes and temples all over Asia, from Vietnam to China. It’s a sign of disrespect to enter a temple with shoes. Plus, in some Hindu temples in India, oil is often used during prayers, so you might even slip and fall if you’re not careful.

Removing your shoes before entering a home in Asia is another essential act of courtesy, and it’s all about keeping your home clean. You can still wear socks or house slippers if that makes you more comfortable. In fact, in most Asian countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Cambodia, indoor slippers will be provided in many homes, restaurants and hotels. You’ll also find many homes in South Korea and Japan are built with heated floors, to help keep your toes nice and toasty!

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3. Mind your head and feet

In many Asian cultures, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body. You should never touch anyone on the head – even children or Buddha statues. On the other end, feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body as they touch the ground and are furthest from the head. You should never point the soles of your feet at anyone or anything sacred… It will look like you’re giving them the finger! If you’re sitting down in a temple, restaurant or home, remember to keep your feet politely tucked beneath you.

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4. Slurping is good

Many Asian countries are famed for their extreme politeness and courtesy, especially when it comes to dining etiquette. So it may surprise you to learn that slurping is usually considered to be totally polite. In Japan, you show your appreciation for your noodles by slurping on them – the louder the better! In China, you slurp and burp to signal that you enjoyed your meal, and to give compliments to the chef. However, in South Korea, it’s similar to Western culture in that it’s rude to slurp or chew with your mouth open.

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Another common Asian tradition is sharing food. Most Asian households like to prepare a bunch of dishes and share them all together around a big table. If you’re going out to eat, it’s custom to order a few main dishes and share everything, rather than order individual dishes… And it’s a great way to get a taste of everything!

You’ll also need to brush up on the dining etiquette of the country you’re visiting, as each Asian country has its own unique traditions. For example in China or Japan, you should never leave your chopsticks standing up in your bowl, as this is similar to funeral practices. If you’re finished with your meal, simply lay them to the side on the table or on a special chopsticks rest.

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6. Pouring drinks

In many Asian cultures, if you’re served a communal drink at a meal, you should never pour your own drink from that bottle. It’s seen as greedy and disrespectful. Instead, you should wait for someone else at the table to pour the drink for you. But don’t worry about going thirsty! In many countries like China, the host will keep refilling your glass or teacup, as it’s all part of their hosting etiquette. If you do want to refill your own drink, be sure to refill the cups around you that are low first, then fill yours last. This is especially important if you are dining with people who are older than you.

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7. Public displays of affection

In practically every Asian culture, it’s rude for members of the opposite sex to kiss, hug or hold hands in public. These are considered to be intimate acts that are only done in private, so save the PDA for your room!

8. Holding hands

On the flip side, hand-holding between people of the same gender is totally okay in many Asian countries like India. It’s simply seen as a sign of companionship. Don’t be surprised to see two men or two women holding hands, linking arms or hugging in public. It’s just a lovely way to express your friendship.

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9. Tipping

While more touristy restaurants and hotels will include gratuity on the bill, leaving a cash tip is not really expected in many Asian countries. In fact, in China and Japan, tipping can actually be considered offensive and refused. In most Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam, tips are not customary but you are welcome to leave one and it is always appreciated.

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10. Gift-giving

If you want to give someone a gift in Asia, remember to check up on the etiquette and traditions before you do! In China, people will always refuse your gift a few times before accepting and you should never give someone a clock. In Singapore, never wrap your gift in blue, black or white colours as this is similar to funerals customs. When in Thailand, try to wrap your gift in yellow or gold colours, while in Indonesia, red and gold are the lucky colours. You should also be aware that your host probably won’t open the gift until after you leave out of politeness.

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11. Squat toilets

The squat toilet may seem daunting at first if you’re used to Western toilets. But if you’re travelling around Asia, you’ll soon get used to it! You’ve just got to practice and build up your leg strength, but once you’ve got it, you’ll find that it’s much healthier for your bowels! In many public squat toilets from Sri Lanka to Vietnam, the floors are always wet as water hoses or bidets are used instead of toilet paper. You’ll quickly get used to these too… In fact, many travellers become life-long converts to the bidet after using them in Asia!

If you prefer toilet paper, remember to bring some with you in your day bag. If you need to catch a break from all that squatting, remember that most hotels and upscale restaurants offer Western toilets and toilet paper.

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12. Asian New Year traditions

In most Asian cultures, New Year is a big deal… And they don’t all celebrate it on January 1st. China and Vietnam celebrate the date according to the Lunar calendar (usually at the start of February), while Thailand, Cambodia and Laos celebrate their Buddhist New Year in April.

New Year is especially fun in Thailand, where they celebrate with the Songkran water festival and splash each other with water to wish a year of blessings. The country basically becomes one big water fight for a week, and no one is safe… Not even tourists! You’ll find fun events in the big cities like Bangkok and it’s a great way to cool down in the Thai heat.

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Do you know any interesting Asian culture traditions? Let us know in the comments below!

FAQs

What are some examples of cultural customs? ›

  • A Question of Being Punctual. ...
  • Mind your Table Manners in Norway. ...
  • “No” to Sharp Objects. ...
  • Losing a Tooth in Greece. ...
  • Say Cheers BUT Don't Clink Glasses in Hungary. ...
  • Don't Try to ”Go Dutch” in Turkey. ...
  • Avoid Using Red Ink for Writing Names of Your Friends in South Korea. ...
  • A Trip to the Sauna in Finland.

What is the most cultural country in Asia? ›

Dominating Asia in terms of both its size and population, China boasts one of the world's oldest civilizations. As such, incredible historical and cultural landmarks are on show wherever you go.

What are some customs in Southeast Asia? ›

  • Greetings and Conversation. Handshakes have become an accepted Western custom in the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, whereas a greeting called the wai -- resembling a prayerful gesture -- is the official protocol of Thailand. ...
  • Business Meetings. ...
  • Eating and Drinking. ...
  • Gifts. ...
  • In Public.

What is Asia most known for? ›

Nonetheless, Asia, the most populous of the continents, contains some three-fifths of the world's people. Asia is the birthplace of all the world's major religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism—and of many minor ones.

Why is Asia unique? ›

Asia's vast area allows for varied and extreme climates. It has some of the coldest, hottest, wettest, and driest places on Earth. While many distinct climates exist across the continent, Asia's climate can be most generally divided into three zones: north/central, southwest, and southeast.

What are 7 examples of culture? ›

They are social organization, customs, religion, language, government, economy, and arts.

What are 10 examples of culture? ›

16 Examples of Traditional Culture
  • Norms. Norms are informal, unwritten rules that govern social behaviors. ...
  • Languages. ...
  • Festivals. ...
  • Rituals & Ceremony. ...
  • Holidays. ...
  • Pastimes. ...
  • Food. ...
  • Architecture.
May 10, 2018

What is the best Asia country? ›

Topping our list in the Asian rankings, and the only Asian country in our global Top 10, Thailand rates highly on the continent not only for culture (ranked #2 in Asia) and adventure (ranked #1) but also for providing students with alignment to their career goals after graduation (ranked #5).

What is the best culture? ›

  • Italy. #1 in Cultural Influence. #16 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • France. #2 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • United States. #3 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • United Kingdom. #4 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • Japan. #5 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • Spain. #6 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • South Korea. #7 in Cultural Influence. ...
  • Switzerland. #8 in Cultural Influence.

What is the culture of South Asia? ›

South Asia is one of the most diverse parts of the world, and their culture is completely entwined in language, ethnicity, and religion. There are many practiced religions, but the most popular ones are Hindu, Islam, and Buddhism.

What is the main culture of Southeast Asia? ›

Southeast Asia includes Muslim majority nations such as Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia; Theravada Buddhist majority nations such as Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia; Christian majority nations such as the Philippines and East Timor; and Chinese Confucian-influenced nations as diverse as Singapore and Vietnam.

What is South Asia famous for? ›

Home to 1.75 billion people, South Asia has the world's tallest mountains, and is the origin of some of the world's oldest civilizations and the wellspring of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sanamahism, Sikhism, and Jainism.

Why is Asia called Asia? ›

Thus, according to the Akkadian language of Mesopotamia, the land on the eastern side was named 'Asia,' which means sunrise, and the land on the western side was termed 'Erebu,' which means sunset. These names instantly gained popularity and spread all across the world.

How many languages are in Asia? ›

The largest continent in the world and home to nearly five billion people, Asia has around 2,300 languages that can be grouped in language families like Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Caucasian, Dravidian, Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic, Siberian, Sino-Tibetan and Kra–Dai.

Why should you visit Asia? ›

Home to some of the world's oldest cultures, fascinating architecture, beautiful natural landscapes, delicious foods and friendly locals; colorful Asia ticks all the right boxes for a top holiday destination.

What is a cultural custom? ›

A custom is defined as a cultural idea that describes a regular, patterned behavior that is considered characteristic of life in a social system. Shaking hands, bowing, and kissing—all customs—are methods of greeting people. The method most commonly used in a given society helps distinguish one culture from another.

What are the 12 elements of culture? ›

12 Elements of Culture
  • Learning Objectives. Understand how values and beliefs differ from norms. ...
  • Values and Beliefs. The first, and perhaps most crucial, elements of culture we will discuss are its values and beliefs. ...
  • Norms. ...
  • Symbols and Language. ...
  • Summary.

What are 5 examples of culture? ›

Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards, religious beliefs, and traditions are all examples of cultural elements.

What are 3 cultures? ›

Examples of different cultures around the world that have captivated many include:
  • The Italian Culture. Italy, the land of pizza and Gelato held peoples' interest in captivity for centuries. ...
  • The French. ...
  • The Spaniards. ...
  • The Chinese. ...
  • The Land of the Free. ...
  • The Second Most Populated Country. ...
  • The United Kingdom. ...
  • Greece.
May 25, 2021

What are the 3 types of cultures? ›

Three Types of Culture
  • Blame culture. I am not a big fan of blaming people when things go wrong. ...
  • Blameless culture. In a blameless culture people are free of blame, fear and recriminations and can learn from their mistakes. ...
  • Just culture. ...
  • 3 COMMENTS.
Sep 7, 2017

What is culture short answer? ›

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, art.

What are the 6 types of culture? ›

An understanding of this level is important for successfully addressing the concerns at any level of culture.
  • Six Levels of Culture. National / Societal Culture. Organizational Culture. Social Identity Group Culture. Functional Culture. Team Culture. Individual Culture.
  • Cultural Orientations Indicator®
  • COA Certification.

What is culture for kids? ›

A fun overview of the world cultures for kids - YouTube

What are the 4 types of culture? ›

4 Types of Corporate Culture
  • Clan Culture.
  • Adhocracy Culture.
  • Market Culture.
  • Hierarchy Culture.
Jun 16, 2021

Which country is No 1 in world? ›

United States. The United States of America is a North American nation that is the world's most dominant economic and military power. Likewise, its cultural imprint spans the world, led in large part by its popular culture expressed in music, movies and television.

Is Asia a good country? ›

Got it! This article is more than 4 years old. From Abe's Japan to Modi's India and Duterte's Philippines, a number of Asian countries rank among the world's “Best Countries.”
...
Japan.
CountryJapan
Asian Rank1
World Rank5
12-month Equity Market Performance17.48%
5-year Equity Market Performance42.43%
9 more columns
Mar 15, 2018

How safe is Asia? ›

About half of Asia is classed as low risk, but there are six countries, including Iran, Iraq, and Yemen that are designated Level 4, mostly due to military conflicts, crime, and terrorism threats.

What is considered rude in Asia? ›

First and foremost, touching a person's head is considered VERY rude is most parts of Asia. In Buddhist culture the head is the highest part of the body and thought of as sacred. The feet, on the other hand, are the lowest part of the body and considered dirty.

What can you not do in Asia? ›

21 Things You Should Never, Ever Do in Southeast Asia
  • Don't Touch a Person's Head.
  • Don't Disrespect Gods.
  • Don't Ride Without a Helmet.
  • Don't Talk About the Monarchy.
  • Don't Talk About the Government.
  • Don't Get Involved With Drugs.
  • Don't Ride a Motorbike Without Experience.
  • Don't Put the Toilet Paper in the Toilet.
Nov 6, 2017

How do Asians show respect? ›

In Asia, paying respect to elders is expected among younger people, a gesture such as bowing expresses the utmost respect. The elaborate and refined Japanese tea ceremony is also meant to demonstrate respect through grace and good etiquette.

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