Here are ten other faux pas to avoid (taken from a Guardian article on Mark McCrum's Going Dutch in Beijing: The International Guide to Doing the Right Thing):
Here in the UK the cheery thumbs-up sign is an easy way to show you're having a good time or that everything's OK. Not so in Iran, where the very same gesture is called the bilakh and is an unquestioned insult, with the literal meaning of "sit on this!" Another hand gesture to watch out for is the American OK sign, where thumb meets forefinger in a circle. Though adopted internationally by scuba-divers to mean "I'm fine", in Turkey and Brazil this suggests you are comparing someone to the filthiest part of their anatomy, a point to remember if diving the waters off Ilha Grande.
2. Patting someone on the head in Thailand
In Buddhist countries, the head is considered to be sacred, the seat of the soul, and touching the top of it is highly insulting, even for a child. Other familiar movements to watch out for include pointing with a finger, which is considered rude in Malaysia, where they point with a closed fist, the thumb at the top indicating direction. Filipinos are even more low-key, singling out an object by shifting their eyes towards it or pursing their lips and pointing with their mouth.
3. Referring to Ireland as one of 'the British Isles'
Conversational pitfalls abroad often centre around an innocent political inquiry. Ask about the Aboriginal situation in Australia, human rights in China, dowry deaths in India, even bullfighting in Spain and your potential to cause offence quadruples instantly. Americans who mistake Ireland for one of the British isles or want to know why they use euros and not pounds in a Dublin bar will soon find this out. When you get chatting to new people in a new country, it's always wisest to stick with food, children, sport or the beauty of the landscape. You can rarely go wrong saying nice things about the meal you've just eaten or the football prowess of the local or national team.
4. Going to a barbecue in Argentina dressed as a gaucho
There's a certain type of traveller who can't resist trying on the local dress – or what they assume is the local dress. And indeed, wearing the semi-transparent, decorated shirt known as the barong Tagolog in the Philippines or the batik in Indonesia is absolutely fine. But just as we find portly Americans clad in kilts and tam o'shanters absurd, so an Argentinian would find a European pitching up to the evening asado (barbecue) dressed as a gaucho or in Native Indian costume ridiculous.
5. Keeping your shoes on in a Japanese home or temple
Not just in Japan, but all over the East, you should be ready to remove your shoes at the drop of a hat. In Japan you'll often be given slippers to take you from front door to living room, where they should be removed before you step on the tatami (reed mat). It's always as well to be wearing good clean socks in these places – and be careful when you leave not to do so in someone else's slip-ons. Earlier this year, in Rajasthan, Elizabeth Hurley caused major offence when she refused to remove her shoes before entering the mandap (sacred marriage place) at her own wedding.
6. Taking a bunch of 12 wrapped carnations to a German dinner party
Flowers may seem like the perfect gift to delight your gracious hostess with, but beware, in many countries particular varieties, colours and even numbers have unlikely associations. Carnations are used for funerals in Germany, Poland and Sweden, as are chrysanthemums in Belgium, Italy, France, Spain and Turkey. In Austria and France red roses might suggest a romantic interest, while in Mexico and Chile yellow flowers signify grief or separation. A bunch of flowers should always be given unwrapped in Germany, Sweden and Poland. An odd number of blooms is unlucky in China and Indonesia; an even number in India, Turkey, Russia and Germany.
7. Getting your host's name the wrong way round in China
Getting into a muddle about names is all too easy. In the Far East our normal order is reversed, with the surname first, followed by a middle generational name, then a given name. So calling Mr Li Wong Chee of Beijing "Mr Chee" would be like calling Mr John William Smith of London, "Mr John". But things are never simple: so as not to confuse foreigners, some Chinese people now reverse the order of their names when dealing with the West. So Mr Li Wong Chee may after all be Li Chee, from the generation Wong.
8. Giving a bottle of cognac in a pigskin bottle holder to an Arab host
This would be a double-whammy. If Muslims drink, they certainly don't do so publicly, so drawing attention to your host's private love of Armagnac or Glenfiddich would not be the best idea. Like the dog, the pig is unclean in Arab countries, so however beautifully-made the executive bottle holder, pigskin only adds to the offence. In general when abroad you should always consult with the locals before giving gifts: a clock is unlucky in China, anything with a logo is regarded as cheap in Colombia, and in Korea they don't like being given stuff "Made in Korea".
9. Drinking or talking during a toast in Georgia or Azerbaijan
Drinking toasts are taken seriously across northern Europe, Russia and into the countries of the old Soviet Union. In Scandinavia or Germany, you should always meet your host's eye when saying Skål or Prost! In Russia the vodka should be drained in a single gulp. Further south, in Georgia and Azerbaijan, the toasts can often go on for hours, orchestrated by the tamada, or toastmaster. Talking to your neighbour or sipping your drink between toasts will soon bring on the tut-tuts and raised eyebrows.
10. Leaving your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice in China or Japan
Chopsticks should be held two-thirds up; the farther away from your food, the more sophisticated you're deemed to be. You should never spear food with your chopsticks, cross them over each other, rest them on opposite sides of your plate, point at people with them, use them to pull your bowl closer, or – worst of all – stick them upright in the rice. This mimics a Japanese funeral rite, when chopsticks and rice are left by the bedside of the newly deceased.