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Showing the sole of your shoe

It’s something that men in the U.S. often do without a second thought: sit down and then cross a foot over the opposite knee, exposing the sole of their shoe. But in much of the Middle East, this is extremely offensive: In Arab cultures, the soles of your shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be displayed to anyone. Former U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson learned that lesson the hard way: On a delicate diplomatic mission to Iraq in 1995, Richardson crossed his leg in that fashion while talking to Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader was so offended, Richardson says, that he walked out of the room.

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The Most (Accidentally) Offensive Things Americans Do While Traveling

August 24, 2014

When traveling abroad, the last thing we Americans want to do is offend the locals. Unfortunately, too many of us think that’s an easy trap to avoid: As long as you are polite, say “please” and “thank you,” don’t tell ethnic jokes about the local population, don’t act rude or all “ugly American”-like, and don’t walk around in an “FBI (Female Body Inspector)" T-shirt, you’ll be okay. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. One downside of international travel is that it is shockingly easy for Americans to accidentally offend locals in a foreign country; some gestures or actions that mean absolutely nothing in the U.S. are considered extremely offensive abroad. If these unintentionally offensive American tourists are lucky, the locals will just seethe quietly or, even better, politely warn them of the offensiveness of their behavior. But at worst, it could lead to a nasty confrontation or, as has occurred in at least one case, a potential international incident.

Don’t let that happen to you. Here are 10 of the most accidentally offensive things Americans do overseas.