Homestays: they're not just for freeloading relatives anymore. The internet made couch-surfing a trendy form of schlepping around the world on the cheap, in time for the sharing economy to find a profit in it. Just last summer -- one season! -- nearly 17 million people opted to stay in Airbnbs, many as paid visitors sharing a home as paying houseguests. And, sure, since you are shelling out for the place, not offending your host isn't as imperative as when you're visiting friends. But pitfalls still abound when you're a guest in someone's home -- or, heck, even just hanging out with the locals on their home turf -- some customs are almost guaranteed to trip you up at some point.
Most of us know it's customary to take your shoes off when you go into homes in Asia. But did you know in some countries it's considered rude for men to pee standing up? And in others you should never whistle while indoors? We teamed up with the folks at The Mill -- a UK-based online curtain shop -- to find some unusual customs in homes around the world. And how you can avoid unknowingly becoming the Airbnb guest from hell.
Only ask one question at a time. Act like everyone in Thailand has ADHD. If you ask more than one question, you're getting an answer only to the last thing you asked.
Step OVER the threshold to any house you go in. Thai tradition holds that a spirit lives in the threshold. And think about it: if you were a ghost living under a piece of weather stripping, would YOU want to be stepped on?
Don't expect anyone to make plans. In America, that friend who responds to every invitation with, "Maybe I'll stop by!" is typically at the bottom of your list of preferred social contacts. But Greeks value their freedom and commit to plans only sparingly. So don't be offended if you can't lock anyone down.
Beware of thrown salt. A Greek legend says that salt will chase unwanted guests from your home. This is your warning that you may be given a hint.
Don't sweep over anyone's feet. Even if you're a good enough guest to help your host clean their floors, don't sweep anything over someone's feet. Spanish superstition holds that sweeping over one's feet means they will never marry. (Sweeping someone off their feet, different story entirely.)
Don't bring foreign wine. Bringing a French family a foreign wine is like showing up to a steakhouse with your own cut of meat. The French take an unreasonable amount of national pride in their wine, so that bottle of Napa's finest won't do you any favors.
Don't announce you're going to the bathroom. The smell of the Paris Metro notwithstanding, the French still don't like to publicly discuss the fact that anyone urinates or defecates. If you must explain why you've gotten up from the dinner table three times in the past hour, just tell them you have an insatiable coke habit. Or maybe just say you're going to "freshen up."
Do bring meat and beer to a barbie. Aussies have some colorful little colloquialisms that we Yanks don't always understand. For example, if your host tells you to "bring a plate" to a barbecue, he's not asking you to stop at the nearest Williams-Sonoma and bring some stuff for you to eat off. He's asking you to bring a plate of meat to grill. Along the same line, every guest at every social event is expected to bring beer or some other sort of adult beverage.
Don't bogart the bandwidth. Unlimited internet hasn't quite made it Down Under yet, so be considerate of your usage. You can wait till you get home to stream the new season of House of Cards.
Sit down to pee. Yes, gents, Germans expect EVERYONE to use the seat. Apparently one-too-many dudes had subpar aim, and the notoriously fastidious Germans won't stand for it -- nor let you. No joke, one short-term tenant was recently sued over his refusal to sit while peeing.
Never directly hand someone a sharp object. Say you've decided to join your host to prepare a feast of chopped vegetables and couscous and your host asks you to pass him a paring knife. Don't hand it to him! Directly passing someone a sharp object is believed to cause two people to become enemies in Turkey. So place the knife on a counter and politely direct him to it.
Shower before using the bathtub. The Japanese see the tub as a place of relaxation, not cleaning. Keep that relaxing tub clean by pre-washing in the shower before, yes, bathing.
Leave the room to sneeze. If you feel the need to sneeze or blow your nose, go in a room away from people. The Japanese take contagious illness almost as seriously as they take karaoke.
Don't whistle in the house. Whistling in Russian homes is believed to cause money problems. Possibly a remnant of when people weren't allowed to blame money problems on Communism.
Don't mix your vodka. If you're offered vodka, never ask for a mixer. That's seen as an insult to the national drink, and a sign of weakness on par with riding a horse WITH a shirt on.
Don't cross your utensils. In case you haven't ever watched a mob movie/been to Hoboken, the holy cross is an important symbol to Italians. Placing your eating utensils on top of each other at perpendicular angles is seen as an insult to the religious symbol, and bad luck.
Eat whatever is offered. Doesn't matter if it's a curry you're pretty sure was made with battery acid. You accept it, you eat it, and you compliment the chef between your tears.
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