What Are Social Customs?

Photo Courtesy: U.S. Embassy New Delhi/flickr

A social custom is an action or behavior that is considered to be acceptable within a specific group or cultural setting. These responses may include how a person greets another, the clothing they wear for specific events or the type of eye contact that is made when seeing someone in a public setting. For people accustomed to certain groups or social settings may find that the social customs they practice are more of an involuntary response. With so many different social and cultural settings around the world, there are countless numbers of social customers that are found. Let’s explore some of them.

Table Etiquette 

While the manners around the dinner table may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of social customs, these are the types of practices that are exactly what defines the behaviors. Different areas around the globe have specific dining practices. Here are some of them.


When dining in Norway, the cutlery used while eating is of particular importance. Norwegians believe that when eating your food, it is socially necessary to use a knife and fork. These groups of people even use these utensils when eating a sandwich.


While dining, the last thing you want to think about is eating a dish that is dropped on the floor. However, in Afghanistan, when bread falls from the table onto the floor, it is picked up and kissed. This is considered to be a blessing and consumed by the people gathered around the table.


An action that is considered to be disrespectful in many cultures and social settings is a sign of respect in China. When dining, it is customary for the individual to create a mess around their dinnerware. It is also anticipated for the diner to belch after their meal. This shows the host or hostess that the food prepared was well received, with each bite being thoroughly enjoyed.


The way you greet people when seeing them in public is directly defined as being a social custom. This can include how, when, and who you shake hands with. Offering a kiss on the cheek to those you meet. It even may involve which hand you use to reach out for when shaking hands. Here are some social greetings you will see in other cultures and settings.


When seeing a person in public that you wish to greet in Russia, you will always provide a firm handshake. Direct eye contact is always maintained with every greeting. For men who shake the hands of women, a less hardy handshake is required. It is more practical and acceptable to kiss the cheek of a woman three times, alternating the cheek. Kissing the hand is also socially accepted.


When meeting someone for the first time in China, you would nod your head and smile instead of shaking hands. When greeting someone you do know already, providing a conservative handshake is expected. Formal settings require a tight grasp of the hand while maintaining eye contact.


When greeting people in Armenia, there is a strict code of conduct that must be followed. Women must wait for a man to offer their hand before shaking hands. A kiss on the cheek or a light hug between family members or close friends is considered the norm in this country.

This is just a few examples of social customs found around the world. If you take the time and pay attention closely, you will find that your own social environments are filled with customs you may have never even considered to be such before.