Thursday, 7 March 2019

Interesting Dos and Don'ts When Travelling Abroad

When you’re travelling abroad from the UK, every new moment beckons excitement. Everything is so fresh and unique that sometimes you may get fully caught up in enjoying your experience… and accidentally disregard local manners. This is quite a typical situation for anyone who sets out to explore a very different culture, where social conventions may dictate guidelines that often seem rather counterintuitive to visitors.

How can you avoid being accidentally rude to people of a different culture that you’re immersed in during your travels? You should, of course, take a little time to learn about the local customs and even do quick research to learn about glaring, yet typical, cultural clashes. This is actually easy to do in this day and age of global connectivity… and a little research will go a long way, to keep you from looking like a clueless tourist.

In short, the best way to avoid looking bad when exploring a new culture is to genuinely take an interest and learn about the local dos and don’ts. For a general frame of reference, you will find the following sections useful and informative. 

When traveling, be mindful of your feet as well as your shoes

If you’re a Western visitor spending some time in Asian countries, one of the first widespread and striking cultural different relates to how people handle their shoes – most specifically whenever they’re indoors.  In the vast majority of Asian countries, as well as in many countries around the world like the Caribbean, people do not wear shoes inside their homes… and it’s very rude to step into a home in these areas without first taking off your shoes. 

(In fact, we don’t know about you, but we’re pretty strict with people coming into our home, and do insist they take their shoes off, but it’s not a cultural thing, just for hygiene and the fact that we’ve just had new carpets…apart from the mother-in-law, she refuses to take her shoes off…but that’s for another Blog…or possibly a psychiatrist…)

Always watch how others act before stepping step into a house, public building or temple, and make sure you follow the expected rituals. Don’t hesitate to ask the locals if you are not clear on how to proceed since asking is generally regarded as a sign of good faith. You’re much likelier to offend locals by walking around absent-mindedly than by showing curiosity and taking interest in their customs.

Even when standing outside, Asian etiquette requires you to be especially mindful of your feet. Since your soles are literally and figuratively regarded as the lowest part in the body, you should never touch another part of anyone’s body with any part of your feet. If you happen to rub your feet on anyone by accident, you are expected to apologize, and in some areas, a ritual may be in order - to touch your own hand with one hand while touching the arm of the offended person with your other hand. 

Hand gestures that might not mean what you think it means

When it comes to carrying around your hands, being mindful is of the essence; in specific countries, there are very offensive gestures which have absolutely no meaning elsewhere in the world.  Here we include a few notable examples to help grasp this point, but you may want to check the Internet for specific “offensive hand gestures” for any country you visit – so you can avoid offensive gestures.

A shining example of a gesture that is very innocent throughout the world but very offensive in a specific region is something as simple as a thumbs-up.
 In most countries this gesture stands for a universal “OK”, but in Turkey it’s regarded as a violent way to accuse someone of being homosexual (which in that country is still an unlawful act).  Never do this gesture in Turkey, or you could get in trouble fast.

Similarly, you should never expose your palm when greeting a person in Greece. In that region, showing your palm to someone is the equivalent gesture to poking the middle finger in our culture – it stands for rejection and aggressiveness.  So unless you’re deliberately trying to infuriate a Greek native, you should be very mindful to avoid exposing your palm in a way that conveys a decisive gesture.

Whenever you’re having a meal in the Middle East, there’s a common hand gesture you’re actually expected to flourish in order to show appreciation for the food: do lick your fingers after enjoying a meal, since that’s how appreciation for the chef is expressed in this area of the world.

If you’re ever in the Philippines, do not go around shaking hands with people you meet, since in that area of the world people reserve handshakes for confrontational and aggressive situations.

Drinking related habits and proper toasting procedures

Even when you’re offered a drink whilst visiting a foreign country, you should pay attention to the local protocol.  In fact, this is one of the situations where you have to be particularly attentive to how you act, since subtle but important implications are typically at play.

For example, whenever you’re out in Russia having a toast of vodka, you must wait for a cue before raising the glass – and if you’re a man, you’ll be expected to drink your vodka in a single shot.  Women won’t be looked down upon for sipping on a glass of vodka, but males will have their strength of character immediately questioned.

If you happen to go through Armenia and find yourself sharing a bottle of wine with the locals, you should never be shy about pouring the last of the wine into your glass.  Just remember that as soon as do that, you’re taking responsibility for buying the next bottle – and people will expect you to do just that.

No matter where in the world you are, it’s usually a good idea to look people in the eye while having a toast, since failing to do so is regarded as either bad omen or a sign of disrespect, in many countries.  In European countries, making eye contact whilst toasting is a sign of enforcing virility (we’re being polite).

Knowing how to eat and where to avoid doing so

Eating is often while of the greatest pleasures to be enjoyed while travelling… but here too, you should make sure to be tactful in order to avoid rubbing people the wrong way.  In places like Japan, for example, it’s regarded as bad manners to eat food in public transportations or other public spaces.  Often in London, we wish it was banned on the tube…no I don’t want to share your MacDonald’s smell…

In some countries like Rwanda, it’s actually rude to consume food in just about any place that doesn’t sell food; it may be worth to check where you stand before indulging a bit of foreign country snaking.

Even when you just want to have some chewing gum, you need to watch out for local sensibilities. In Luxembourg, France and Switzerland, this act is regarded as very impolite and even vulgar. Some countries like Singapore have outright banned chewing gum, so you won’t even be able to get any in the shops. 

Splitting the bill and knowing where never to do it

In many countries, splitting the bill is regarded as the natural thing to do, whenever you go out to dinner with friends (or even as a family).  In some places however – like France, this kind of act is regarded as the pinnacle of unsophistication and it’s something most restaurant owners will actually scoff at.

Whenever you’re unsure about the right way to express something (or to otherwise keep from expressing something inappropriate) while visiting a different culture; whenever you want to keep translation losses to a minimum, start by looking around for context and cultural cues. If the appropriate action is not clear to you, it’s best to err on the side of caution and simply ask someone around you – asking about local customs can be a nice way to strike a conversation, and the locals will typically appreciate that you’re trying to learn about their ways of life and making an effort to fit into their culture. For best results, you should adopt an interested and sensible approach, wherever you go.



Post a Comment