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Cultural Mistakes every Traveller should Avoid

by John Webber

Cultural Faux-Pas every International Traveler will want to Avoid.

Traveling is the best way to learn about new cultures and customs. However, a globe-trotter should be aware of some common local customs and practices that may be acceptable in one nation, but considered objectionable in another. Check out some major ones below.

Westerners traveling to Asian countries may want to be extra careful about the chopstick etiquette followed there. It’s considered inappropriate to leave your chopsticks sticking upright in your bowl of rice. This way, it looks like incense offered to the dead. Instead, lay them down flat, parallel to each other, after finishing the meal.

Stepping over someone’s leg is considered rude in Nepal, and touching a person’s head is an objectionable gesture in Thailand.

Tipping culture varies from country to country. Therefore, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local customs first, before you travel. For instance, in the US, tipping isn’t compulsory, but it is expected. And, if you’re not tipping, you’d better have a good reason for that. It’s usually a 10% tip for an informal bar meal and closer to 20% for a table-service restaurant.

When in China, do not finish all the food on your plate if you are being hosted. It might offend your hosts as a clean plate signals that you haven’t been served enough food and may want more.

Travelers in some countries – including Bulgaria, Albania, and Macedonia – should remember that a single nod of the head indicates “no” rather than “yes”. Shaking head left to right means “yes.” Try not to mix those up while conversing with a local.

Boarding local trains in India can be quite a task, given the number of people you would have to shove and push to make your way inside the cabin. It’s alright to get a little aggressive and show promptness to grab a seat, and then, say your apologies later!

Avoid the faux pas of giving flowers in even numbers in countries including Russia and Azerbaijan. Flowers are offered in even numbers mainly during funerals here. Additionally, refrain from gifting yellow flowers in Russia, and marigolds in Mexico, as they are associated with death.

In Egypt, it is considered as an insult to the chef when you add salt to a dish.

In many countries – for example in Greece, Belize, Ethiopia, and some parts of Argentina – the plumbing cannot cope with flushed lavatory paper. Look out for a pedal bin by the side of the toilet: that’s where your used paper needs to go.

If you’re from a country which frowns upon public displays of affection, remember that some nations embrace or kiss as a gesture of welcome. The French kiss on both cheeks is an etiquette followed even with strangers, while making acquaintance. Greeks also follow this double-kiss culture, and may even pull you into one despite your reluctance.

Korean eating etiquette dictates that you should not begin eating until the eldest male at the table starts his meal. Should one of your elders offer you a drink, be sure to accept it with both hands.

You may consider thumbs-up as a motivating gesture, but in Iran it is considered rude to show anyone your thumb. Similarly, showing your palm to someone will have offensive connotations in Greece.

In Japan, keep you phone on silent or vibration mode if you have to use it in public. This is often referred to as “manner mode.” In particular, it’s seen as rude to talk on your phone on trains.

Westerners consider making eye contact as a sign of assertion and confidence. However, this could be understood differently in Nigeria. Making a lot of eye contact in this African nation can be considered downright rude and aggressive. Culturally, Nigerians tend not to gaze directly at their superiors eye-to-eye out of respect.

And lastly….Women are not allowed to make physical contact with monks in Laos.

“Do not go where the path leads, travel instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  @wbbrjp

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