Traveling to other countries and getting to know different places and cultures is one of the greatest privileges. Thanks to the emergence of low-cost airlines and the consequent drop in air travel prices, this is now a privilege accessible to a much larger slice of the population. It is precisely the beautiful landscapes and cultural diversity that most tourists are interested in.
Our cultural differences should be celebrated as they are part of our collective identity. However, one must understand that sometimes these differences can give rise to misunderstandings. What for a citizen of the United States of America may be deemed as a common, harmless habit, in any other country of the world can be considered a bad habit or, even worse, a rude one. To avoid such misunderstandings, we must keep this idea in mind and find out what the culture of the country we are traveling to considers potentially offensive before we board the plane.
Here are 6 things you should avoid doing in another country.
1. To Tip Or Not To Tip
This is probably the most popular example of a travel habit that might get you in trouble. In the United States of America, tipping is expected for a wide range of services – not only at restaurants and bars but also in other services like hair salons or taxis. In fact, most workers in these services depend on tips to make a comfortable wage, especially waiters. Therefore, not leaving a tip at a restaurant is considered very rude.
In Japan and South Korea, things are a lot different. Since restaurant workers take great pride in their work and earn a fair wage, they consider tips to be an insult since they don’t need an extra incentive to do excellent work.
2. Wearing Shoes Inside The House
Although in most Western countries, it is not usual to take off your shoes before entering the house, this is a habit that is gaining more and more popularity. Truth be told, it is a simple and effective way to keep a huge amount of dirt and germs out of the house.
In countries like China, South Korea, India, and Thailand, as well as in much of the Middle East, people don’t wear shoes at home. As a sign of respect, you must always ask the host if you should take off your shoes before entering. If you see the host doing it or if there are several pairs of shoes near the doorway, you don’t even need to ask.
3. Loudly Blowing Your Nose In Public
When you are sick, sometimes you feel the urge to blow your nose as hard as possible to relieve nasal congestion. It makes you feel great aftward. But if you’re in France, China, Japan, or Saudi Arabia, you might want to think twice before doing it since locals consider it highly disgusting. You should also use disposable tissues instead of handkerchiefs if you don’t want people to find you repulsive.
4. Common Gestures
When talking to other people, we naturally use gestures, eye movement, body posture, and other nonverbal communication methods to express or convey information. The problem is that some aspects of body language can have different interpretations according to where we are on the globe. Here are some common examples:
- Thumbs up: in Russia, Greece, Latin America, Western Africa, and the Middle East, a thumbs up is regarded as a variation of giving the middle finger. Be careful with that one!
- Hands in pockets: in Turkey and South Korea, keeping your hand in your pockets while shaking another person’s hand is considered very disrespectful.
- Being extra touchy: respect for one’s personal space is very important in certain cultures. So, if you are from a country where touch is synonymous with warmth, affection, and friendship, you have to consider that it may not be seen in the same way in other places.
- OK sign: in Germany, France, Brazil, Turkey, and Venezuela, the OK sign is used as an insult. It means “asshole” – and you don’t want to be that weird tourist that is calling people names for absolutely no reason, do you?
5. Eating Everything On Your Plate
If you’re in China or if a Chinese friend of yours invites you to dinner, never eat all the food on your plate as the host will think that they didn’t offer you enough food and that you were not satisfied with the meal provided. However, this mindset is likely to change soon due to all the awareness to avoid food waste. On the contrary, in some cultures, the host may feel disrespected if you leave leftover food on the plate. This can happen in countries like India, for example. Here are some other eating habits that you need to be cautious with depending on your location:
- Rejecting food/drinksAsking for condimentsTaking the first biteIn India, Morocco, and some parts of Africa and the Middle East, it is considered rude to use the left hand to eat.
6. Sit in the back of the taxi
In many countries, jumping in the back of a taxi is standard procedure. Many taxi drivers also prefer it that way for safety reasons. But in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, and the Netherlands, taxi drivers find people who go for the backseat snob. If you plan on visiting any of those countries in the near future, you already know you have to ride shotgun! _ It’s important to mention that with the boom in tourism over the last few decades, most people are much more open-minded and aware of the cultural differences.
However, as we said at the beginning, it is always good to be conscious of these cultural nuances as a tourist and adapt your behavior as much as you can. This adjustment is a great sign of respect.