Try Not To Offend The Locals: A Basic Rundown of International Customs and Traditions
Five Tips For Polite Travellers
Ah, the delights of travelling. There’s so much to remember: your passport, your tickets, plug adapters, sunscreen. But don’t forget to remember something crucial if you want to have a safe trip: your manners.
All too often we hear horror stories from friends who have unintentionally offended a local with a throwaway comment or an innocent hand gesture.
Make sure you don’t come home with any shameful stories by reading our top tips for travelling abroad without offending anyone.
Reconsider Hand Gestures
The thumb to forefinger signal us Brits take to mean ‘ok’, means an entirely different thing in South America and Turkey. In South America, it means a powerful obscenity. In Turkey, it means you are homosexual.
Speaking of Turkish cultures, don’t assume that men walking along holding hands are gay. They are likely to be close friends or family. The Turkish are much more comfortable with physical contact than us Brits.
The thumbs up sign is also a no-no and is considered very rude in West African and Middle Eastern countries.
Talk The Talk (Properly)
It’s great if you want to try your hand at speaking the local language, but just be careful with certain phrases. For example, did you know that saying ‘hiya’ in Turkey sounds the same as ‘testicles’? You could receive some very funny looks if you greeted the locals with that!
In Spain, if a lady tells you she is ‘embarazada’, this doesn’t mean she is embarrassed, it means she is pregnant. If someone mentions ‘delito’ to you, although this might sound like ‘delight’, it actually means ‘crime’.
Before you head off on your holidays, why not use the Internet to research popular phrases? You can also use this time to finalise your travel plans, such as booking trips in advance (which will often save you money). There are also online savings to be made in insurance, especially if you need travel insurance for over 50’s or want to book your currency in advance to secure a good rate.
Be Careful With Eye Contact
In Turkey and Greece, you might feel a bit uncomfortable, as it is the norm to stare in these countries. Don’t feel under pressure or threatened. This is simply a cultural difference and there is unlikely to be any malice behind it.
In authoritarian cultures, such as China and Japan, eye contact is not seen as a necessity in conversation. Those who may feel in a subordinate position to you, such as hotel staff or service workers, may not make eye contact with you as a sign of respect.
Don’t Bare Your Sole
If you visit an Asian family, you must take off your shoes before you enter their home. The way that we position our feet can have a profound affect on our relationships with locals – never cross your feet when in company with Japanese people, and sit erect in your chair, with both feet on the ground.
In Arab cultures, showing the sole of your shoe to someone is hugely disrespectful. Feet are seen as largely unclean places of your body, and showing someone the sole of your feet, or your shoes, demonstrates utmost disrespect.
A Final Tip
You might think you are rewarding excellent service, but in some cultures, not only is tipping offensive, it is also illegal. Countries where tipping is illegal include France and Argentina.
Tip in Japan, Oman or Yemen and you will highly offend your server. In other countries, namely America, Canada and Mexico, you will be expected to tip for almost anything, including bellboys opening the door for you, or bar staff serving you a drink.
Wherever you are travelling to, it’s really worth looking up their local customs and traditions, and familiarise yourself with their language. Guidebooks can be useful, but online forums will be able to give you the most up to date information. You may also be able to chat to a local who can give you further insight into specific regions. Remember to never give out personal information or share specific details of your trip with strangers online.