How many side-eyes did you get the last time you wore shoes inside a temple in India? Remember the disgusted look on people’s faces when you blew your nose in public in Japan? How about that time in Chile when you saw people slicing into their pizza with a fork and knife?
If you’ve been there, you can already feel the embarrassment. Even if these scenarios don’t seem familiar just yet, you should know that they rank high on the list of annoying things people do abroad.
If you don’t want to be one of those people, keep reading to find out about ten of the most impudent cultural faux pas while traveling. This should save you a lot of humiliation during your travels.
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1. Wishing an Advanced Happy Birthday to a German
A touchy topic veering towards superstition, some Germans believe that being wished a happy birthday before the actual birthday is an ominous sign, and one might even die before the special day. So, the next time you wish a German friend a happy birthday in advance, be prepared to see them break into a nervous smile.
2. Touching Someone’s Head in Buddhist Countries
The head is considered the most sacred part of the body in Buddhism. Hence, a friendly head pat or tousle can be perceived as crossing the line. Steer clear of people’s heads in countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Laos. Even if it’s a cute baby, you must resist.
3. Public Displays of Affection
When in India or other south Asian or Middle Eastern countries, reserve kissing your romantic partner for your private time. Public displays of affection are not normal there like they are in western countries.
4. Keeping Your Hands in Your Pockets
In South Korea or Russia, you’ll come off as extremely arrogant if you walk about with your hands in your pockets. It is especially haughty when you’re talking to someone. For a more welcoming and friendly vibe, keep those hands out of your pockets.
5. Holding Someone’s Gaze and Smiling
In Russia and the East Asian countries, long eye contact and smiling are reserved for people you know intimately. If you do this with just about everyone, especially a stranger, they could find it unsettling.
6. Discourteous Food Habits
Food is an intimate and sensitive matter to all cultures. People bond over meals, and it’s necessary to follow the right etiquettes while eating abroad. You never know who’s watching and judging you.
- Upside-down Chopsticks
In China, a bowl of rice with upside-down chopsticks is an offering to the dead. This is an extremely ominous reference to draw upon while eating.
- Eating With Hands or Not
There is no straightforward “yes” or “no” answer to this. In countries like Chile, eating with your fingers is considered uncouth. But in India, it’s common practice. So, you should do your research before visiting.
- Refusing Offered Food
In Arab countries, someone offering you food is a sign of their hard work and generosity. A flat refusal is seen as uncivil. You can ask them to decrease the amount if you’re too full to eat, though.
- Eating All the Food on Your Plate
This means you’re still hungry and your host has failed to fill your stomach. Better leave something on the plate if you’re indeed full after eating in the Philippines, China, Thailand, and Russia.
Keep the tip to yourself while eating out in South Korea and Japan. A service charge is already included in your bill, and any additional tipping is unnecessary. Contrary to European nations, your generosity can be offensive here.
- Waving To the Waiter
Slightly raising your hand is enough in Western countries. No need to wave your hand vigorously, whistle, or call out their name. Waiters are not your servants.
- Asking For Condiments
Some countries are very particular about preserving the authenticity of their cuisines. In France, Italy, Spain, or Japan, you’re expected to enjoy your meal as it is served. No extra condiments are required. So, don’t ask for anything that is not already on your table.
- Eating On Public Transport
In Singapore, you could get fined for eating on public transport. Eating in public is also frowned upon in Japan. So, it is best to eat only at places that serve food.
7. Riding In The Back Of Cabs
Unless you’re trying to reinforce some sort of class divide, or trying to come off as stuck up, it is best to ride shotgun when traveling alone in Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, or New Zealand. Climbing into the backseat shows you think of the driver as a chauffeur or servant who is beneath you. Try not offend the person driving you.
8. Readily Accepting and Opening Gifts
In countries like China, Japan, and South Korea, it’s polite to refuse the gift at least three times before accepting it. Never tear it open right away, no matter how excited you are.
9. Handing Over Money with One Hand in South Korea
Courtesy is of prime importance in South Korea. Their frequent bowing should tell you that much. The same goes with money. You always hand it over with both hands as a sign of respect. Using only one hand could be considered discourteous.
10. Dubious Hand Gestures
Hand gestures can be more essential than words. People in a foreign country might not understand your language, but they can interpret your hand signs; or rather, misinterpret them.
To avoid that possibility, pay attention to these common hand gestures. Each one may have an offensive connotation in some part of the world.
- Peace Sign
If your palm is facing outwards while making this sign, you’re in the clear. It indeed means peace or victory. However, if you show the back of your hand, it could be construed the same as showing your middle finger, or defying authority in the UK, Australia, South Africa, and Ireland.
- Horn Sign
You never know when this hand gesture may turn into a hidden message about an unfaithful spouse. Unfortunately, that’s what it can mean in Mediterranean and Latin countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, Italy, and Portugal.
- “OK” Sign
Everything may not be okay if you flash this sign in Brazil, Turkey, France, or Venezuela. It could be interpreted as vulgar slang, signaling the other person is worthless and insignificant.
- Thumbs Up
In countries like Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Italy, or Greece, thumbs up doesn’t mean an enthusiastic agreement as it does in the rest of the world. It can be seen as an offensive insult to locals. It’s the same as holding up a middle finger.
- “Come Here”
Motioning someone to come closer with a hand sign isn’t welcome in Asian countries. In the Philippines, it’s used only to beckon dogs.
- Looking At Your Watch
In Asian cultures, and especially the Middle East, you should never glance at your watch while having a conversation. You might just be checking the time, but the other person may think you’re in a hurry. Acting too busy to have a conversation is not the impression you want to make.
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We have provided some pointers to nudge you in the right direction. The rest is up to your research before you visit a foreign country. You might encounter a ton of unfamiliar customs. Remember, you might not understand all of them, but you must respect them, nonetheless.
Regardless of your destination, be sure you purchase travel insurance before your trip. While travel insurance cannot protect you from making an unintentional social faux pas, it can help protect your finances against unexpected expenses related to travel delays, trip cancellation, baggage loss, emergency medical issues, and more. Visit Insubuy today to find the perfect plan for you, and purchase it directly from the website.
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