Travelling the world is one of the most exciting and exhilarating things you can do; so many adventures, so much to see and do, so many people to meet! Unfortunately, in a world full of cultural differences, these customs can clash and you could find yourself at best, causing a little offence, and at worst, slapped with a huge fine or a spell in the infamous Bangkok ‘hilton’.
To save you the stress of getting things wrong while you’re abroad, at APH we’ve compiled the most common foreign faux pas so that you can get on with enjoying your trip; care free! Read on for the lowdown on all the major cultural clashes…
Removing shoes taken to the extreme Affectionate behaviour is dangerous in Dubai Lei’s should be treasured not trashed
Always remove your shoes when entering a home or temple in Japan. In fact all over the east, be prepared to remove your shoes at a moments notice.
Never touch the head of anyone in Thailand, not even children! The head is considered the most sacred part of the body to Thais. Passing things over a Thai persons head is also likely to upset them.
We’re not sure why you would do this; but never use your feet to point at anyone in Southeast Asia, as the feet are considered the dirtiest and lowest part of the body.
In Bulgaria if asked if you like something, make sure you shake your head for yes or you may find yourself in a spot of bother. Confusingly the gestures are reversed so nod for no and shake for yes!
Public displays of affection in Dubai and Saudi Arabia could land you in more trouble than you bargained for. Avoid holding hands or kissing in public if you’d like to stay the right side of the law.
Showing off your tanned legs and shoulders might be what holidays are all about, but displaying too much flesh could see you ejected from churches in Italy and Greece; so dress modestly if you intend to visit.
Peeing in public is not socially acceptable anywhere, but in the USA it could land you with a $2,500 fine; ouch!
Think about how you’re dressed; clothing or lack of it may well cause upset in more conservative countries across Asia and Europe. travelling should be about immersing yourself in new traditions and cultures so dress the part!
If you’re lucky enough to jet off to Hawaii and some kind local gives you a colourful lei garland; never refuse it! Warmly say thank you and don’t wear it anywhere except around your neck or you could cause a stir.
Learn the language! You don’t have to be fluent to get by in a country, and knowledge of just a few phrases will be greatly appreciated by locals.
Keep your hands to yourself when travelling abroad as simple gestures can leave you feeling hot & bothered!
Flashing the thumbs up sign may be a normal gesture in the UK, but in Iran and parts of Italy and France this is a big insult.
The American ok sign is likely to cause offense in Turkey and Brazil as it means something quite rude; in France it means ‘zero’ so be careful when flashing it at a chef or he may think you aren’t too impressed with his offerings.
Be careful when pointing; in Malaysia this is considered very rude. In the Philippines it is so offensive that you should point ‘with your eyes or mouth’ so as not to cause upset! In China it is reserved only for dogs.
Showing your palm to a Greek could land you in a tight spot, as this, known as the Moutza, is highly offensive. The only thing worse is the double Moutza, so keep your palms down when travelling in Greece!
The beckoning action meaning ‘come here’ in the UK has very different meanings across the globe. In Japan and Singapore it means death is calling and should be avoided; creepy! In Cambodia it is a lewd gesture while in the Philippines it is reserved only for animals and might not get the reaction you hoped for.
Using your left hand to touch food, give gifts, shake hands or touch people in the Middle East, India, Sri Lanka and parts of Africa might leave locals shaking their heads. The left hand in these regions is used for ‘bathroom duties’ and no matter how clean you think your hand might be; to them it will be highly offensive!
Food & drink
Chopsticks, Marmite and Vodka; all poised to cause offence…
Chopstick etiquette across Asia is highly important; never leave your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice; it mimics death or stabbing in China and Japan. Also never spear food with your chopstick, place them on opposite sides of your bowl or cross them over each other, and definitely don’t point them at anyone!
Refusing vodka in Russia is considered as bad as refusing a hand shake in the UK; as is quietly sipping the drink. Get involved if offered vodka by a local; don’y be shy!
Marmite is banned in Denmark because it contains vitamin B12, so yeast paste addicts will have to wait until they return home to indulge.
Don’t sit down at a dinner table until you’re asked to in Austria, as you may be met with disapproving looks.
If you are lucky enough to be eating with locals in China, eat and drink whatever you host orders for you; as no matter how politely you decline it will be taken as a huge insult.
Keep stuffing that food in while in Spain, as not eating all your food is seen as rude; in Asia the opposite is true, eat all your food and you are implying your host did not provide enough; an insult of epic proportions!
Be careful when adding anything to your dish; adding salt to your meal while in Egypt for example is all it takes to insult the chef. Asking for more while in France implys that the chef did not provide you with enough food, beware!
Not even having a drink escapes embarrassment potential; failing to make eye contact while clinking glasses with Germans is considered very bad luck.
Entering into hot political debates while away would be ill advised
Beware of casually discussing sensitive local issues like the Aboriginal situation in Australia, human rights in China and even bullfighting in Spain; as offence can easily be caused. Stick to discussing food, children, sport or how beautiful the country is and you should be safe!
Don’t be late if you’re meeting anyone in Hong Kong, as if you’re later than even a minute they will question your professionalism.
Avoid wearing t-shirts featuring political slogans. That ‘free Tibet’ t-shirt might look great back home, but it is likely to cause an unwelcome stir if worn while visiting China.
Never talk about work during dinner in New Zealand; there is a time and place for that!
While visiting beautiful Thailand, never say anything disrespectful about the King of Thailand; highly revered throughout the country, the slightest comment could land you a considerable spell in jail.
Asking where the toilet is in the USA is likely to result in a frown; call it a restroom or bathroom to avoid appearing rude.
Tipping, haggling and Marigolds; an unlikely trio determined to cause embarrassment
Tipping is a cause of many tourist headaches! In the USA it is considered skipping out on paying if you don’t tip at least 15%; here, tipping is customary in restaurants, bars, hotels and taxis. In Japan it is offensive to leave a tip so keep your change to yourself. In some parts of Italy and France tips are expected even when service has been added to the bill.
Haggling can be fun and exhilarating experience, so don’t be afraid to question prices when shopping in markets in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Being asked ‘how much do you want to pay’ when asking the price can be a bit bewildering, so start by arguing why you think the price should be reduced.
Banned back in 1992 due to the damage it caused to public areas; you could land yourself with a huge fine in Singapore if found trying to bring chewing gum into the country.
Marigolds may seem like a lovely gift to bring to dinner in Mexico, but they signify death here so pick something else!