Around most of the U.S. Spring break is just getting started and this means one thing… Lots of traveling. Traveling is a fantastic way to get away from home for a short while and shed the stress of everyday life.
One of the greatest pleasures of traveling is stepping out of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to be exposed to a whole new world of customs and cultures that are very different from your own. But this can lead to some unexpected problems. Gestures and customs that we may consider harmless at home can land you in hot water in another country.
Here are seven common cultural faux pas that are best avoided:
Not everyone loves the camera as much as you
While everyone wants to capture that perfect travel snap of their holiday, taking photographs of local people without permission is not only rude and intrusive but can cause great offense. In some African countries, such as in rural Ghana, people in fact believe that by photographing them you are stealing their soul. Always ask permission first and respect people’s wishes if they don’t want to be photographed.
Hands off the head
In Thailand and other Buddhist countries it is extremely insulting to touch someone’s head without asking permission — even a small child. As the highest point on the body,( closest to the heavens) the head is also considered the holiest part of the body. If you do accidentally touch someone’s head, apologies immediately.
Sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice
Did you know that there are actual rules when it comes to eating with chopsticks? If used “incorrectly” your host could become quite offended? In fact there are many rules that govern the proper use of chopsticks; such as you should not cross them over each other, point them at people or rest them on the opposite side of your plate. Whatever you do though, do not stick them upright in a bowl of rice. In Japan it is customary to make offerings of food to the dead in which the chopsticks are placed upright.
Entering house without taking off your shoes
In many Scandinavian, Eastern European and Asian countries, it is impolite to enter someone’s home without first removing your shoes. While leaving your shoes at the door will obviously keep dirt and mud from being tracked into the house and saves wear and tear on the flooring, culturally it’s also a way of showing respect. By removing your shoes, you are showing the host that you are leaving all your outside concerns outside before entering into the sanctuary of someone’s home. A quick scan of the entry way will help you decide the right course of action. If you see a pile of shoes by the entrance, you should remove your own shoes before entry.
Eating with your left hand
Never touch or eat your food with your left hand when traveling in Muslim or Hindu countries. The left hand typically used when cleaning oneself after a trip to the restroom. So handshaking and eating are always performed with the right hand. You should also avoid gesturing or shaking hands with your left.
Giving the thumbs-up sign
While in many European and English-speaking countries the “thumbs-up” sign means that everything is okay, all is good or you are having a fun time, the same gesture can be construed as highly offensive in other parts of the world. In countries like Iran, Turkey and Brazil, giving the thumbs-up sign is one of the highest insults. It literally means “sit on it” and as such carries the same connotation as the middle finger does in the U.S.
Keep your hanky out of sight
Another no-no — particularly in Asian countries such as China and Japan — is blowing your nose in public. They find it disgusting, especially if you blow your nose at a table, and as such are repelled by the mere sight of a handkerchief. If you have a cold, excuse yourself and find the nearest bathroom.
These are only 7 of the most common cultural faux pas that need to be avoided when traveling.
How many more can you name?