You must have been spending a lot of time on your travel itinerary, hotel bookings and attractions to visit. However, you never really bother learning about local cultural differences which if you don’t follow might offend the local people.
We thought of sharing some information here with our own research by gathering information from Quora thread that addresses the issue of travel etiquette. The thread asked people around the world what tourists should absolutely not do when visiting their home countries.
We list here some of the most interesting cultural differences which might come as a shock to you but is a norm or taken quite seriosuly in a host country you are visiting.
- Don’t tip anyone. Tipping is just not part of the culture. Don’t even leave the small change. People will come running after you with it, Seriously.
- Don’t go into people’s homes with your shoes on. You may run into this at certain temples and shrines, restaurants or traditional inns too. If you see other people taking their shoes off, do the same. (Note: there’s a small area right inside the entrance called a ‘genkan’ which is usually one level below the rest of the house, where you take off your shoes. You don’t take them off outside the house!)
- You will encounter ‘washlets’ or toilets with attachments for washing and drying your private parts everywhere. Don’t get too freaked out by them…and if you can’t figure them out, you can always use toilet paper.
- Do not enter a bath tub without washing yourself outside the tub first, especially at onsen springs, or at public baths (sento).
- Don’t talk on your cellphone in trains. While it’s not against the law, it’s considered to be rude since it disturbs people around you.
- Stay on the correct side on escalators. In The Tokyo you stand on the left. In Osaka you stand on the right. Follow what other people are doing.
- Don’t feed birds. They’ll fine you.
- Don’t spit or urinate or smoke or litter in public. They’ll fine you.
- Don’t bring pets into public. They’ll fine you.
- Don’t eat or drink in public transport. They’ll fine you.
- Don’t walk around naked in public. They’ll review or even take away your prestigious scholarship. Then they’ll fine you.
- Don’t do the Nazi salute. Not even in jest. It’s a crime and every year there are tourists arrested for it. Also don’t carry any Nazi symbols with you.
- Don’t stare. You’d appear either uneducated or mentally ill.
- Don’t talk about religion.
- Ask if you should take off your shoes when visiting someone’s home.
- Don’t wish someone a happy birthday before the day. Same for anything. The origin is a superstition that something bad will happen to them (they might die) before their birthday if you do, however this rule is not limited to superstitious people. Even bright, rational Germans will feel uncomfortable because it’s just not done. I guess it feels similar to congratulating someone on passing an exam before they have taken it…
- Don’t Try to Haggle. Every item has a fixed price tag, so unless the item is damaged trying to bargain over the price with a vendor will only get a puzzled look. Keep your haggling skills for second hand car salesman.
- Keep Your Hands to Yourself. There is little personal touching in public in Norway, unless you are a really close friend or a member of the family – and even then, touching is kept to a minimum. A hearty handshake in greeting is expected, but a kiss is not.
- Don’t Make Assumptions on Marital Status or Lifestyle. In Norway, like some it’s neighboring countries, marriage is not a prerequisite to starting a family. More and more couples are living together without any legal arrangement, so don’t simply assume that couples are married. In the same vein, don’t assume that two friends of the same sex are always just friends. This is an open-minded country. Don’t criticize lifestyle choices.
- People are pretty relaxed about nudity, and both men and women will for example change on public beaches without any attempt at covering themselves up. You are however expected to look away. (no-one will care if you glance, but please don’t STARE)
- Do not unwrap flowers prior to giving them as a gift. (Germans do this)
- Don’t ask people what church they attend. Most attend none, and asking this is seen as intrusive, rude and downright weird.
- Don’t expect special treatment. People are very informal here and being on a first-name-basis with anyone short of the King is the norm. Even the prime-minister of Norway is most often referred to by first name.
- No Kissing in public place. In some jurisdictions this can get you into jail under “public obscenity” (a lot of our laws are stuck in the Victorian era). Although the law enforcement cuts some slack if the couple is married, if the couple is unmarried things can get really messy.
- Do not touch anything of respect with your feet. If you stomp over a book, national flag, image of a deity etc, you can get into trouble. While stomping a book might invite strong frowns (people will think you are an idiot), deliberately stomping an image of a god of any religion or India’s national symbols (such as the flag and the emblem) might get you into trouble or may be even arrested.
- Physical contact with member of opposite sex. Hugging and handshakes are still frowned upon in most parts of the country among members of opposite sex. Unless the local offers to hug or handshake, don’t. This is not illegal and no one goes to jail for hugging/handshakes. Just it is a custom. On the other hand, among members of same sex hugging is pretty common.
- Shorts/skirts in a place of worship. Dresses that show anything above the ankle is generally frowned upon in most places of worship and in someplaces officially banned. This applies to both sexes.
- DO NOT bring any vegetables, seeds, milk products, meat, honey, cooked food, bugs or soil. Agriculture agents will even check your shoes for foreign soil. Declare your wooden trinkets, chuck your apple in the amnesty bin on arrival. The instant fine is NZ$400, there’s no fine for over-declaring possible items.\
- Do not confuse New Zealanders with Aussies (Australians), we don’t like it!
- Don’t expect to see any Kiwi birds they are almost extinct. Irony!
- It’s better not to compare Australia with New Zealand, just mention how Australia has never won a game of Rugby against the All Blacks(not statistically). You might get a free beer.
- All Blacks is a Rugby team and probably a religion. Do not make fun of anything that is rugby.
- People are extremely polite and when they say “Good Day” How’s it going?” Just reply back “Good”. It is a greeting, they don’t really want to know!
- Random people will greet you on the streets, it might be a good idea to greet them back.
- Kiwi accent is funny; bet and bat sounds the same. “A” sounds like “E” and vice versa. Don’t point it out.
- Flip Flops/ slippers are known as jandals! Don’t ask why. Swimming trunks are called Togs. Chicken are called chooks. Singlet tops are know as wife beaters.
- If you find people walking with no footwear whatsoever, don’t stare. Its perfectly normal to go about in public places without footwear, and in some cases a shirt. You will still be served.
- New Zealand is a hierarchy / social status/ race neutral country. Doesn’t matter what you wear / do / drive/ follow we don’t care a rat’s ass.
- Showing off is considered rude!
- When invited for a barbecue/ party please bring a plate of meat / food and your own alcohol. It is advised that you ask before hand whether it is a BYO (Bring your own ) party / barbecue. Or you will be considered a free loader :). Kid you not!
- Prostitution is legal. Yes, you heard that right!
- Carry your passport to the supermarkets and pubs in case you don’t have a NZ drivers license or an NZ ID. You won’t be served any alcohol/ tobacco products unless they see your ID.
- DO not Honk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO one Honks!
- Do not go camping or tramping into wilderness or mountains without informing someone or without following safety precautions. Things change rapidly and even though we don’t have creepy crawlies or any predators, the elements/ bush is harsh and a LOT of people having gone missing or lost their lives.
- Queen of England is still a big deal here! We still celebrate her birthday and swear allegiance to her. Not a good idea to make fun of her.
- Don’t insult the Kim family by any means.
- Don’t laugh at the Kim family. It’s harder than you can imagine.
- Don’t joke around. Especially no sarcasm or irony.
- Don’t defend capitalism.
- Don’t call it North Korea; they prefer Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
- Don’t talk to anybody that isn’t your agent.
- Don’t bother your agents.
- Don’t take pictures without your agents’ permission (or do it very discretely without your agents finding out).
- Don’t be a smart ass. Most of the facts that they will give you are wrong, but you just have to nod with your head and agree with them.
- By any means DO NOT wander off alone throughout the trip.
- Don’t try to hide anything from your agents.
- Phones and Passport are taken at the airport and will not be returned until the last day of your trip.
- Don’t ask uncomfortable questions twice.
- Don’t wander in cities. The difference between a safe neighborhood and an unsafe one can be a single block, and if you don’t know exactly where these lines are, it could be the last mistake you ever make.
- Don’t expect to find a functional public transportation system.
- Prices on everything except high value items (cars, houses, stuff that costs in the thousands) are marked and fixed. No negotiating.
- Americans have a big personal space bubble. Don’t stand within a half a meter of people.
- Don’t come without medical insurance. The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are among the 5 largest in the country, the costs are outrageous, and the care, inconsistent.
- Don’t forget to tip. The minimum wage laws, as impotent as they are, don’t even apply to service employees. Wait staff, bartenders, and delivery people live off of tips.
- Bribing is illegal. Do not bribe a police officer, customs agent, or other government worker. You will be punished for attempting to bribe the police in addition to whatever your mistake was in the first place.
- Never use the word “negro” or any similar sounding word to refer to a black person. In fact, refrain from mentioning a person’s race at all. Race is a very sensitive subject in the US and is the easiest way to offend someone.
- Do not damage or disrespect an American flag. While Americans do have free speech and it’s perfectly legal to do so, it is considered offensive.
- Never touch anyone’s head or pass anything from above the head. It is considered to be the most sacred body part.
- Do not point forefinger at things. Instead point a thumb. Pointing a forefinger at anything is considered rude.
- Do not pound your fist in to your hand, it is considered an obscene gesture.
- Do not kiss in public.
- Do not touch or give anything to a monk if you are a woman, they have to fast and do ritual cleansing.
- Do not eat in front of Malay’s in the holy month of Ramadan, its very disrespectful.
- Don’t give even number of flowers as a gift. That’s for dead folks. Proper bouquet will have 1/3/5/7/… flowers.
- Don’t leave your belongings unattended. You may not find them when you return. This also means not leaving your car unlocked and not leaving anything valuable in a car in a plain view (including GPS trackers).
- If you’re a homosexual you’d better refrain from showing this in public. You may get in trouble with some crazy homophobe or maybe even with police. And absolutely certainly stay away from drunken-looking groups of people.
- Don’t criticize Soviet Union when talking with people over 40. They grew up at those times and might be nostalgic. Even if they enjoy modern life they might not like hearing foreigners talking about it.
- Don’t assume we support everything our government does. Quite often we don’t. Don’t criticize our government. We do it a lot by ourselves, we don’t need your help in that.
- Don’t assume we agree with what the government or some famous French person said or did. This is true for many countries, but really, criticizing the government is like a national sport in France. Whatever and whoever the current government is.
- Don’t use a car except if you intend to visit the countryside. Public transportation in and between cities is efficient, fast and relatively cheap.
- If you are a vegan, don’t expect much awareness about that. Notify people you visit and be careful in which restaurants you go. Very few people are vegan in France compared to some other countries, and although the situation is slowly improving, the awareness and acceptance of it are still quite poor. Some older people especially can consider it a “weird” or even radical behaviour, and you should not assume there will be a vegan option in all restaurants.
- Avoid speaking about money, earnings and salaries, and if you do, absolutely don’t mention any figures. For example you can tell you quit a job because you were underpaid, but you should not mention how much exactly. There are old taboos about speaking of money in the French culture, many people consider it a “dirty” topic and in many families even relatives will not discuss it. And of course if you are wealthy, don’t brag about it and don’t show off. Some other cultures admire people who are overtly rich, but in France it will mostly get you jealousy and bitterness.
- Don’t expect most people to understand English or your home language. The French educational system is bad at teaching foreign languages, with an excessive focus on reading and writing compared to conversational skills. Many older people will only know a bit of bad and heavily accented English and/or possibly German or Spanish. The situation is better with younger people, but even they often won’t be very proficient.
- First of all don’t come here assuming that brazilian women are naturally promiscuous – “whores”, the latin fever, etc – and men are thugs; we (especially us girls) suffer a lot already when traveling abroad receiving this kind of inappropriate treatment. It is deeply disrespectful and quite frankly if you believe so you’re not the kind of person that we would like in our country.
- Please do not get offended when treated informally. We are a very welcoming people, and we treat everyone like this – even authority figures such as the President. Actually we enjoy hugging and kissing (1 or 2 little kisses on the cheek, nothing Excess), mostly when we meet someone. You can keep your distance if that would make you comfortable though.
- We have a hard time with English. Don’t come around expecting that you will be understood by everyone because it is rare to find people that speak basic English. We will try our best to communicate with you though, especially servers, taxi drivers and such.
- Do not assume we speak Spanish. We speak Portuguese – we were colonized by Portugal even though our languages are completely different nowadays – and assuming otherwise is really rude and you will be seen as ignorant. Actually, we have very little similarities with our fellow South American countries.
- We come in literally all shapes, sizes and colors. Don’t come expecting to meet stereotypical standards on how we look, you will probably be stunned by our diversity.
- Drugs (including marijuana, which we call “maconha”) and going topless in our beaches are prohibited. Drug consumption is quite common in places like nightclubs and such but it is not legal to do so. Don’t do it, you’ll probably get in trouble.
- You will be called “gringo” several times (it is not something derogatory per se. It’s more like “hey, we can see that you’re not form here, hahaha!”).
- Don’t assume you understand the intricacies of Israeli society, politics or religion. You have no idea how complicated it can get.
- Speaking of weddings and other celebrations: don’t bring a gift that is thicker than an envelope.
- When driving don’t drive in the left lane on the highway unless you’re passing other cars.
- Don’t expect to be able to tip your waiter (waitress) on the credit card, as is common in many places. Have some cash ready for the tip.
- Don’t dive into the Dead Sea and don’t try to swim. Just float, nice and easy.
- Don’t take pictures of the ultra orthodox Jews before asking their permission.
- Don’t ask stupid questions about the wildlife, like do we have pet kangaroos, no we fucking don’t.
- Don’t try to out-drink us, you’ll probably lose.
- Don’t run through the bush/forest, that’s how people get bitten by snakes.
- Try not to feed the wildlife, they have their own specific diets.
- Don’t drive in the fast lane unless you’re overtaking, that will piss people off.
- Don’t smoke in any shops, restaurants, cafes etc, it’s against the law.
- Try to refrain from being overtly religious, we’re private about our dwindling links to gods.
- Queue jump – This is the only crime that the population would consider bringing back capital punishment for.
- Do not ask how much someone earns, instead play a curious guessing game by asking someone “what they do” , “where they live”, “where they went on holiday” and figure it out by correlating this with their accent.
- Don’t cross your chopsticks over another person’s chopsticks when you are getting food from a dish.
- Don’t wear red in a funeral; don’t wear white during Lunar New Year(February)
- Don’t say anything bad about the Chinese government unless you are in Hong Kong or Macau.
- Don’t be too drunk in bars because some young people find their kidneys taken away when they are drunk.
- Don’t judge when people are urinating in public.
- Don’t argue with elder Chinese people about hygiene (they love spiting their mucus everywhere).
- Don’t just wander onto a bike path. We have lots of bike paths. Don’t assume bikes are not real traffic; they are. If you don’t watch out, eventually you’ll find some bike barreling down on you at 30 kph, ringing madly, while you stand there panicking and flailing your arms.
- If you smoke weed (which is legal (well, not really, but you won’t get in trouble)), don’t assume it’s okay to smoke it everywhere. You can usually smoke it in the place you bought it, or in a park, but in many other places it would be considered inappropriate. Ask.
- If you use stronger drugs than that, don’t do it alone. Do it in a safe place with people you trust. We don’t have a lot of drugs death, but every year, there’s a tourist who thinks they can fly out of a window. Don’t be that tourist.
- Don’t address people by their title. We ignore titles completely. It could even be considered slightly embarrassing to be addressed by your title. We’re very egalitarian here. At the office, people address their boss by his first name. We are very first-namey. Though a simple Mr. Lastname is fine, particularly if haven’t been introduced yet.
- Don’t address people as “friend”. It’s creepy and nobody will trust you.
- Don’t haggle. Unless you’re buying a couch, a car or a house. But for anything less, we don’t haggle. Usually the price is fair.
- Don’t bother trying to speak Dutch. Dutch is a very hard language to learn, primarily because the natives won’t speak it back to you; they switch to English as soon as they notice Dutch isn’t your native language.
- Don’t assume we all smoke weed (our drug use is actually lower than many “war on drugs” countries).
- Don’t stand on the left side on the escalator.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates:
- Muslims pray five times a day. Each prayer is announced from the mosques by a call to prayer. When the call to prayer is heard, music shall be turned off in all public places and cars, and Muslims shall be allowed to perform their prayer duty.
- During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. Throughout this month, eating, drinking or smoking in public spaces during daylight is considered a public offence and is punishable by law.
- Taking photos of people is a sensitive issue in Dubai’s local culture.
- In all public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts shall be of appropriate length.
- Beach-goers – men and women – shall wear conservative swimwear that is acceptable to Dubai’s culture. Swimwear shall not be worn outside the beach, as decent dress is the rule in the rest of the city. Nudity is strictly forbidden in every part of the city and is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
- Public displays of affection, as well as sexual harassment or randomly addressing women in public places is liable to be punished by imprisonment or deportation.
- Swearing, profanities, insults and all kinds of vulgar language are strictly forbidden in Dubai and are legally reprehensible in case of complaint. All kinds of aggressive or offensive gestures are considered a public offence and are subjected to fines or imprisonment.
- Don’t disrespect religion: “Almost everyone you meet is religious; religion here is always in fashion, so if someone asks you if you are religious, don’t take offense because it is common for everyone to follow a religion, and around 80% of the population are Christians.”
- Don’t be impatient: “Hardly anything runs on time, with an exception of a couple of business meetings and bank closing hours and most other businesses. Everything runs late, don’t get pissed off or impatient, learn to go with the flow, things will happen, just not on time.”
- Don’t talk about sex in mixed company: “It is wrong and is frowned upon and people might not want to be in your company after that.”
- Don’t call someone by their first name: “Miss, Mrs, Mr., Dr. and Engineer so and so (mostly the surname) are totally accepted. If you want to call someone whose name you don’t know, refer to them as madam or sir. You get quite a lot of bonus points for that. Only refer to someone by their first name if they introduce themselves as such.”
- Don’t make the okay sign with your thumb and forfinger: This is considered obscene in Turkey.
- Lay off the alcohol: Turks don’t drink much – maybe an occasional glass of wine every once in a while – and being drunk is considered a disgrace.
- Don’t blow your nose or pick your teeth in public: Turks consider both of these impolite when done at a restaurant, cafe, or bar.
- Don’t eat anything with your hands: Manners are more formal in Chile, so even if it’s fries, use your knife and fork.
- Don’t patronize people. We’re a developing country and we’re aware that some stuff is just backwards over here. Don’t ever imply that you are “better” than anyone, especially if that hinges on you being a foreigner. A lot of special treatment will be given to you because you’re a tourist, or a foreigner. Don’t take advantage of it.
- Don’t talk about religion. Catholicism is everywhere, and some people are very ardent believers. It won’t get you in trouble, or shunned or anything if you criticize. Just let it be.
- We have a huge sense of humor as a culture. Nothing is out of bounds for us! We’ll mock, ridiculize, insult, pick on and put down just for the fun of it, on a regular basis! You know you’re on best friend terms with someone if you can call him a raging homosexual and that you slept with his mom and/or sister and/or girlfriend. Don’t take offense at it!
- Don’t shun yourself out. We love it when you try to say that ridiculously difficult word in spanish and you’ll be met with proud cheers if you brave a bite out of that horrifyingly spicy pepper, or down that shot of tequila.
- Don’t say “Top of the morning to you”: “I don’t know how this phrase became associated with Irish people, perhaps it was used in the distant past. But it’s not now, and it’s just really irritating.”
- Don’t attempt an Irish accent: “To us there is no Irish accent; there are Cork accents, Dublin accents, Kerry accents etc. For us an accent contains reams of unspoken information about a person (Urban/Rural, social status) aside from the locational information.”
- Don’t be cheap: “The classic is in a rounds situation at a pub. If someone is offering to buy the first round, it is perfectly acceptable to say ‘Oh I’m on a budget, I’ll get my own.’ It is not ok to join the round and then not pay for one.”
- Don’t call the UK the mainland: “As far as we’re concerned, France is the mainland.”
Note: All information represented here is personal opinion of respective individuals that may not necessarily echo the voice of all nationals.
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