What not to do when travelling in 14 different countries
While planning a trip you think about what destinations to go to, what transports to take, where to stay, what to see… But we forget to learn a little bit more about the traditions and customs of the countries we’re planning to visit. Particularly what not to do when travelling in those countries. This may eventually originate some problems on a social level, particularly in far away countries (like for example, asian countries) with very different traditions and customs from western countries like ours. I’ll give you a hand so that you’ll be able to avoid some unpleasant situations and always respect the locals at any travel destination you chose to go to. So let’s find out a bit more about what no to do when travelling through several countries around the world.
- Avoid touching the head of local people in Thailand, particularly kids’ heads since it’s something we do naturally in western society. The head is considered to be the body’s most sacred part and it should never be touched by someone else.
- Showing the soles of your feet is also considered disrespectful, especially inside temples, where you should always sit with your feet behind your body or sideways, never with the sole turned to the statues/altars.
- Do not go in to buddhist temples with bare shoulders and legs. This is considered to be highly disrespectful. Although some temples rent out some cloths at the entrance, it’s always a good idea to carry a scarf or a sarong with you in case ou want to go into a sacred place.
- Always take off your shoes before entering temples, locals’ homes or certain establishments where you see other people doing it.
- In Luang Prabang, Laos, when you go to watch the monks’ early morning ceremony, do not get in their way only for you to get “the” photo. Pick a place to watch the ceremony and stay there in silence.
- Never sit in a more elevated place than a person older than you. If you’re invited to a local’s home, and an older person sits on the floor, you should do it too.
- Avoid public displays of affection. These are, like in many other countries, looked upon as disrespectful.
- Never use your feet to point at someone or something. Feet are considered to be the most unclean part of the body.
- Always remember to avoid handing something to someone with your left hand. In India, the left hand is considered to be unclean, so reaching it out to someone is considered disrespectful.
- For the same reasons mentioned above, do not eat with your left hand. Indian people always eat with their right hand.
- Also avoid any public displays of affection towards someone of the opposite sex. These gestures may be seen as obscene, even if it’s just a little peck!
- Never hold out your hand to a person of the opposite sex, unless she does it first.
- Don’t take pictures of funeral rituals such as cremations for example. It is highly disrespectful.
- Wear more conservative clothing that covers a larger part of your body. It is not recommended the use of shorts, short dresses, skirts or deep cleavages. This type of clothing may be seen as teasing and may attract unwanted attention and behaviour towards you.
- Don’t tip when you’re in Japan. This is a very common custom in several countries around the world but not in Japan, where it can be looked at as disrespectful and humiliating.
- Take off your shoes when you’re invited to a locals’ home. Japanese usually eat on tatami mats spread out on the floor, so hygiene is extremely important. You will most likely be handed some home slippers which you may use in every room, except the ones where there are tatami mats.
- Bow when you say hello, thank you or goodbye to someone. Or ate least lean your head down just a bit.
- You should always use both hands when you receive something or give something to someone.
- Never leave your chopsticks sticking up in a bowl of rice. This gesture is usually associated to funeral rituals.
Well, in an article entitled “What not to do when travelling“, Singapore beats all records. There are several rules to obey to.
- Don’t chew chewing gum on the street.
- Don’t smoke in public.
- Don’t eat or drink in public transports.
- Don’t walk your pet in the street. Well, clearly this only applies if you’re living in Singapore. If you’re just visiting, you might want to leave little Buddy at home this time.
- Don’t feed the birds.
- Don’t discuss religion or politics.
- Don’t wrap presents in white paper. White is usually associated to mourning.
- Don’t talk about sex when you’re with people from the opposite sex. It is seen as highly disrespectful in this country.
- Avoid the use of the word “no”. In Kenya, to use the word “no” may be seen has impolite. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything, of course, but just try to find another way of refusing something.
- Avoid using your left hand to eat or say hello to someone. In Kenya, the left hand is also considered to be unclean.
- Avoid using your hair down. Long hair down, especially blonde, may be seen as teasing.
- Avoid blowing your nose when you’re at a restaurant or bar, unless you’re ok with the disgusted faces you’ll get in return.
- Take off your shoes before going in to a mosk. And don’t forget to cover your hair and dress modestly.
- If you’re with a male companion, don’t get offended if men only speak towards him. It’s difficult to deal with, I know (it has happened to me), but actually it’s a way of them to protect your “honour”. It is not seen as disrespectful.
- Avoid doing the OK sign with your fingers, by joining the thumb and the index finger. In Turkey it is considered to be an obscene gesture.
- Avoid talking about money. This is a taboo subject in conversations with French people, since it is considered rude and tasteless.
- Try to learn at least some words in French before you get there. Although younger generations are different, French people in general don’t like to speak english and you’ll be more welcomed if you at least try to speak their language.
- Don’t offer red carnations. This flower is usually associated to funerals and it’s also seen as a symbol of bad-will or bad luck.
- Don’t be punctual. Here, unlike many other countries, being late to meetings is quite normal. Sometimes, getting on time can even be seen as inconvenient.
- Avoid the use of shorts. Unless you’re in a beach area, Mexican women rarely use shorts. Of course you can wear them, no one is going to talk to you about it. It’s just an advice so that you may be able to mingle with the local population more easily.
- Take a good sense of humour with you to Mexico. Mexicans are known for their great sense of humour which is mostly based on insults, making fun of and picking on each other. There’s no harm in it though. So if that happens to you, try not to take it personally.
- Don’t leave your plate empty. Always leave a little bit of food on your plate even if you loved what you just ate. Leaving an empty plate may imply that the host didn’t give you enough food, something which is very offensive to Chinese people.
- Always say hello to older people first.
- Never stick your chopsticks on a bowl of rice. Just as in Japan, this gesture is usually associated to funeral rituals.
- Always use both hands to receive or give something to someone.
- Don’t offer clocks or things connected to the number 4. These objects are associated with funerals and death.
From all the Arab countries and emirates, Dubai is one of (if not the most) flexible towards western customs. But nevertheless, it is necessary to keep some rules in mind.
- Never drink alcohol in public. You may do it in certain restaurants and bars, but never on the street.
- Avoid public displays of affection, something which is frowned upon by Arabs.
- Say hello to local people with the Arab greeting. If someone says to you “al-salaam alaykum” (“may peace be with you”), you should answer back “wa alaykum e-salaam” (“and with you as well“).
- Dress appropriately to enter mosks. You will have to cover your head and your body in case you want to visit a mosk.
- When in Myanmar, always show as much respect as you can towards monks. And as a woman don’t try to touch any. This rule is common to the majority of Southeast Asian countries.
- When offering something to someone or when giving someone money, do it with both your hands or touch the elbow of the arm that is approaching the other person.
- Smile a lot. Burmese are an extremely affectionate people and very generous when it comes to smiles. Giving them your biggest smile is a sure way of getting their affection.
- Don’t point your index finger up. This gesture means your challenging someone.
- Don’t touch people’s heads. As I said before, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body by buddhists. Touching someone’s head is seen as highly disrespectful.
- Don’t smoke in public and avoid bringing cigarettes with you into the country. Smoking in public may lead to some years in prison. And you’re only allowed to take a maximum of 100 cigarettes into the country with a 200% tax fee on it. Besides, selling cigarettes in Bhutan is strictly forbidden. So, if you’re planning to go there, you might want to drop the addiction or stock up on nicotine patches and gums. Well, the best thing is just to stop smoking, period.
- Don’t take pictures inside temples and other sacred places. It’s forbidden.
- Don’t point with your index finger. If you have to point at something, use the palm of your hand.
14. The Netherlands
- Don’t stand in a bicycle lane. You’re in serious danger of getting ran over by one of them. Really: they don’t stop. And there’s a loooot of bicycles.
- Don’t show up in someone’s houses without letting them know first. It is considered to be very rude. Dutch people are very protective of their privacy.
- Avoid bragging about your money or possessions. Dutch are pretty down to earth, and they appreciate you trying to impress them in that way.
- Split the bill in case you’re having dinner with Dutch people. Unless you have already previously decided that one of you would be paying for it, the bill will be split.
- Don’t misinterpret the Dutch’s frontal attitude. They are a very direct people, they say what’s on their mind, something that may be seen as a rude behaviour in other countries.
Ok, now that you know what not to do when travelling, in at least 14 different countries, all you have to do is start planning your next adventure. But this time, you know you won’t get strange looks by local people without knowing why!