Travel No-Gos

Cultural differences: Things you really shouldn’t do abroad

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The beauty of travel often means adapting to the customs and traditions of the destination countries. Some of these behaviours are total no-gos

Sometimes we are pretty focused on ourselves and do many things out of habit. And some of these behaviours should remain at home. What might seem normal to us could get you in a lot of trouble abroad. When you’re travelling in foreign countries, encountering different cultures and want to make friends, there are a lot of potential pitfalls in everyday life. Some of these are easy to avoid, others can be quite a challenge.

Not what you had in mind

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When Europeans pat you on the head, it’s a sign of kind-heartedness and tenderness. However, in China, the head is considered sacred. Similarly, in Thailand. There, they say that the soul is seated in the head. Patting, stroking and knocking are absolutely forbidden.

Work hand in hand 

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In the UK, shaking hands is a typical greeting but elsewhere this isn’t the case. The French like to kiss three times on the cheek. In Mediterranean countries one kiss is polite usually to say hello. In Asia, for example in Japan, China and Thailand, they will bow without physical contact. In Arab countries there are men and women who do not want to shake hands. In Russia, the doorstep is considered a tripping hazard: according to superstition, shaking hands across the threshold is regarded as a sign of an upcoming argument.

Left handers have it hard

If you want to shake or eat with your hand in much of Asia and especially in India, you better use your right hand. There,  the “unclean” left is used in the bathroom. Even in Arab countries, they will only eat with the right, as according to the Koran “the devil eats and drinks with his left hand.”

The art of sneezing 

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Regardless of where you are, vigorous sneezing in the wrong situation can lead to complications. In South Korea, however, public sneezing is a real taboo. In China, the matter is not quite as strictly frowned upon. The loud sneeze especially when eating is a no-go. Tip: once it tickles the nose, you should rise from the table and disappear into the bathroom. Otherwise you could risk at least a serious stare at your dinner party. In Japan, even handkerchiefs are not used by the public. Something blocking your nose? Snorting is perfectly legitimate. 

The thing with the tip

Anyone living in Japan should not give a tip. Similarly in China the small gift is considered more offensive than generous. In the US, however, waiters work for low wages and are therefore dependent on gratuities. So here, dig a little deeper into the pocket on any visit to a local bar or restaurant. After all, what waitress wants to flirt with a stingy guest?

Say it with flowers

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If you want to impress the object of your affection with flowers in Ukraine, you should always present an odd number. The reason: even numbers are reserved for the dead. From the number 20 it doesn’t matter anymore, probably because nobody takes the trouble to count the flowers. You also need to pay attention about the colour: only mimosas and daffodils are permitted as yellow flowers. All others are considered as symbols of bad luck or separation.

Small hands bible

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I you live in UK, as well as Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, then you will know the traditional peace - or victory - sign, made with the index and middle fingers can mean something else when rotated in the direction of another person.  Another classic ambiguous hand signal: the OK sign with the forefinger and thumb can be interpreted as a certain opening on the body in Russia, Greece and Turkey - it is a grave insult.

Gifts, gifts

You shouldn’t give clocks or umbrellas as presents in China. A ticking clock stands for an expired lifetime, while an umbrella means as much as “I don’t want to see you ever again!” On the other hand, if you want to end a relationship in China just buy an umbrella.

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07 2016 The Red Bulletin

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