We love traveling—the way it allows us to break away from the usual and experience a new culture is always exciting. But sometimes we forget to leave our custom ways behind as we step into a different country. What I mean is, what may seem ok to you to do at home (smiling at strangers, eating with your left hand, giving an OK symbol), is actually insulting to other cultures.
So before you head on to your next trip to Asia, Europe or South America, here’s some travel advice to keep others from thinking the worst of you.
I Said, OK
Some of us love using the OK symbol to let others know that you are in agreement with what they said, or are pleased with the service. However, in countries like Brazil, Turkey, Venezuela, and France, showing an OK symbol is actually offensive. In France, it means “worthless” and “insignificant”, in Brazil and Venezuela it’s slang for your butt (but the other offensive version of it), and in Turkey, the OK symbol is an insult toward gay people.
American’s love to tip, and many countries love Americans because they love to tip when others don’t. But, many cultures in Asia such as Japan, South Korea and China find the gesture rude because they consider service as a team effort instead of an individual one. France and Italy are two European countries that also find it rude to tip because for restaurant owners, it can mean that they don’t pay their employees enough.
Shoes Off, Please
I’m sure you’ve been into many households that ask you to take off your shoes before walking through. (And to be frank, I hope you do too because you bring in thousands of bacteria and feces from outside into your home via your shoes.)
Practically every country in Asia considers it rude to walk around the house with your shoes on. Not only that, but places such as Japan, Hawaii, South Korea, China, Thailand and the South Pacific also require you to take off shoes before you step inside temples, restaurants, and hotels.
Spitting, Sneazing, Flushing
Ok, I know most of us don’t do this, but if you have to get something out of your mouth, don’t do it in Singapore. Spitting, not flushing a public toilet and littering will get you a fine up to $1,000 SGD. The same goes with Hong Kong. If you spit in public, expect to pay a $1,500 HKD fine.
Blowing Your Nose
In countries such as China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and France, blowing your nose in public is considered rude and disrespectful. Either step into a restroom, or use a handkerchief away from the public.
Back of the Taxi
Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, China, Ireland and Scotland all consider it rude if you get in the back of a taxi. Sure, if there’s more than one of you, then don’t all try to sit in the front, but if you’re going solo, sit beside the driver, he or she won’t bite, I promise ;).
Sorry, Left-Handed People
Countries such as India, the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and all of Africa find it offensive if you eat with your left hand. Why? Because the left hand is often used for the toilet.
Where’s Your Knife and Fork?
There are countries that find eating with your hands bad table manners. Some countries in Europe, as well as Chile and Brazil find it odd if you don’t use a fork and knife to eat your french fries and hamburger. Better start learning now!
Ok, I know what you may be thinking, “why would I pat or rub someone’s head?” for the most part, you probably wouldn’t. But if you try to touch a baby’s head (or anyone’s head for that matter) in places like Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan and Laos, you might see them duck or move away. This is because in the Buddhist tradition, the head is considered one of the most sacred part of the body and cannot be touched by others.
Keep Your Straight Face, Straight
Heading to South Korea, China, Japan or Russia? Make sure you don’t stare too long or smile at a stranger. In Asia, smiling at someone you don’t know creates discomfort. In Russia, you only smile at people who you have some sort of relationship with, be it a friend, family member, or someone you’re dating.
(This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com.)