Six Cultural Faux Pas to Avoid When Traveling
With literally hundreds of different nations, peoples and customs here on earth it comes as no surprise that people simply do things differently. What's acceptable in one country may be totally unacceptable in another. As such, one is almost destined to commit cultural faux pas when traveling.
Having done my fare share of international travel I've learned that it pays to educate yourself about the culture(s) you'll be visiting to have a better understanding of what's acceptable and what's not. While you won't learn it all, it can help immensely to travel armed with this valuable information.
I've compiled a list of 6 different common faux pas to avoid when traveling that everyone should make an effort to learn before leaving home:
Â· Personal contact â€“ Some cultures are very outgoing and very accepting of personal contact. In Brazil for example, it's common for strangers to hug and even (cheek) kiss when greeting. In other countries though, this type of contact would be considered very formal and completely unacceptable in a first meeting. They would most definitely consider this a cultural faux pas.
Likewise, common gestures such as hand shaking can also be considered a breach of personal space (not all cultures accept this form of greeting) and some societies that do hand shake only accept it a certain way. For instance, in Muslim and Hindu cultures the left hand is considered unclean so handshaking and eating are always done with the right hand. Extending your left hand in greeting would be a major faux pas here.
Â· Hand gestures â€“ Many of us perform hand gestures without even thinking as they are so common to us in our own culture. When traveling though they are something to pay close attention to and even avoid altogether if you're not sure how they'll be received.
For instance giving the peace sign in the UK with your palm facing the wrong direction (towards you, it should be facing away) would be the equivalent of telling them to f*?$ off. Giving the "OK" sign in Brazil is tantamount to calling someone an a-hole.
Â· Food â€“ I think I could write an entire article just on food faux pas alone! Generally these are considered less egregious but there are potentially many. In some cultures placement of eating utensils can have various negative meanings such as leaving chopsticks standing upright in rice (this mimics some funeral rites).
Eating noisily or conversely eating quietly can be considered a compliment or rude depending on where you are - the same with belching during or after a meal. Refusing food or drink from your host could also be considered very rude (regardless of what it is!).
There are so many potential faux pas to avoid when traveling in this category it's one everyone should pay extra attention to!
Â· Clothes â€“ Some cultures frown upon exposure of cleavage or other body parts (like hair, face, etc.). Other cultures also frown heavily upon anything that is even vaguely see through (for men or women). Tight fitting clothes or clothes that accentuate the body are also unacceptable in other cultures.
In addition, clothing rules that apply to one gender don't necessarily apply to the other so this is another area lack of care and caution could cause a cultural travel faux pas.
Â· Body language â€“ In various cultures how you carry yourself can also have both positive and negative connotations. Crossing your ankles or legs might be seen as defensive. Lifting your feet off the floor or exposing the soles of your shoes could be considered a major offense.
Blowing your nose in public in some Asian and European countries could be considered very inappropriate as well as keeping your hands off the table when eating (Indonesia).
Â· Conversation â€“ While most cultures consider it rude to point at someone while talking, speaking loudly, out of turn or even looking someone in the eyes (or not looking!) when speaking could be considered rude.
Cultural faux pas when traveling abroad are going to happen. Generally most cultures will know and understand that your mistakes are not intentional and give you a fair amount of leeway when such indiscretions occur.
It goes a long way though, and is a sign of mutual respect, If you prepare yourself ahead of time and make the sincere effort to avoid such cultural faux pas in the first place. With access to the internet or your local library, major mistakes like those above should be easily avoidable.
If in doubt, simply ask someone in the know (one of the locals)! Most cultures and peoples are more than happy to share their way of life to new comers and in doing so share a part of themselves. Open your mind to the travel experience and how others do things and enjoy, don't rebel at those differences.