Cultural etiquette that you need to know for some of the most popular destinations.
Visiting a new country can be an exciting experience, but cultural differences can sometimes be confusing. What is acceptable in one place may be a faux pas somewhere else, leading to tourists’ inadvertently offending local people.
To make travelling easier, we’ve put together some of the most important etiquettes for the best countries to visit this year, according to Lonely Planet.
Remove footwear and hats when visiting temples (socks are ok if it’s hot) and make sure that you’re dressed respectfully (shoulders, arms and legs covered).
Don’t turn your back on a Buddha statue as this is disrespectful and showing off any body art or clothing with the Buddha image can get your arrested!
Always ask permission before you take photos of other people (although this should be a given no matter where you are).
Don’t get overly touchy-feely with your partner but a peck on the cheek or arm around the shoulder is ok.
Don’t use your left hand when eating or passing something. Either use only your right hand or if the object is heavy you can use both. The left is used for personal hygiene and the right for everything else. For you lefties out there – good luck.
Try not to stare at people who choose to sunbathe nude on the beach. This is practiced all over Germany as they believe in the “free body culture”.
Cash is king so make sure you have enough euros in your wallet as not many establishments accept cards. Cash machines may also charge you a commission so it’s best to be organised from the outset.
Germans are huge advocates of using polite greetings. It’s commonplace to address everyone when you enter a shop or establishment by saying ‘"Guten Tag" (Good Day) and when you leave ‘Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye/’Til We Meet Again)’
When eating out at a restaurant, don’t eat ANYTHING with your fingers unless you’re breaking off bread. Also, try to make sure that your hands are visible on the table at all times during the meal and not sitting in your lap. It’s not a major faux pas but they may see this as rude – similar to elbows on the table while eating.
When receiving something like your food order or purchase, it’s polite to clap twice. If you find yourself with one hand full, then you can “clap” using your free hand on your chest. As this country has a strong social gender divide, there are two different ways to clap. Men are to clap using their fingertips on their wrist compared to women who are expected to ‘golf clap’.
Speaking out against the Government is a crime, even if you think it’s just your opinion. It’s better to just keep any political thoughts to yourself.
If you ever take something from a local, ensure you accept using your right hand only. It is seen as insulting and the rule applies when passing something as well.
Finding yourself in a situation when you need to shake hands with a local, don’t forget to support your forearm with the other hand to signify the “weight” of the honour of this gesture.
Appearances are quite important to Panamanians as they take pride in how they dress, and it is illegal to walk around any town or city without wearing a shirt. Try to be smart yet comfortable when being out and about – pay attention to what the locals are wearing if you’re unsure.
When dining out, tipping anything less than 10% is frowned upon. Try to ensure that a 10 to 15% tip is left for the server and at some higher end restaurants, tipping the host/hostess on duty can get you a better table.
Bargaining or haggling is not common when out shopping but you can try at the local markets or street stands when you might get a lower price. It’s worth a try but don’t be surprised if you pay the ticket price.
Don’t be surprised if locals have a different idea to personal space than what you’re used to. They’re not being rude if they are stood too close so try not to worry.
NEVER waste bread - It is considered very sacred and is present at every meal. The reason for this is that bread replaces other food if it’s scarce and therefore no one throws it away. Loaves of bread are intended to be torn into small pieces and shared amongst the diners.
Personal space is not something that is recognised so try not to get offended if someone is rubbing shoulders with you on the bus.
Kyrgyz are conservative people so try to respect this by dressing reasonably modestly when in public. Anything that is too revealing, super short or very skimpy (both men and women) shouldn’t be worn to prevent offending the locals. Headscarves for women are not necessary but can be useful when entering a place of worship or protecting yourself from the sun or dust.
Ensure that your carry your passport or a notarised copy of it at ALL times. You can get arrested if you fail to have it on you if stopped by the police. Sometimes you will be expected to pay a small “bribe” to avoid a trip to the station.
As Jordan is a heavily influenced Muslim country, it is important to dress modestly at all times. That means nothing too short, too tight or too revealing – long cotton trousers and shirts are the best so that not only are you following the local custom but it will protect you from the sun.
When eating, try to remember to only eat with your right hand as it is customary to do so. The reason for this is that the left hand is used for personal hygiene so that it is frowned upon to use this hand of anything else.
Coffee is an important element of the Jordanian culture so if you are offered a cup by a local, try to accept - It is offered as a goodwill gesture and accepting it is showing their goodwill is being reciprocated.
If you come across a local praying in a public space, ensure you don’t interrupt or walk in front of them as this is seen as disrespectful.
Very much the same for Kyrgyzstan and Jordan, using only your right hand for everything apart from personal hygiene is very important. If you are left handed, you will have to remember to make this change while you’re visiting unless you are happy with all the judging stares you are likely to get.
Showing the soles of your feet or not removing your shoes when entering a home or place of worship is regarded as disrespectful so try to keep this is in mind.
Indonesians are very laid back and polite people, so it’s important to remember that if you have any issues with the locals, disputes can be resolved in a calm and concise manner – there is no need for standoffish behaviours or voice raising.
Vodka toasts are very common during meals so if you are looking for the authentic dining experience, then try to join in with this tradition. Each person at the meal will make a short toast and everyone will have a shot of vodka after. Also – have a little food after each shot as it makes good sense.
This is one more for the men – if you are in a situation where you need to shake hands, make sure you do as it is a big deal in the Belarusians culture. Also, don’t shake hands over a threshold as it is deemed to be bad luck.
When visiting the churches you need to dress respectfully – so nothing too revealing such as trousers, long shorts, t-shirts but no vest tops or anything skin tight.
The locals can be quite direct when it comes to asking for something. Try not be offended if you are asked for something and it sounding more like a command rather than a question – eg if you are asked to pass something in a restaurant.
The locals are very fond and respectful of queuing (which is great for us Brits). Keep in mind especially at taxi ranks, if there doesn’t appear to be a ‘physical’ queue, the drivers will know who is next in turn so ask before you get in a car to prevent any awkwardness.
Belizeans are a super friendly bunch so don’t be surprised if you get greeted with ‘Aarait?’ which means ‘Alright?’ Don’t be shy – just smile back and reply in the same way.
The locals dress in a very casual manner apart from for formal events so you don’t need to worry about wearing anything inappropriate but just bear in mind – they are still a conversation nation so maybe avoid anything too revealing.
Haggling isn’t the done thing apart from maybe at the street markets. If you try to haggle in shops or supermarkets, this will be considered rude.
You may not already know…
If you are a vaper, then it is worth noting that even though it is better than smoking cigarettes, not all countries find it acceptable and some will even punish you with jail time!
Places where vaping is prohibited
- Angra dos Reis, Brazil
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Jebel Akhdar, Oman
- Noosa Heads, Australia (Queensland state meaning you can be fined more than $9,000 for possessing nicotine in your e-liquid)
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Queenstown, New Zealand (Cartridges and e-liquid containing nicotine are illegal)
- Salta, Argentina
- Tofino, British Columbia
Check out this guide before you set off on your travels for more information on vaping abroad.
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