Please and thank you

Anticipating travel to a foreign country can be both exhilarating and a little nerve-wracking. True explorers like myself, embrace the culture shock and the feeling of being “just a little off-center” however many others view the experience with feelings of trepidation. There are ways to off-set awkward moments by doing a little research, learning a few words in a new language and being prepared to avoid any social faux pas.

Generally speaking, every country is appreciative if visitors at least try to communicate in the local language (maybe not Paris!). Learn a few useful phrases and you will endear yourself to your hosts. It’s also important to realize that customs, traditions and gestures that we feel are normal here in North America can be completely misconstrued in other countries.

1.  Pointing with your feet: You’re standing in a local market and the vendor has scores of beautiful rugs or carvings spread before you. Both your hands are full with recent purchases so you nudge one of the items with your foot and ask the price. BEWARE - in Asia, India and the Middle East showing the bottom of your foot to a stranger is considered highly disrespectful. The feet are considered the most lowly and unclean part of the body in most Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist countries.


2.  The Peace Sign (or ordering 2 drinks): Did you know that two fingers with the palm facing inward is basically telling someone to “flick off” in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland? Turn your hand around so that the palm is facing outward to convey a more peaceful meaning.


3.  Don’t eat with your left hand: Sorry lefties but this is a no-no in India, the Middle East and parts of Africa. Many cultures that eat with their hands, reserve the left one for use in the bathroom therefore expect your fellow diners to lose their appetites if you dig into the communal food dish with that hand.


4.  Pass on the salt: While in Egypt forgo seasoning your meal. If you salt your food in front of your host it signifies that you find the taste repulsive.


5.  Be late: For once this is the right thing to do. If invited to a social function or dinner date, being at least 15-20 minutes late is the right thing to do in Venezuela. Being on time is viewed as “too eager” or even greedy.


6.  Table manners: Use your knife and fork at all times in Norway. Table manners are extremely important to the Norwegians and every meal, including sandwiches are eaten with utensils.


7.  Chopstick etiquette: According to Japanese custom it is consider rude to play, point or stab food with your chopsticks. If you’re in the middle of eating, use the opposite end of the sticks to secure food from a shared plate. Using the end that touches your mouth is considered extremely offensive.


8.  Thumbs Up: Keep your thumbs to yourself when visiting Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Italy or Greece. Your sign of approval is basically telling them “up yours”!


Simple preparatory research, an open mind and a sense of humour are needed to enjoy a cultural immersion. Make friends ….. not enemies while travelling abroad!

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About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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