Summer is in full swing, and those of us at TakeTours.com absolutely love it! As nice as the weather is, though, we’re still feeling that wanderlust (a word that means “the strong desire to travel”). Wouldn’t it be great to jet off to a foreign country and totally immerse yourself in a new culture? While that thought can be a little overwhelming, to some it is pure excitement. Of course, once there, you will need to know a few things in particular if you are going to survive. A lot of what you’ll need to learn about a new place will be the cultural etiquette.
The term “etiquette” refers to the accepted set of rules people of a certain culture follow in social settings. When we talk about etiquette, we are usually referring to how to behave at meals and as both a guest and host. Researching these different rules can be a fun activity by itself: every now and then, you will learn something about a foreign culture that makes you stop and think, “Well that’s pretty weird!” Of course, it only seems strange because you’re not used to it. However, if you’re planning on traveling to any foreign countries, it’s a must that you do a little research in this area. You don’t want to come off as rude and ignorant during your vacation, do you?
You’re in luck: below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most interesting etiquette practices around the world. You will probably notice that the further you get from Western culture, the larger the differences. You can find a lot of useful information by doing some research on your own. You won’t believe some of the other rules we found but didn’t include on this blog!
Though the countries of Europe are rather small, they still have vast cultural differences between them. This is why you’ll find countries that share borders but have completely opposite practices. For example, in France it is considered polite to make physical contact with someone you are speaking to, but once you cross the border into Germany, it’s much more polite to simply keep your hands to yourselves. When eating out in certain countries, it is polite for one person to cover the entire bill, but in the Netherlands, it’s more common to split the price evenly between the group, a practice appropriately named “going Dutch.” In Spain, dinner isn’t served until around 9 or 10 in the evening, which may be because it is also a cultural practice to break for a siesta in the afternoon. Make sure you dress formally to this dinner, and when you’re done, put your silverware on your plate. But if you’re going to Italy the next day, remember to rest your silverware on the right side of your plate to indicate that you’re done. Confused? Or itching to book your next trip?
Throughout South and Central America, people are much more open about their emotions than elsewhere. A kiss on the cheek (or two or three, even) are far more common than the typical firm handshake used in the U.S. On top of this, in countries like Colombia, it is very common to hear people say, “I love you,” to others without a romantic connotation, because there is less importance given to the phrase than in English-speaking countries. As a matter of fact, those in the Hispanic culture seem generally more relaxed about most things. In Mexico, for instance, if you’re running a bit late, don’t worry about it! No one will think it’s that big a deal. In Ecuador, they take this mindset even further: you’re actually expected to arrive fashionably late. If you’re in Cuba, it’s rude to turn down a dinner invitation, and even ruder to talk about politics with strangers (life should be so good!).
The differences between Middle Eastern and American cultures are discussed to no end in the media these days. While the topic is incredibly important, it is also a sensitive issue. Therefore, it is definitely best to learn the basics of what is acceptable in public before you decide to vacation here. The important things to be mindful of in this particular region are your hands and feet. When entering someone else’s home, you will be expected to take off your shoes. Before you sit down for dinner, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly. OK-those both seem very reasonable. You wouldn’t want to track dirt through someone’s lovely home, and hands are covered in all kinds of bacteria. But if we look further into Arabic hand-etiquette, we learn that you should never use your left hand to eat (this is common practice in all Middle Eastern countries, even extending as far east as India). The reasoning behind this is that your right hand is reserved for eating, and the left is to be used exclusively for bathroom-related activities. This may seem extreme to us, but it does make some sense if you take the time to think about it. You also should be sure to wait until the eldest person at the table has started eating, and don’t add salt or other seasonings to your meal (it’s insulting to the chef).
The cultural etiquette of some Asian countries will probably seem the most foreign to our American audience, and understandably so. There are even vast differences between the individual countries themselves. In the U.S., it is customary to leave a sizable tip. The better the service, the more you should tip. But don’t try this in Japan or South Korea; your tip will be promptly returned. In China, you should always eat with chopsticks, but don’t ever use them to point; it is far more polite to point with an open-palmed hand. Also, be careful about leaving food on your plate: in Japan, leaving rice in your bowl implies that what was served to you was not enough; however, in China, you indicate the same thing by cleaning your plate entirely. At meal times, there are often many varying dishes served, and you should be sure to sample everything that is offered. One of the more interesting dinner table taboos in Japan is that you are not supposed to pass food with chopsticks. This is because during Japanese funeral services, chopsticks are used to pick bones out of cremated ashes, the only time it is appropriate for two people to hold the same object with chopsticks. On top of this, if you do not drink alcohol, Japan might not be the best destination for you, because it is considered rude to refuse sake when offered.
Oh boy! That’s a lot of information to remember. Luckily, you’ll probably only have to worry about learning new rules for one, maybe two, countries. We recommend learning the local etiquette well in advance of your trip and trying to implement those practices in your day-to-day routine. Once you get to [insert your dream vacation here!], you won’t immediately stick out as a tourist. Sure, maybe your family will look at you strange for a few weeks, but when haven’t they?
At TakeTours.com, you will be able to find tours that travel to all of the regions listed above, and much more! In addition to choosing the perfect tour, you’ll also be able to book your hotel and look into the local entertainment. TakeTours is the one-stop-shop for all your travel needs!