One of the best things about traveling is stepping out of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to be exposed to a whole new world of customs and cultures. But this can lead to some unexpected problems. Things that we may consider harmless at home can sometimes land you in trouble in another country.
Ask for permission before you take photos
On holidays, it’s only natural for us to want to take as many photos as possible. But taking photographs of local people without their permission is not only rude and intrusive but can cause great offense in some places. For example, in rural Ghana people actually believe that by photographing them you are stealing their soul. So, always ask for permission before you take photos of locals. It’s not only necessary but also polite. If you ask and someone says no, just thank him/her and move on. Respect their wishes. If you are thinking of taking a photograph of anyone on the sly, ask yourself: Would you like someone to do this to you? If not, don’t do it to them either.
Don’t make any random gestures
If you think the “thumbs-up” sign means everything is okay, that it’s all good, and you are actually trying to covey you are having a good time, think again when you are in places like Iran, Turkey, and Brazil. In these places a “thumbs-up” sign is the highest form of insult, something along the same lines of giving the middle finger. In Italy, making the “rock-on” horns hand gesture is considered insulting. It means you are telling someone his wife is being unfaithful. In Germany, doing the “Nazi” salute, even jokingly, can land you in jail for up to five years. Also, using your index finger to ask someone to come to you is considered offensive in many Asian countries. In Singapore, the gesture actually symbolizes death.
Mind your chopsticks
Restaurants in many parts of Asia won’t always have forks on hand, so practice using chopsticks before you embark on your culinary adventure. You should also think about some basic rules of chopstick etiquette. Don’t stick your chopsticks vertically into your rice. Many view this act as bad luck because it resembles the incense sticks that Buddhists offer to the dead. Don’t cross your chopsticks when you place them on a chopstick rest. Don’t use them to point and definitely don’t use them as skewers to spear your food. Also, don’t give up on your chopsticks and resort to using your hands to eat.
And don’t lick your chopsticks. In Korea, you should place your chopsticks on the table and not parallel across your bowl when you’ve finished eating.
Wear appropriate clothes
In many countries, exposing your shoulders or legs when visiting a holy place will offend the locals and get you barred from entry. In Italy and Israel, women will need to cover their shoulders at religious sites, while men may be asked to cover their heads. Especially in the Vatican City wishes, women are required to wear clothing that covers their shoulders, and if they are wearing a skirt or dress, it must go past their knees, and if they show any part of their midriff, they will not be allowed to enter the area. When visiting Buddhist temples in Asia, shorts or skirts should cover the knees. Same goes in Spain during holy days, such as Easter. In Muslim countries, it’s recommended that women wear loose-fitting clothing and cover their arms, legs and chest everywhere they travel. In Dubai and many parts of UAE, you could actually be arrested and put in jail for wearing improper clothes and that includes baring your arms in a sleeveless top and wearing shorts.
Respect the Buddha
Buddha and monasteries are highly revered in many Asian cultures. It’s true especially in Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia. At these places, you must not tattoo the Buddha image on you body. There have been cases of people being prosecuted for having a Buddhist image tattooed on them. If you have such a tattoo, make sure you keep it covered at all times. Also, don’t buy Buddha merchandise like the Buddha head or any forms accessories that have the image of the Buddha on it. Statues of Buddha are only to be bought by Buddhists with the intention of keeping it in their home temples.
Understand the tipping rules
Tipping, in many parts of the world, is customary and it’s often considered rude and unorthodox not to tip, even if the server’s skills were less than acceptable. However, in certain parts of the world, it’s not only unwarranted to give a tip, but can be considered rude. In Italy, the tip is always included as part of the bill, and leaving extra can sometimes be viewed as an insult. In parts of China and Japan, offering a tip can be considered a rude gesture to the staff. In New Zealand, tips are not expected, and should only be given when someone has gone out of their way to assist you. Before visiting a destination, be sure to understand the tipping culture there.