Join us on a cultural journey!

Did you ever go somewhere completely different and have contact with the locals? What were your experiences? People from different cultures often exhibit very different behaviours. What is an act of politeness for some can be rude to others. As the question of how to interact with the natives of a foreign country can quickly arise for tourists, we have put together a variety of intriguing and fascinating differences.

It starts right at the border

Local people may turn up their nose at the most common habits exhibited by visitors from other countries. In China, for example, it is considered vulgar to blow one’s nose in a handkerchief and return the handkerchief to one’s pocket. In Singapore, it is illegal to sell chewing gum, except for dental or nicotine gum. It may be a good idea to simply not take any gum with you there, because the government is rigorous about keeping the streets free of litter.

In many countries, the feet are considered unclean. In Arab culture, it is insulting to show people the soles of your shoes or feet. This may become a challenge, as it is customary to take off one’s shoes when entering a house. Shoes are deemed the epitome of impurity and dirt.

Meeting and greeting

Most people are used to shaking hands as a greeting, usually also making eye contact while doing so. As always, there are a couple of exceptions to the rule. In Russia, for example, women are not greeted with a handshake, or they have to initiate it themselves. East Asian people prefer a bow at an angle of 45 degrees as a polite greeting.

Eating and drinking

In the Middle East and many Asian and African countries, food is eaten with your hand – it should, however, be the right hand. The left hand is used for cleaning yourself and should stay away from food. In most East Asian countries, chopsticks are used for eating. Never place chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice in Japan! This is a funeral rite and is not done during a regular meal. On the other hand, slurping soup and belching are acceptable in Asia and seen as a sign of appreciation for the cook. In other countries, people can also be fussy with the cutlery. For example, Italians take their pasta seriously, so spaghetti is only eaten with a fork.

When you are invited to a dinner, make sure to know the signals of an empty plate. Many nations around the world empty their dishes as a sign of politeness. But in the USA, Canada and many Asian countries, an empty plate signals that you are still hungry. Your host will keep refilling it out of politeness, so leave a small quantity. Otherwise, this may lead to some tummy ache due to the cultural misunderstanding and getting stuffed with too much food.

How to handle gifts

If you are asked to dine with company in another country, you might consider bringing a gift. This is where the next cultural faux pas may lie in wait. In most countries, such small gifts should not be expensive, so as not to embarrass the host. In Asian countries, always give – and receive – a gift with both hands. The present will also not be opened in front of the giver. Many Asians, especially elder ones, may refuse a gift once or twice to be polite. The giver will then politely persist until the recipient accepts.

It is not only valuable to know how to exchange gifts, but also what to give. Bring an uneven number of flowers in Russia; an even number is only offered in case of death. Russians do not like yellow flowers as it is the colour of jealousy. In France, the host would be pleased to receive flowers on the morning of an invitation. They should not be yellow or red, though. While sharp objects are not popular gifts in some countries, people think the opposite in the French region of Auvergne. They customarily give a knife to their loved ones to mark special occasions.

So many countries, so many different customs. These cultural differences make travelling interesting and a fun experience. The customs and traditions that we mentioned may differ from region to region. You will surely discover many more on your own travels abroad. They all will tell you a lot about the people you meet, about their history and their culture. Enjoy expanding your cultural horizons!