At the best of times, travel can be thrilling and life-changing. But at its worst, it is awkward and gut-wrenching. Most of the time it’s due to cultural differences, some so subtle you might not be aware of them. We’ve gathered a few of the common – and unique – travel taboos to help you avoid any confusion or disrespect on your next trip.
1. Chopsticks Etiquette
While eating with chopsticks, make sure to set your sticks to the side or lay them flat on top of your bowl when pausing between bites. Most western travelers will leave the sticks in the food, but this is an omen of bad luck in Japan. In China and other countries, it is also impolite to point to other people with chopsticks.
2. Visiting Mosques
Remember to always take off your shoes, hats, and sunglasses when entering a mosque. And don’t worry about walking around in your socks; some mosques provide slip ons for visitors. For the rest of your attire, modest dress is required, covering as much skin as possible. For me, long sleeves and long pants are the best option, and you should not wear any logos. For women, it’s best to cover all skin and wear ankle-length skirts, long sleeves, and a headscarf to cover your hair. The restrictions may very by location, but following the above rules can help avoid any awkward or disrespectful situations.
3. Taking Flowers as a Gift – Ukraine
While in Ukraine, it is common to bring a small gift when invited over for dinner. Flowers are a common option, but remember two simple rules: always choose an odd number of flowers and avoid yellow at all costs. Even number of flowers are used for funeral and yellow is considered an impolite color.
4. No Kissing – Cheshire, UK
In Cheshire of UK, train passengers are not allowed to loiter, intimately talk or kiss at the Warrington Bank Quay railway station. If you desperately need to finish a conversation or want to kiss, you can move to “Kissing Zone,” a nearby car park, but only for up to 20 minutes! While we might think this practice is too conservative, the actual reason for the restriction is because couples kissing goodbye in front of the train doors was cause traffic congestion. Most travelers don’t have a problem with it either and find it quite humorous.
5. Salt – Egypt
When you travel to Egypt, don’t add salt to your meal, because that would be regarded as an insult to the chef. Fortunately, Egyptians always use garlic, onion and other spices, so Egyptian food are delicious.
6. Visiting Churches – Italy
If you’re planning a trip to Rome during summer, make sure to pack long sleeves and pants. The general rule is to cover your shoulders, knees, and feet, so no flip-flops! It’s common for tourists to flock to churches when visiting Europe, due to their historic and cultural importance, but you should always be mindful of your attire and respect the local customs.
7. Making a V Sign – UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa
When visiting a country with British traditions, you may be tempted to flash the peace sign at a fellow Beetles fan, but make sure face your palm away from you. If you face the back of your hand at someone, it can be very insulting. It can be seen as a gesture of defiance or contempt.
8. Insulting the Royal Family – Thailand
Whenever visiting another country, politics should always be off the table and you should never insult the country’s leaders or Royal Families. But in Thailand, it has been a federal offence since 1908, so whatever your opinion on royalty, it’s best to keep it to yourself while perusing a Bangkok bar.
9. Shouting “Cheers” – Hungary
Next time you’re backpacking through Europe, make sure to remember one simple rule: don’t shout “Cheers!” and clank your mugs together in a Hungarian bar. This taboo dates back to 1848 when Austraia celebrated the execution of Hungarian rebels by clanking their beer glasses together. As a result, no Hungarian cheers during a toast.
10. Leave Some Food On The Plate – Cambodia
In a few countries, such as Cambodia, it is considered rude to eat all the food on a plate, as it suggests that the host did not prepare enough food. It may very depending on the country, however, but as a general practice you should avoid eating too much.
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