In the beginning, travelling abroad and leaving a familiar place behind seems to be scary, but then the excitement of unknown kicks in. This new sense of energy gives you the illusion that you are invincible. However, do not let this feeling cloud your judgement! What may seem normal to you, can be completely out of the ordinary to others- especially to people from different cultural backgrounds. Here are some tips on how to be respectful while travelling.

Hand gestures 

We’ve all been there, making weird signs and miming short sentences as if we are playing charades. Hand gestures always come in handy when you are visiting a new country or a city where a language barrier is present. This non-verbal communication might not be so precise, but it will still get your message across. Only, it is important to note that most cultures embrace different meanings and symbolism to gestures. An innocent gesture like scratching your chin can deeply offend an Italian. Another misinterpretation would be the ‘V’ sign that is expressed by most countries with a palm faced either outwards or inwards which indicates peace or victory. Conversely, if the palm is faced inwards it could be offensive to an Australian and a Brit since this gesture is equivalent to a middle finger. In Brazil, tapping under your jaw means: ‘It’s not true, just gossip’, whereas an Eastern European would interpret this gesture as: ‘Let’s get a drink’. Therefore, before visiting a new country, study the culture briefly and remember the basic facts with useful tips.

Personal space

How close is too close or too far to be considered rude? The concept of personal space is dependent on the country and the relationship you have with the person. Based on a conducted study by the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, residents of Argentina, Peru and Bulgaria stand the closest to strangers. On the other hand, Romania, Hungary and Saudi Arabia keep the most distance to keep their ‘personal bubble’ intact. Nevertheless, this all changes based on a type of relationship you have with a resident of the country. The closer the relationship, the smaller the personal bubble. So before you get tensed up about the amount of space between you and the other person, think of their cultural background and the type of relationship you have with them.

Tips to keep in mind

  1. Gum-free Since the 1990s, Singapore is a gum-free zone, unless it is used for medical reasons. It is permitted to bring two packs per person, violation of this regulation can result in a one-year prison sentence and a $5,500 fine.
  2. Eating with a cap. In Southern Europe, it is considered rude to eat with a cap/hat on indoors.
  3. Toilet regulations. Toilets come in different forms around the world. In Western cultures it is normal to sit on the toilet seat, however, in several countries such as in Japan and the Middle East, it is a norm to squat on the toilet seat. Moreover, in countries like in Africa, South America and Asia it is not common to flush toilet paper down the toilet.
  4. Drinking. In an Eastern European household, your drink (especially alcoholic beverages) would be automatically refilled by the host. It is considered rude to leave your guest with an empty glass.
  5. Tipping. Each country has its own regulation regarding tipping, usually, 10% is expected when it comes to restaurant service. However, some restaurants automatically include a fee to the bill. In Italy, this is indicated by coperto or servizio.
  6. Saying hello. For some countries just saying the word hello, is not enough for a greeting. The French and Italians follow up a greeting with two kisses on the cheek, whereas the Dutch do it with three. Other forms of saying hello around the world would be bowing, sticking your tongue out, handshake etc.
  7. Punctuality. Germans are not the only ones that value punctuality. Some cultures consider tardiness a sign of disrespect. However, in some countries like China, arriving within 10 to 15 minutes before the agreed time is considered acceptable. Whereas, in most of Latin, African and Middle Eastern countries, showing up late is considered to be normal and quite common.

Final tip

While travelling, be open-minded, try to learn a thing or two and embrace every culture. Nowadays, the world is extremely integrated and therefore there should not be any culture that is superior to others. Remember these tips, especially when going abroad for business purposes… You do not want to mess up your negotiations.

 

By Polina Zavyalova

Sources:

Herrine Ro, Business Insider

Rebecca Winke, CiuItaly

Carla, Opodo

Batul Nafisa Baxamusa, SocialMettle