7 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling

by Julia on March 22, 2010

Research cultural etiquette before you travel!

Immersing yourself in the local culture and surroundings is all part of a great travel adventure, but do your research before traveling to avoid making any cultural slip-ups! Here are some travel no-nos to get you started and please add your own in the comments section below;

1. Temples and shoes – When visiting temples, places of worship and indeed people’s homes in the East, you will be required to remove your shoes. Make sure you always wear clean socks or your toe nails are neatly clipped!
2. Thumbs up – In most of the world the thumbs up sign means that everything is OK, except if you’re in Iran where the thumb up sign is likely to offend as it literally means “sit on this”.
3. Chopstick etiquette – In Japan and China and throughout the East you’ll need to watch your chopstick use; don’t point them at people and certainly don’t place them upright into a bottle or bowl as this signifies death!
4. Chinese names – Also in China, names are written in a different order to those in Europe and America. In China the surname is placed before the first name, unless they’ve already flipped their name around for the benefit of visitors, which just causes huge confusion!
5. Don’t drink and talk – When in Northern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union countries, the drinking toasts is taken very seriously indeed. When in Scandinavia and Germany travelers should always meet eyes when toasting. In Russia you should drink the vodka in one gulp and in Georgia and Azerbaijan it is rude to talk between the toasts, which can last for hours!
6. Give flowers – Sure, give flowers as a gift but be aware of local meanings; carnations are used for funerals in Germany, Poland and Sweden. In Belgium, Italy, France, Spain and Turkey chrysanthemums are also used for funerals. The lily is also considered death and funeral flowers (and a hay fever nightmare!) In France and Austria red roses suggest a romantic interest and in Mexico and Chile yellow roses are a sign of grief and separation. Odd numbers of flowers in China and Indonesia are unlucky and even numbers of flowers are unlucky in India, Turkey, Russia and Germany – phew!
7. Mind your head – In Buddhist countries and places of worship, such as Thailand, the head is sacred and therefore patting someone on the head, apart from being patronizing, is also insulting.

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