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20 Cultural Etiquette Tips We Should Know About When Traveling To Asia

One of the most exciting things about traveling is the chance to explore other cultures and traditions while trying to blend in with the crowd. Visiting foreign lands is not only an exceptional experience that broadens the mind, but it's also a fantastic way to make new friends and learn more about other people's lives. For instance, Asia has got a colorful palette of unique traditions and bizarre cultural etiquette. But while some of them are quite fascinating, others are super bizarre to most travelers.

Well, you may think that most people share similar beliefs and definitions of accepted behaviors, but it seems that it's not exactly like this in some Asian countries.

When you're not familiar with a country's accepted definitions of good manner, it's almost impossible not to offend somebody accidentally. Well, it does sound super crazy, but that's how it is in certain parts of the world. So, to help you become the best type of traveler, who doesn't offend anyone while exploring a new Asian destination, we'll talk you through 20 of Asia's most important etiquette rules. Tip: do not skip them unless you want to embarrass yourself.

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20 Don't Push People Towards Individuality

Via ChinaFile

In most modern and technologically advanced countries, like the United States, Canada or Great Britain, people firmly believe in one's individualistic approach when making decisions. It's like a universal rule, and it certainly applies to any field of knowledge; however, the same concept has got a considerably different nuance in many other collectivist cultures, especially in Asia. So, instead of being individually responsible for something, people feel more confident when there's somebody else in charge of a situation. Well, it may sound pretty crazy, but it's actually like this in many Asian countries, including South Korea, China and even regions of Singapore.

19 Don't Play With The Word "Relationship"

Via Trumba

Although it may seem quite strange to you, it's true that some countries around the world don't view business relationships the way that we do. First of all, the word "relationship" is taken quite seriously in most Asian cultures. It all goes back to people's religious beliefs which stop them from accepting other nuances of the word. According to most Asian cultures, the word "relationship" is quite synonymous with "marriage." You see, lots of folks still see the world quite holistically, so there can't be any other type of relationship other than the romantic one between men and women. In a nutshell, you need to be careful when using the word "relationships" simply because some people view certain things in different ways.

18 Know When People Are Direct/Indirect Communicators

Via My 15 Hour Work Week

Actually, it's not a question of "how", it's a question of "when". Sometimes it's really hard to guess what's going on inside people's heads when they're not direct communicators. For instance, most Europeans have got no problem speaking their mind, especially when they've got a different opinion about something. In a nutshell, most Europeans are direct communicators because they emphasize their words without running away from confrontation. But when it comes to the high-context culture of Singapore, people prefer not to be direct communicators whatsoever. So, don't be surprised if you happen to be the most talkative person in your group. 

17 Eat Your Food With Your Right Hand (When Not Using The Fork)

Via TripSavvy

Be careful with this one since it's quite a slippery rule, and we're about to tell you why. First of all, not many people know that it's actually okay to eat your meals with your hands without using the spoon or fork. But the thing is that you can only eat food with your RIGHT hand. Many Asian countries, like Nepal, Malaysia or even India, have got no problem when their international guests want to eat their food with fingers.  If you ask us, though, just don't use your left hand and you'll be just fine. Besides, the left hand is usually reserved for sanitary activities, so keep that in mind when visiting Asia as well.

16 Mind Your Everyday Style In South Korea

Via A Broad Abroad

According to an American psychology professor, most tight cultures tend to offer deep-seated social norms - meaning that they're less tolerant towards nonconformist behaviors. In fact, only loose cultures seem to be open towards informalities of any form. Apparently, South Korea is the least liberal country in Asia that doesn't tolerate out-of-the-box thinkers.  Besides, South Korea has long been known for its highly-valued standards, so visitors must also dress accordingly to match the status and formality of the country. This unwritten rule also applies to most communist countries in Asia.

15 You Can't Touch Other People

Via Huff Post

Although we know that interacting appropriately is the key to making a good first impression, things seem to be somewhat different in Asia. This subject is rather vast, and with significant cultural differences within India itself, it’s quite easy to make a mistake and offend somebody. Let us give you an example of this.

According to the Asian culture, you should never touch a person’s head, let alone the head of a kid. This also means that giving somebody a pat on the back or head is apparently not okay in some Asian countries. Believe it or not, the head is thought as the “seat of the human’s soul”; therefore, we kindly advise you that you keep your hands to yourself. Literally.

14 Do Not Touch Your Shoes In Public - Feet Are Thought As The Dirtiest Part of Your Body

Via VideoBlocks

So, you’re going to Asia, aren’t you? Well, this intoxicating thought must keep you awake at night. But before you get lost into this beautiful thought, let us just tell you a few tricks that may spare you the stare of death from the locals. Mistakes are hard to miss when you’re in an entirely new place with such different cultural characteristics. But whatever you do, make sure to avoid tying your shoes in front of other people. In fact, touching the lower parts of your body is considered ill-mannered. No, it’s not a joke, it’s another Asian rule you must follow. Otherwise, you may even come across as super rude and sloppy.

13 It's Time To Master The Chopstick Etiquette

Via Mashable

If you've ever used chopsticks at the local sushi restaurant, then you probably agree that this is not an easy game. But gladly for you, there's a ton of people who still can't master the chopstick etiquette either. But even if you're quite used to eating with chopsticks, you can always become better at it, right? Don't let your efforts and "experience" go to waste by leaving the chopsticks upright in the food. We know how bizarre that sounds, but it's considered really bad luck in many Asian countries, like China and especially Japan. So, if you can't do it the right way, we kindly advise you to use your fork or spoon instead and avoid getting in trouble.

12 Just Help Yourself At The Dinner Table

Via ChinaClickGo

Frankly, we do feel pretty bad to break your heart again, but it's considered rude to ask for somebody to pass food over at the dinner table; however, you can just help yourself and reach the food that you want without looking like an ill-mannered person. There's just no way that your Asian friends will enjoy looking like servants. We've all heard that "sharing is caring". So, instead of asking for somebody to pass food, you can also offer your help and assistance to your foreign friends. The same thing goes for Seoul where it's even super rude to reject food.

11 Try To Hold That Drink A Little Longer

Via Travel Weekly Asia

Well, it turns out that it’s quite impolite to reject food but now it seems that it’s certainly a bad idea to say a big NO to a shot of soju in Korea. We get it – you may not enjoy drinking or even proposing a toast to your friends; however, you need to try to leave a good first impression when you're in certain Asian countries. After all, you’re the foreigner in their country; therefore, you’ve got to be polite and show your perfect manners. And last but not least, just say “okay” when somebody asks you politely to join in a toast.

10 Don't Blow Your Nose At The Table

Via Gentleman's Gazette

Blowing your nose in public is probably the least surprising rule.  Actually, there’s a ton of rules about properly blowing your nose when you’re surrounded by many people. First of all, it’s certainly not okay to use your sleeve as a napkin. By the way, this is a universal rule, not an Asian one. But if we must be more serious about it, you have to be even more discreet when you’re dining in the company of your Chinese, Korean or Japanese friends. Also, it’s quite known that most Asian meals are quite spicy; therefore, you’ll probably end up with a runny nose. But instead of ruining the moment and the pleasant dining atmosphere, just refrain from blowing your nose while you’re still at the table.

9 Watch Your Body Language

Via LCCH Asia

For instance, many people know that crossing fingers helps you become lucky and fortunate. Maybe it’s like this in your country as well, but it’s definitely quite different in Vietnam. In fact, many people in Vietnam don’t even understand the meaning of that. So, instead of making them feel uncomfortable with your body language, just avoid using such gestures. It’s the same as giving somebody the finger. It’s not only rude but it’s unacceptable in Vietnam. Interestingly, most Southeast Asian countries even disapprove of people who use any type of hand gestures.

8 Be As Respectful As Possible

Via TripSavvy

Being respectful towards others is, in fact, the easiest way to show yourself as a well-mannered person. In Asia, respect is one of the most basic and most significant cultural tenants, so do not think that it’s not to be taken seriously. The best way to blend in with the crowd and follow their cultural habits is to never question somebody’s authority. Respecting others, especially elderly people, is the key to the best first impression in Korea. Most of the Asian cultures are still quite conservative, so travelers should absolutely pay attention to their behavior and manners in public.

7 Smile Less And You’ll Come Off As Extra Rude

Via bbc.com

What if there was a rule to smile and look happy even though you feel depressed? Well, apparently, there is such a thing in some Asian countries. For instance, Thailand is widely known for being the “Land of The Smiles”, so make sure to look happy and positive when you visit the country. Yes, it sounds kind of strange, but it’s actually true. Apparently, the population of Thailand doesn’t like negative people who’ve “lost their faces”. So, if you don’t want to get embarrassed or considered super moody, just smile more and try to look friendly when exploring the country’s beauty.

6 Chewing Gum May Get You In Big Trouble

Via Culture Trip

So what if we told you that chewing gum in places like Singapore may get you in big trouble with the country’s laws?

Alright, we do realize how crazy it sounds but it seems to be true for Singaporeans. Actually, chewing gum, alongside spitting out gum in public, leads to certain unpleasant circumstances, one of which is a small fine of $500. That’s not all though. In fact, this bizarre law has been around since the late 90s, so don't even think about spitting out that gum in public unless you’ve got too much money to waste.

5 It’s Not Okay To Leave A Tip In Japan

via TripSavvy

Much to your surprise, there’s no such thing as tipping in many countries around the world, including Italy or even Australia. Although it’s quite typical for the U.S travelers, tipping may even be considered offensive in certain parts of the world. In fact, it’s pretty much insulting to leave a tip in Japan. The reason is quite obvious, especially when you know the distinct cultural etiquette in Japan. Overall, Japanese workers take pride in doing their job no matter the industry. Therefore, they may even feel embarrassed if they receive a tip. It does sound pretty weird, but Japanese employees don’t really like or understand the idea of leaving tips at restaurants.

4 No Gambling, Pals!

Via Wikipedia

So, it's your first time in Singapore, and you've probably planned every second of your trip. Maybe you've even bought a language guide. Obviously, you're so tired by this new exotic adventure that you absolutely paid no attention to the different cultural norms. Well, that's probably a mistake since these norms vary between the continents and countries. For instance, some Asian countries, like Singapore is absolutely against any type of gambling. Well, you can always try to work around the country's rules, but we hardly recommend it in this part of the world.

3 You Can't Eat Without Putting The Meal On Your Plate First

Via Into the Middle Kingdom

No matter how hungry you are, just try to fight off the temptation to take the last piece of food on the table in China. Well, it may not sound that big of a deal to you, but apparently, your Chinese pals feel quite differently about that. It turns out that the host is very likely to get embarrassed or even offended if there's no food left on the table. Perhaps this is what the real problem is. Now that you know how sensitive some people are towards their traditions and etiquette at the dinner table, you may finally be able to understand them. Also, another important fact is that you cannot grab food from the table without putting it on your plate first.

2 It's Not Okay to Bring Umbrellas Into Asian Shops (Especially In Japanese Ones)

Via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, we get it - it's raining outside, but even though you got drenched, you cannot bring umbrellas into most Japanese shops. Besides, you can't browse through the shop's treasures and find goodies like that, can you? Also, we don't see any point in turning the whole place into a total mess.  You can just leave your umbrella in the rack outside the shop and you'll be fine. You see, it's never a bad idea to learn some local etiquette when visiting an unfamiliar place. So, learn your lesson well and we're sure that you won't have any bad memories from your Asian adventure.

1 Do Not Shake Hands With Monks

Via Standard-Examiner

Try as you might, but there will be a few blunders. Obviously, Cambodia sees the handshaking quite differently than we do, especially when the other party happens to be a monk. Getting too close to monks or stepping on their shadow is also not okay in places like Cambodia. Well, you can always manage a friendly smile to get away with something you've just done, but you'd better try to avoid such awkward moments. In a nutshell, just stick to the local rules in this Asian country, and we're sure that you'll have zero problems with the country's rules and cultural etiquette.

References: www.td.org, travelblog.expedia.com, cbsnews.com, www.afar.com

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