Every year, millions of people leave their homes to go on vacation, whether it be for a couple of days or a few weeks, and they do so in order to either take a break from life or to see the world. No matter the reason though, people do visit other countries, and as you might have guessed, many tourists find their destination to be fascinating, due to the fact that virtually every country has its own unique social customs and rules that many of us would consider odd or unnecessary. As strange as some of these customs/rules may appear, it is still best to try and actually acknowledge them while visiting a foreign place, because if you do not, you may end up offending the locals.
We are all human, so we all make mistakes, but when it comes to making cultural mistakes in another country, people deserve a bit more slack, because in most cases, a tourist has no idea that certain gestures mean different things in other parts of the world. These mistakes usually have to do with hand gestures and dining etiquette, but people can also travel with the wrong type of clothing, or they might accidentally bring something inappropriate and/or illegal into a country without realizing it. With that being said, there are a few traveling mistakes that are far more common than others, and this article will shed light on 20 of the most common surprising mistakes that tourists seem to make around the world.
We all eventually find ourselves in a romantic relationship, and as many of us are aware, there are some couples who are more comfortable with public displays of affection than others. It can be a bit awkward seeing PDA, but it is a natural thing, which is why couples continue to hold hands, hug, and kiss in public even when they are vacationing abroad. For the most part, PDA is accepted everywhere, but if you are visiting Dubai or a number of other countries in the Middle East, you should avoid such public displays, as there have been cases where people have been arrested and sent to jail because of it.
Society has changed a lot over the decades, but some things have not changed, especially when it comes to dining etiquette, as there are still certain things that we are conditioned to not do. When we finish eating, and sometimes when we are in between bites, many of us get the urge to burp, and although the occasional one slips through, most of us try our best not to do it because it is considered to be inappropriate and rude. When people go on vacation, they try to abide by this etiquette as well, but you should try letting a few belches loose if you are visiting parts of Asia, because it is considered to be a compliment in some cultures, as your hosts will believe that you enjoyed their food.
Most of us have gone to at least one bar in our lives, or at least one wedding or restaurant that serves alcohol, and while at these places, it is quite common for people to raise their glasses and clank them together to express good wishes for something or someone. It goes without saying that when you are with a big group, you will sometimes not clink everyone's glass when you all raise them, and even though it is not that big of a deal in the U.S., you need to make sure you do not miss anyone while in Europe. In places like Germany and Switzerland, it is considered bad luck to not toast everyone in your group.
No matter where you are in the world, you will see that people greet each other in different ways, but there is one greeting that is practically universal, and that would be shaking a person's hand. Normally, it does not matter whether you are shaking hands with a man or a woman, but if you are vacationing somewhere like the UAE or other Middle Eastern countries, you should avoid shaking the hand of someone of the opposite sex. Now, in some places, such an act is frowned upon, but in other countries, doing so can get you into trouble, so be aware.
When traveling, it is common sense to not bring any illegal drugs with you, because you know full well that you can get arrested for it, and things can get really messy when you get arrested on foreign soil. With that being said, you are still allowed to bring prescription drugs with you, but if you do need to take over the counter medication with you, you best avoid visiting Southeast Asia. In that part of the world, many over the counter drugs that are legal in North America are outlawed, and if you get caught with any on you, you may join other westerners who have been arrested in the past for carrying pharmaceuticals.
We are at a point now that virtually everyone has a cell phone, and it is pretty safe to assume that either you or someone you know has been called out for being on the phone while someone is talking to you. In such a situation, you are considered to be rude, which is why people refrain from doing it as much as possible, especially when they are on vacation and speaking with locals. If you are in Brazil or a few other South American countries, however, it is actually considered rude to ignore a phone call or text in favor of continuing a conversation, so if you find yourself in a social situation in any of these countries, do not worry about your phone going off.
From a young age, your parents try to get you to do things that you do not feel like doing, and one of those things is eating every single piece of food on your plate. Clearing your plate is meant to imply that you really enjoyed your meal, which is why you have a strange need to eat everything when you are invited over to someone's house. This applies to vacations too, especially when you are visiting family abroad, but not everyone wants you to clean your plate. In parts of Asia, you should forget about doing this, because clearing your plate is essentially like telling your hosts that you were not properly fed.
People use physical gestures every single day, and although some of them may be considered to be rude, they are not all that offensive, like when you point your open palm at someone. In North America, this gesture is either used to tell someone to stop talking, or to make cars come to a stop, but if you are in Greece, you have to find another way to stop traffic, because it happens to be the country's most offensive gesture. This gesture may be very offensive in Greece, but keep in mind that it is also considered to be an insult in other countries like Armenia, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
It is true that servers usually deliver drinks to your table, but part of their job also includes physically pouring your drink for you, unless of course, you order a pitcher or something similar that requires you to pour your drink yourself. When people visit China and order alcohol or tea, they tend to pour their own drinks, but that is a cultural no-no. In China and other Asian countries like Japan, you need to have someone else pour your drink as it is a sign of generosity and comradery amongst those present, and if there are any seniors present, you have to make sure that their drinks get poured first.
It goes without saying that Italy is a beautiful place, home to over a dozen landmarks from ancient times, but it is also home to the Vatican, which despite its scandals, is still a healthy tourist destination. Considering there are roughly 1 billion Catholics in the world, it makes sense that the religion's home would attract people from all over the globe, but what many visitors do not realize is that the holy place adheres to a specific female dress code. The entirety of Vatican City wishes that women wear clothing that covers their shoulders, and if they are wearing a skirt or dress, it must go past their knees, and if they show any part of their midriff, they will not be allowed to enter the area.
You can get a coffee anywhere in the world, but believe it or not, there are actually a few countries that have a cut-off time for any kind of coffee with milk in it. Anyone who has gone to Italy or Spain will tell you that they were not able to get a real coffee past 11 in the morning, and that would be because those countries believe that milk is so filling that it should only be consumed at breakfast. Interestingly enough, even if you are able to order a coffee or cappuccino past 11, you will be charged more depending on where you drink it, but on the plus side, you can still order an espresso during the day.
In most countries, thousands of people use public transportation every single day to get from one place to another, and usually, trains and buses tend to be full during the early mornings and late afternoons. If you use public transportation here in North America, then you know full well that people sometimes eat or drink something while on the train or bus, and this is an act that is tolerated but at the same time frowned upon due to the possibility of making a mess on the floor, or on someone's clothes. If you are in Japan or the UK though, eating or drinking coffee while on a bus or train is considered a major social sin because of the aforementioned reasons.
France receives millions of visitors every year, which means that the locals are able to spot a tourist quite easily, which is why this mistake is so important and easy to avoid. When visiting France, it is customary to greet everyone you meet with a simple greeting, no matter if it is your waiter or the owner of a shop you are visiting. This may not seem necessary, but this is the kind of etiquette used in France, especially when dining, and when you fail to greet someone with a simple "bonjour", you will simply be considered as just another rude tourist.
When we are outdoors, we have no idea what is on the ground, which is why we wear shoes as a form of protection and seeing as we wear them while outside, they obviously get dirty. It is because of that dirt that people remove their shoes when they enter their home or someone else's, but in many countries, you are expected to remove them before even entering another person's residence. Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and Korea are just a few of the countries where it is disrespectful to enter a home with your shoes on but do not worry, because there is usually a pair of slippers waiting for you inside.
It is pretty safe to assume that unless you are eating a sandwich or some kind of fast food, you are using a fork or spoon to get the food in your mouth. Generally, you are expected to eat with a utensil and not with your bare hands, because people believe that the act is dirty and inappropriate, but that is not the case everywhere. In parts of Asia and the Middle East, you are actually encouraged to eat with your hands, so if you find yourself visiting a place like India, stop asking for a fork; and just to be safe, you should avoid eating with your left hand.
China gets millions of tourists every single year, and when people come back from their vacation, they will often time mention how different things are over there, but even they might not know that they did something impolite. A lot of people get at least one cold over the year, and one of the symptoms of a cold is a runny nose, which is why you sometimes see people blowing their noses in public. If you were to do this in China though, you would be labeled as a very rude individual, so try not to catch a cold in China before you end up offending someone.
As mentioned earlier, simple gestures that many of us use every day are considered to be disrespectful in other parts of the world, and believe it or not, giving someone a thumbs up is on that list as well. For a long time, the thumbs up gesture has been considered to be a sign of approval, but if you were to visit parts of Africa and the Middle East, it would be best to avoid using it. Apparently, giving a thumbs up in these regions is equivalent to giving someone the finger, which as we all know, is a major insult.
Millions of people chew gum every single day, which is not all that surprising considering all the different flavors available, and the fact that it helps to freshen our breath. Singapore is an incredibly beautiful place, but as it turns out, the country does not like gum, to the point that it is outlawed, which means that you can be sent to jail if you are caught chewing it or "smuggling" it into the country. Most people carry gum on their person, so it makes sense that you would bring some with you when you travel, so just make sure you do not bring it to Singapore.
Chinese food is pretty good, in fact, the same thing can be said about virtually all forms of Asian food, and as we all know, this is the only type of food that is meant to be eaten with chopsticks. Now in all likelihood, many of you probably leave your chopsticks upright in your bowl in between bites, which is fine here in North America, but when you visit China, Japan, or most other Asian countries, you need to not do it. In Asia, this chopstick gesture is used during funerals, which is why people in those countries consider it to be impolite to leave them upright in other places, especially when you are in the presence of seniors.
While on vacation, people tend to take a lot of pictures, and in quite a few of those pictures, you will see them making some kind of gesture, and in many cases, that gesture is the peace sign. We all know what the peace sign is, and what it is supposed to represent, so you would not think that it is considered to be an insult in certain countries. The UK, Australia, and South Africa get millions of tourists every year, and they are just some of the Commonwealth Nations that do not take kindly to the peace sign, because in their countries, it is as if you are giving people the finger.
References: travel.usnews.com, ef.com, list25.com