When planning a trip, there is a checklist of things you have to do—book transportation, look up hotels, make reservations, plan an itinerary, and make a budget just to name a few. But, we bet that there is one thing on the list that you don’t even think about—checking the country’s customs. Every country has its way of doing things, and it is always important to familiarize yourself with a country’s customs before visiting it. If you’ve ever worked in the food industry business, you’ve felt the frustration when a foreign guest demands water with no ice or deigns to leave a tip. Does it make you feel better to know that they’re not doing it to be rude or demanding (probably not)? But in most countries, water is served without ice and tips are not a normal custom! So, the guests are just doing what they are used to. To avoid making your own mistakes and being a glaringly obvious tourist, you should always do a little research before hopping on that plane. Knowing the proper way to greet someone or how to eat a particular dish can make a huge difference in the way you are treated by the natives.
Now, most customs, when you trace it back to its origins, make sense. That doesn’t mean that a foreigner still won’t find them bizarre, though! We’ve taken the task of collecting a few rules and customs that we find interesting and funny to share with you. So, here are 20 strange rules and customs that travelers need to follow when visiting the following places.
20 Philippines – It’s All Finger Food (Yes, Eat With Your Hands)
When visiting the exotic islands of the Philippines, you may be surprised when your meal doesn’t come with any silverware! Before you flag down a waiter to ask for a knife and fork, why don’t you take advantage to re-embrace your childhood? In the Philippines, “Kamayan” is the term for the traditional way of eating, which is using your hands. Honestly, any excuse to cut down on some dishes, we’ll take it. Anyway, by using your fingers to physically touch the food and bring it to your mouth, there is a deeper connection between the food and you. Touch is one of the crucial five senses, and using your fingers allows a fuller experience between you and the food. Simply put, the food just tastes better when you can really get into it.
But wait! Before you dig into a plate of delicious adobo (unofficial national dish of stewed meat and rice), there are some things you should know. First, don’t use your left hand to serve yourself or eat. This is a sign of disrespect because most people generally use their left hands to clean up after themselves after using the toilet. Second,
just use your fingers to scoop up the food, not your palms; you’re not a barbarian.
Third, try to stick to just using one hand. It might take a few tries to get the hang of it, but soon you’ll be back to your childhood glory days of uninhibited joyous eating.
19 France – Kiss Kiss (On The Cheek, Of Course)
If you get invited to a dinner party or get-together while you’re in France, don’t be shocked when the host leans in for a smooch. Don’t freak out, it’s not on the lips. In America, most people go in for a handshake or a hug when they greet someone. Speaking of which, don’t hug, it’s not a thing here. But in France, it is normal for the French to lay a few kisses on the cheeks when they greet each other. There is even a particular term for it—“la bise” or cheek kisses. Oddly enough, it isn’t so much lips upon cheeks but more cheeks upon cheeks. So really, instead of a kiss, it is the pressing of cheeks together while making a kissing noise. This tradition stems back to the Romans and is still a normal greeting today. Now, this doesn’t mean that you do this with every person you meet in France. Don’t go accosting the poor server who comes up to take your coffee order. This greeting is done between acquaintances and friends. Depending on which area of France you’re in, the number of kisses might vary. In Paris, it is usually two kisses, but other places go up to four sometimes. If you’re still worried about making a fashion faux pas, let the host lead. But whatever you do, don’t turn your head! Now that would be awkward.
18 India – Keep Your Toes To Yourself
How often do you think about where your feet are pointed? Most likely, the answer is going to be “never,” unless you’re a ballerina and you like to keep your feet in that perfect first position. Well, if you travel to India, you better keep in mind where those little piggies are pointed. In India, the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. So if you point your feet at someone, this is considered a sign of disrespect. You are essentially telling the person that you consider them as lowly and dirty as your feet. The same thing goes towards sacred objects. Don’t ever rest your feet on any furniture, tuck your feet under you when sitting, and don’t cross your legs when you’re sitting in a chair. Make sure you never step over anyone or their possessions and apologize if you touch someone with your feet. God forbid you have a crazy accident and your shoes go flying and hit someone. Being hit by a shoe is the ultimate insult, so you better tighten up those laces. This is a difficult custom to adhere to. And if you’re a tourist, you’ll have some leeway. Just try your best and avoid pointing your feet, no matter how nice that pedicure you just got is.
17 Rome – Cover Up (And Don't Wear Mini-Skirts)
There are some people who love the heat and luxuriate in the feeling of the sun against their skin. Then, there are those who hate the heat and escape into air-conditioned buildings during the summer. Dealing with the heat is a difficult process, and unlike in winter where you can layer up, there is only so much you can take off when it is hot. Still, even if you feel like you’re being roasted alive,
you better cover up when you visit Rome and its glorious Vatican. There is a strict dress code when visiting these holy places. Shorts and bare shoulders are unacceptable for both men and women, and miniskirts are definitely a no-no.
Actually, this rule applies to all churches and cathedrals in Europe. Some places may be more lenient, but in Rome, you will be turned away from the door. Oftentimes, there are vendors that linger around the area and take advantage of the poorly prepared tourists. They will sell track pants and t-shirts for those that were turned away. Long jeans and a t-shirt will be allowed in, though. And we understand that in the dead of summer, the heat can become brutal. Just tuck a light cardigan or scarf into your backpack and pull it on while you’re inside and then take it off once you’re off the premises. It’ll be better than forking over a ridiculous sum of money for knock-off Adidas pants around the corner!
16 Alaska – Cut Off If You're Having "Too" Much Fun
This is going to sound absolutely crazy, but you cannot be drunk in a bar in Alaska. “But, isn’t that the point of a bar!?” you might exclaim. This doesn’t mean that if you decide to have a pint while you’re in Alaska, you’re going to be hauled off to the clanger. However, if you’re several drinks in and slipping off your chair, you might be shocked when that friendly local that was telling you about places to go suddenly slaps a pair of cuffs on you. Alaska has deemed that being excessively intoxicated is now a crime. By excess, we mean incoherent, vomiting, overly rambunctious, and unstable. And it is not just the drunkards that get in trouble. The bartenders or servers that continue to serve someone who is past their limit are also fined. The rules are so heavily enforced that there are occasionally plainclothes policemen that sit in bars and keep an eye out for anyone getting over-served. The law stems from the issue that Alaska has with drunk driving and assaults. By cracking down on public intoxication, the state is hoping to lower the number of incidents that occur. So if you’re traveling around Alaska and having some drinks in a bar and a stranger suggests that you slow down, then you should probably listen. Chances are, it is a cop trying to give you a fair chance.
15 Singapore – Chewing Gum
When you walk through the streets of Singapore or sit on the trains, there is one thing that will be missing that you might not even realize—stuck gum. How many times have you sat at a desk and your knee brushed against a nasty sticky piece of wadded gum or walked down the sidewalk and see the black stains of gum dirtied by thousands of footsteps over it? In Singapore, this isn’t an issue because if you get caught disposing of your gum in any way other than a trash can, you can be fined up to several thousand dollars.
In 1992, Singapore made chewing gum illegal. The city had grown tired of cleaning up gum from the streets and dealing with malfunctioning trains due to gum stuck in the doorways and sensors.
The law was upheld until 2004 when it was amended. Now, dental-health and nicotine gum are allowed if a prescription by a dentist or health care is provided. Pharmacies must check credentials or risk jail time and a fine. If you’re visiting the country and decide to bring a few packs of gum for personal use, you are allowed. But you’re only allowed a maximum of two packs of gum per person or you will be considered gum-smuggling and fined up to $5,000 and a year in prison. So, we suggest you be careful about walking around and popping bubbles.
14 Switzerland – Keep Your Clothes On, Please
Very little beats the pleasure of feeling the fresh air kiss your skin. In fact, one man enjoyed the sensation so much that he decided to go for a hike in the lovely Switzerland Alps…naked. Maybe he wanted to become close to nature like Thoreau did and decided that the best way was to stroll around in the nude. Whatever his reasons were, the mom and her family that he strolled by were not very pleased. When she reported the man to the local authorities, he was fined 100 francs, which he refused to pay (definitely taking some inspiration from Thoreau). His case was taken to Switzerland’s Supreme Court where it was acquitted because the judge said that the jurisdiction fell under the Swiss Penal Code. When the prosecutor filed an appeal, the court ruled in favor and enforced the fine. The state of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden has actually outlawed nude hiking. Before you question why such a law is needed, how many other people are hiking naked? You would be surprised that there is actually a good number of people that enjoy nude hiking. While the rest of Switzerland has yet to make such a law, Appenzell-Ausserrhoden has decided they’ve had enough of people walking by without clothes. So we suggest you keep your clothes on when visiting this lovely area, no matter how much you want to feel all the colors of the wind.
13 Greece – High Heels Are A No-No
When you go hiking, you wear tennis shoes (or what some of you barbarians call sneakers) or slippers when you’re dragging the garbage bin to the curb in the middle of the night and flippers for the ocean. There is an appropriate footwear for every occasion. You want to know what’s not appropriate? Pointy heels in the ancient Greek monuments and historical sites, that’s what. We’re not the only ones who think so. In fact,
Greece has banned all sharp-soled shoes from certain areas.
First off, why would you even wear heels during a day of sightseeing around ruins and monuments? That’s just begging for a broken ankle. Second, those shoes are actually damaging the grounds around those areas, thus the ban. Eleni Korka, Director of Greek Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, said that
“these monuments have a skin that suffers and people must realize that.” Therefore, in an effort to preserve these places of history, all heels are banned.
We’re going to assume that that means you need to leave behind your soccer cleats too. So, no matter how well that pair of stilettos goes with your outfit, you should probably switch out to a pair of gladiator sandals. They’ll match the location better anyway.
12 Thailand – Drinking On The Clock
We’ve heard of a dry state (a state that forbids the sale of alcohol), and we’re used to some places that don’t sell alcohol on Sundays. But limiting the time that you’re allowed to buy alcohol is a new one for us. In Thailand, the sale of alcohol is banned from 2pm-5pm and from 12pm-11am. This doesn’t mean that you can’t drink during those times, only that you cannot go to a store and purchase the alcohol. Restaurants and bars will also still serve you (and even then must have a certain license), but grocery stores and convenience stores cannot let you legally pick up a six-pack. Violations of these laws are heavy fines and possible imprisonment. The reasons for these restrictions are unclear, but it could possibly be due to limiting the access of alcohol to children who would be free during those times. The restrictions are a bit ironic because Thailand is famous for its buckets of booze. One of the most common sights are vendors strolling along the beach selling cheap buckets to all the tourists. Regardless, if you know you’re going to be drinking during those hours, we suggest you stock up and bring it with you!
11 Mexico – Always Keep Your Feet On The Pedal
One of the best ways to learn an area that you are staying in is to rent bikes and just go and explore. But we’re not talking about mopeds and motorcycles. Although, that would be fun too! We’re talking about a good ol’ mechanical two-wheeled bicycle, bells and all.
On a bicycle, you’re not limited to just the roads like you are in a car, and you can cover a lot more distance than if you were just walking. Of course, you should always wear a helmet and make sure you know which side of the road you’re supposed to be on. More importantly, don’t take your feet off the pedals…or you could be arrested. Yup, you read that right.
If you take your feet off the pedals of your bike, it is considered reckless behavior because you could lose control and crash and there are penalties, which is such a shame because the best part of bicycling is coasting down a hill with your feet off the pedals.
We wonder, do similar rules apply to riding donkeys? Maybe you have to keep your feet in the stirrups at all times too.
10 Bhutan – Don’t Even Think Of Lighting Up
There is little that is worse than entering a room that is reeking of cigarette smoke or having someone blow that nasty cloud of cancer into your face. Thank goodness laws have been implemented that prevent people from smoking in certain areas. Bhutan, a country in South Asia in the Eastern Himalayas, also agree. In fact, they’ve taken it a step further and have banned smoking in the entire country! Not only is smoking a cigarette illegal, but the sale and production of tobacco are also illegal. (We bet the air there is fabulous.) The punishment of being caught selling tobacco products is serious. Individuals can face up to three to five years in prison, and there are no exceptions. When the law was passed, many people were outraged. Since then, the law has been slightly amended so that an individual is able to purchase a small amount of tobacco products for personal use in their homes, but they have to pay import duties because it cannot be bought within the country. And you cannot smoke those cancer sticks in a public place. Still, if you’re someone who needs to light up a smoke daily, we suggest you buy some nicotine patches before you come to this country.
9 Japan – Don't Pass Food Chopstick To Chopstick
It is always so fun to order a bunch of items on a menu and share the meal family-style. This way, you can try several things rather than just one dish. However, whatever you do, don’t pass food chopstick to chopstick.
Place the food in the person’s bowl or stick it straight into their mouth, just don’t let them pick it off your chopsticks with theirs. This gesture is taboo in Japan, and once you know why, you probably won’t be inclined to do it anyway. Passing food chopstick to chopstick is actually funeral-related due to a certain custom in traditional Japanese funeral.
When a person has died and is cremated, family members gather around the ashes and, using extra-long chopsticks, pick up all the bone fragments and pass it to each other to place in an urn. There is even a specialist who will help the family place the bones in order so that the feet go in the bottom and the head goes on top. This is the only time that anything is passed chopstick to chopstick. So, the next time someone tries to pass you a piece of sushi, just go for it and use your mouth, it’ll be more acceptable than using your own chopsticks.
(Also, don’t stick chopsticks straight into a bowl of rice because it mimics sticks of incense.)
8 Canada (Petrolia, Ontario) – No Whistling (And Don't Make Too Much Noice)
America, land of the free. We are such a lucky country. We have the freedom of speech, religion, bear arms, and whistling. That’s right, whistling. If you’re one of the “lucky” ones that can claim whistling as a talent, well then, good for you. We’ll be even more impressed if you can do reverse whistling. Just don’t do it in Petrolia, Ontario. In fact, don’t yell, shout, hoot, or sing in this city because it is illegal. Why on earth is this a rule? Well, the law was passed in an effort to limit excessive noise between the hours of 11pm and 7am. However, the city’s website also says that loud noises at all times are also prohibited. We would go over to this city and argue that this is a ridiculous law, but we’re afraid that if we lose our tempers and shout a little too loudly, we’ll get arrested for being too loud. If this little city is a place you’ve always wanted to go to, then you might want to curb your enthusiasm when you land or you’ll get in trouble before your feet even crosses the borders. Maybe just silently cheer to yourself. Bet you’re whistling now and appreciating your ability to do so.
7 China – Take Your Shoes Off
In Western cultures, most people wear their shoes everywhere including their homes. However, in China, it is extremely rude to wear your shoes into someone’s house.
This particular custom is actually practiced in most of Asia and not limited to just China. Wearing your shoes into someone’s home is a big mistake, and the reason is quite simple. Shoes are the only barrier between our feet and the ground. They pick up traces of everywhere that you have walked on including food, feces, dirt, and bacteria. Therefore, if you wear your shoes into a person’s home, you are also bringing in all that gunk that you’ve picked up. And in most Asian cultures, the floor is used for sitting, sleeping, and socializing, so keeping it clean is important. When you enter someone’s residence, they usually have a pair of house slippers for you to wear in place of your own shoes. So leave your shoes by the door. There’ll be a pile of them already so slip on the offered shoes. This is a practice that is also observed in some temples, so make sure to check before stepping in. So you better make sure that you bring some nice socks when you visit China or Asia. You don’t want to deal with the embarrassment of having holes in your socks!
6 Italy (City Of Eraclea) – No Sandcastles
When we think of our childhood summers, we remember the smell of sunscreen lotion and salty air. We remember cold watermelon slices and the feeling of wet sand and cold water lapping at your toes. We remember playing beach volleyball and building crumbling sandcastles. Well, that isn’t happening in Eraclea.
Eraclea, a small city near Venice, has outlawed the building of sandcastles on its beaches. Italy had given their local councils more authority so that they can control crime and destructive behaviors.
The council in Eraclea decided that their new rule was going to be banning sandcastles on its beaches. Officials claim that sandcastles are obstructive to people walking on the beach and are therefore a hazard.
Breaking this rule will result in a fine. We’re assuming the fine is given to the parent if it is a child who decides he/she wants to become a sand architect. We’re not very good at building castles anyway. Would we get into trouble if we dig a hole? We’re going to venture an intelligent guess that the answer would be ‘yes.’ Also, collecting shells and sand off the beach is banned. So you had best look elsewhere for your souvenir to remember this lovely, albeit dull, beach.
5 Brazil – Everything Is Not A-Okay
When you’re traveling in a foreign country, more often than not, you cannot speak the local language. Travelers usually rely on short phrases they’ve memorized and common English words that most people recognize. The easiest way to communicate with someone is by pantomiming and gesturing. The universal wave for ‘hello,’ shrug for ‘I don’t know,’ and nod and shake for ‘yes and no.’ However, there are some gestures that are not universal and you should always double-check before visiting a country what common gestures mean.
If someone asks if your food is good or if you’re happy with a product, don’t give them the OK sign. This is a common sign in many parts of the world as a gesture meaning OK. However, in some countries, including Brazil, it is an obscene gesture
that means somewhere along the lines of “screw you.” It is the equivalent to the middle finger in America (which they also use). How would you feel if you asked someone if they like something and they shoot you the bird? If you do accidentally make the OK symbol, you’ll most likely be forgiven because you are a foreigner. Just know that as soon as your back is turned, the natives will be laughing at you.
4 Dubai – No Food Or Drink Allowed
Dubai has a reputation for extravagance and wealth, which is not surprising for a country that has a major port and oil money. High-end hotels, expensive boutiques, flashy cars, and exotic pets—anything that you can think of that costs money, you can find in Dubai. So of course, the food must be topnotch. There are probably hundreds of incredible restaurants to eat at. Unfortunately, if you visit Dubai during Ramadan, chances are you won’t be able to eat at very many places. That is because it is illegal to eat or drink in public during Ramadan.
Ramadan is a religious observance that Muslims practice around the world. During this period, Muslims are required to fast. They cannot eat between dawn and sunset. And if you are a tourist in Dubai during this time, you are also unable to eat and drink during the day. If you are caught breaking this law, you can face jail time and a fine. Most restaurants will close during the day and only reopen at night. Thankfully, if you are not a practicing Muslim, you can still eat. You just have to hide it. The rule is only for public places. Some restaurants have private dining for tourists who aren’t fasting. So, if you’re sneaking a granola bar, you better make sure that no one can see you.
3 Russia – Eye Contact
There is an art to making eye contact with someone. Stare a little too long and you’re deemed creepy and unnerving. Break off eye contact too quickly and you seem to be suspicious and flighty. It’s a fine balance to find just the right amount of time to keep those windows to the soul connected. In some cultures, it is rude to make eye contact with a stranger. But in other areas, like the South, it’s normal to make eye contact with a stranger, flash a polite smile, and go your merry way.
In Russia, eye contact is crucial. Don’t go staring down every person you pass by. That would be creepy. But when you meet someone and shake their hands or talk to them, make sure you give them your whole attention. This is particularly important in greetings.
Confident eye contact while shaking hands means that you are sincere. If your eyes drift while meeting someone, this is seen as rude and disingenuous, and it’s always important to endear yourself to the natives. This custom may sound a bit self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised by how many people refuse to look someone directly in the eye. Often, people will stare past the person or focus on the nose and mouth instead. So, make sure you lock eyes when you are in Russia.
2 Germany – Fill Your Tank Up!
If you’re a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, you’ll probably remember that sexy scene of Han and Gisele speeding down the autobahn at the end of Fast Five. If you’re unfamiliar with what the autobahn is, it is a freeway in Germany that has no speed limit. Part of the autobahn do have posted speed limits, but the remote areas do not. It is no surprise that a common sight speeding down the road is high-end sports cars. With no speed limit, any car enthusiast and adrenaline junky will jump at the chance to drive down this road. One thing that you will not see are cars pulled over to the side of the road. That’s simply because it is illegal to stop on the autobahn.
For safety purposes, it does make sense. With no speed limit, stopped cars are obviously dangerous to the driver and other drivers. The rules are lenient if you stop because of a medical emergency or engine failure, though.
But if your car stops because you ran out of gas, then prepare to pay a fine (and find a way to get some gas, and quick). Running out of gas is a preventable mistake and is 100% human error, so there is no excuse.
1 Idaho – Humans Are Friends, Not Food
If you visit America and decide that Idaho is the place you want to go to, you will be glad to know that if someone decides to make you their dinner, they will be punished. Although, by then, you probably won’t care anymore.
Anyway, Idaho is the only state in America that has a law that explicitly states that consuming human flesh and blood is illegal. You would think that every country would make cannibalism illegal. However, every country does have a law that makes murder illegal, and cannibalism usually falls under murder. However, what if a person willingly offers his or her body for consumption? The lines get blurry, and courts have to interpret the law in new ways. Most likely, the cannibal will be charged with murder, even if it was consensual because the victim (and the cannibal) most likely had mental issues. But if you lop off a finger and give it to someone to eat (why would you do that??!), there is a possibility that he or she wouldn’t get in trouble. Well, unless you are in Idaho. The law even specifically states how long the prison sentence would be, which is fourteen years. The law does allow a stipulation that if you were in a life-or-death situation and cannibalism was the only way to survive, you could hold a defense in court. How reassuring.