We hate to admit it, but some tourists out there really, really need a lesson on how to conduct themselves abroad. It's like the moment they step on foreign soil they forget basic manners. These notions are not entirely bad things, but there are small things that make certain tourists a little more high maintenance compared to the rest. Though there are things that we’d like to have or to experience whenever we travel abroad, these are just expectations that we have that we want to be met, nothing unfair or impossible. It is a demand, nay, a request that we’d like to see if we can get, and it’s perfectly okay if it can’t be done.
But we also fall for the regular red-cheek moments whenever we are abroad. As demanding and high maintenance we might be, although we’d like to believe that most of us are really not, we also experience the same amount of embarrassing situations out there, if not more. And sometimes we have no idea about the different faux pas that exists in different countries - people of different cultures interpret things differently from us, and it is helpful to be aware of that when we travel. So here’s a list of most things and situations that could be embarrassing to us whenever we are in a different country.
Most nations do not have the courtesy that most Americans have when dealing with strangers. These people tend to shy away, bow down, or ignore tourists that it tends to get uncomfortable and embarrassing for us. A simple smile can get them to curl up into a ball. It’s nothing against you, some of them just do not know how to interact properly with foreigners like us, maybe it’s a rare occurrence for them, or maybe they are not confident speaking English with someone who speaks it as a first language.
Americans are known to be punctual and prompt, even when on vacation. But check with the country you are vacationing in via a little research and see if their people share the same virtue. We might get bored waiting for the tour guide or the bus when the itinerary says the pick-up is 7 AM and we’ve been there for 30 minutes with no one in sight. In some cultures, punctuality is not given the same value as we might think, so lower expectations when visiting these places.
Traveling couples be careful, PDA is a normal thing and is no big deal in most countries we know.
But once you travel to other places, even major cities, it’s surprising how tight the law is when it comes to public displays of affection.
Dubai, Qatar, and India are among the famous tourist destinations where kissing in public could get you in trouble. A quick peck on the lips may be okay, but not the passionate 30-second French, we assume.
I’m sure we’ve had our share of long and uncomfortable stares in our travels. This happens most of the time in Asian countries, and the moment we venture out of the city or the capital and into the more rural places, the stares get longer and more intense.
We cannot help but feel embarrassed. But it’s not our fault, these locals just have not seen such beautiful specimens of human beings such as us.
The best move is to just ignore them, pretend you are a celebrity because that’s actually what they think they are looking at, kind of.
Talking loud in public can be considered a rude thing to do in some countries. Just be aware, if we are talking on the phone and the area is quiet enough, there is no need to raise our voice.
Just make our voice deeper and more modulated, that would work better than shouting and talking very loudly.
People might find a tourist talking loudly or shouting in public bothersome, annoying, or rude. So let’s dial it down a bit unless we want to see disgusted looks from the others.
We know how it feels to get pointed at with the index finger, it kind of isolates us, singles us out and tends to give us an undressed kind of feeling. This act is also considered rude in countries like Thailand and most Asian countries. Fret not, there are four other digits we can use to point. And just to be on the safe side, gesture with the whole arm, or use your chin to point or get someone’s attention.
It is easy to learn how to use these Asian utensils, but don’t try to do it for the first time while abroad. People in restaurants will look at you like you are strange, or worse like you are mocking the chopsticks. If you want to use them, learn how to do it properly before you travel to China, Japan or Korea. It could cramp your fingers at first, but don’t forget that it’s always okay to ask for a spoon and fork.
We may not be used to removing our shoes before going inside other people’s homes, but we believe it’s a good idea. Who knows where those shoes have been and how dirty they are, right?
If you are ever in a different country vacationing, and more importantly, visiting a friend’s house, bear in mind that they might want you to remove your shoes.
Some of them might not ask you directly, so be careful. Check the outside first. If there is a rack for shoes near the door, that means you put shoes there before you come in. Don’t wait for them to ask you, just do it on your own.
Do not get too excited to try out your well-learned language when traveling, maybe the local you will be talking to knows how to speak in English. Maybe ask first if they speak English if they say yes, then you can mix it up with some greetings in their language, then speak the other things that are hard for you to say in English. There’s nothing more embarrassing than twisting our tongue talking to a local and for them to answer back in very good English.
Climates vary in different countries, especially if we are going to a tropical country near that imaginary line across the middle of the globe.
Cities at or near the equator have a warmer climate, you may not feel hot, but the humidity does things to our hair, for example, that we never experience back home.
It’s the same case with taking a bath, we’d think we still smell okay, but once we get out of the hotel and start sweating, we find that we are wrong. So take a quick shower, maybe every day and bring some deodorant.
Giving the peace sign is a nice gesture in the US, but in the United Kingdom, the reverse peace sign does not mean what we think. This sign looks like the regular peace sign with the index and middle finger up but with your palm facing you, reversed. All the Queen’s people use this sign, not for peace, but the exact opposite. It’s like flipping the middle finger for us, that’s what it means, so maybe let’s not do it, reverse or not, when in the UK.
We have meals at least three times a day, and often more while traveling and on vacation. Try not to be too picky or delicate with the food you get in other countries.
Ever been served bacon that’s not crispy? It happens, and don’t be too much of a pain about it, if you want to return it, do so in a nice enough manner.
That bacon is the symbol of a place that will not always meet your expectations when it comes to food. Try not to order off-menu as well, this is a great opportunity to be adventurous and taste new things, order the “recommends” and the “specialties” instead.
If you know that you have a sensitive tummy, then do not play 20 questions with the waiter about their water. Just order bottled or canned beverages of brands that you know. That is really the safest way to go to avoid staying in the hotel and nursing a stomach ache while the rest of your group are having fun outside. Ice is made from their house water, too, so it kind of defeats the purpose of ordering bottled and canned drinks when you want a glass of ice on the side.
Road rules about honking your vehicle horn are pretty universal. Hospitals, schools, and churches are the usual places where honking is definitely not allowed.
There are some rules in other countries about honking that we might not be aware of.
Just be careful when driving in another country, it might be rare, but there is the police that will try to take advantage of you just because you are a tourist. Don’t give them a reason to pull you over, don’t honk that horn.
Believe it or not, there is a country that does not require tips to be given to the service people. Just another example of how weird and unconventional the Japanese are. Japan’s tourism is flourishing, so if you haven’t been there, chances are you will soon. Remember not to tip in cafes, restaurants, or any service people. It will be a little embarrassing to explain what the money is for, then realize the person is not at all that happy about it.
Who doesn’t like flowers, right? Everybody does, even the citizens of Ukraine. But if we ever venture there, count the flowers that we are buying before giving them to anyone. An even number of flowers is given only during funerals. Ours is probably for merry occasions, so make sure the flowers are odd-numbered. The people of Ukraine and Russia consider an even number of flowers bad luck. If we are trying to woo a nice Ukrainian or Russian gal, count the flowers before trying to be sweet and charming.
This seemingly harmless and okay sign (pun intended) has a lot of meanings in other countries. While here we know that it means okay, great, alright. It is quite the opposite when you flash it while in other countries.
It is insulting to the French and Italians, and it’s the Brazilian’s version of giving the middle finger.
So avoid that circle using the index finger and the thumb with the remaining three fingers pointed up in the air, forget about the thumbs up sign as well. Just say these two letters, O and K, that’ll do.
The Italians seem to be rude locals, so we want to tread lightly whenever we are in Italy, especially when roaming around the city and mingling with the local folk. They’re actually very nice as long as we don’t give them a reason to get annoyed. Just be courteous and try to learn the language, they would appreciate the effort and will be nicer to you. However, this next one is a no-no, do not, under any circumstances, order a cappuccino late in the morning. This is a breakfast beverage, and doing so will let them know you are a tourist, and not a very smart one, too.
The people of the Netherlands are kind, courteous and very warm towards tourists. Just don’t mess with them while they’re in their lane. Biking is a common thing in the Netherlands, there are lots of bike lanes everywhere, lots of people riding bikes as well. Please do not walk in the bike lane, there is also a pedestrian lane, you know. Don’t go quoting Dustin Hoffman ala Midnight Cowboy on them when they’re in the right and you’re in the wrong, apparently.
Some people nonchalantly put their hands in their pockets while talking to someone. It is a harmless act that really does not mean anything, and the person who does it is not trying to insinuate something. This is apparently not the case in Germany. They understand that this act means the person is uninterested, so it is kind of insulting to them. Maybe don’t wear pants with pockets in Germany, or talk to the locals with two items in each hand.
Be careful taking home with you as a souvenir some antique items. Chances are they will be confiscated at a checkpoint in the airport.
There are countries with stricter laws on antiquities, especially the genuine ones.
So make sure the one you have is just a pretty reproduction and is meant for a souvenir, keep the receipt as proof, and that will save you from serious detainment time, and even imprisonment. These countries are Mexico, Egypt, and Turkey, so bear that in mind whenever you visit these places.
Toasting beer glasses is a definite no in Hungary. It’s practice based on an unfortunate historical event the Hungarians have not gotten over yet to this day. But other alcoholic beverages are okay, so clink away. But remember to do this, especially when drinking their local drink, the palinka. There is a proper way to toast. While toasting, be sure not to look away and look at the other person straight in the eye so that they know that you are looking at them.
The Malaysians are like some women in our country. We know well enough not to mess with a woman’s hair from countless films and TV shows. While it’s mostly for good-grooming reasons for us, it’s a whole different reason in this Asian country. The Malaysians consider the head the most sacred part of the body. So whenever we are visiting Malaysia, avoid touching people’s heads. Also, do not pass anything above their heads, these acts will be treated as a sign of disrespect.
If you are left-handed and are traveling to Indonesia, there are certain adjustments that you have to make that might be hard. Practicing could help, but sometimes it’s hard to do something that we’ve been used to since we were kids. Just be careful interacting with the locals in Indonesia. Do not shake hands using the left hand, or give them something or take something from them using the left hand. The left hand is used for self-cleaning, and it is super rude to use it to hand or take drinks and to shake hands.
There are Americans that are unruly while abroad, but it’s not something that we have to accept. Whenever we travel, we represent the whole American population. While it’s fun to pretend we’re Canadian and do whatever we like (kidding), it’s best to just conduct ourselves in a manner that’s respectable and reasonable. Remember the Golden Rule, let’s try to live by it while abroad, and avoid a whole lot of embarrassing moments along the way. Enjoy your trip and safe travels, everyone!