CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA: Like so many modern innovations, social media has, in many ways, made the world smaller. As always, there is also a downside, and in the case of travel, etiquette is one of the first things to suffer.
It’s always a good idea to review proper protocols when visiting a new destination and immersing yourself into a different culture. Sometimes the most innocent mistakes can be seen as an insult.
One reason we are often labeled “Ugly Americans” by foreign hosts is that we tend to forget that we are guests in another country and fail to do due diligence regarding cultural differences.
Learn the language – a little bit
One of the simplest ways to ingratiate ourselves to other nationalities is to learn a few basic phrases in their language. Please, thank you, good morning, good evening, pardon me, excuse me, and the like are easy to learn and go a long way toward being accepted quickly. You don’t have to be a linguist. The attempt is appreciated.
Common courtesy always works
and is greatly appreciated.
Among the favorite destinations for first-time international travelers is the United Kingdom because there is supposedly a common language. Language barriers can be comfort zone killers for inexperienced vagabonds.
If you take a translator or use a translation APP on your phone, use it surreptitiously, without shoving your electronic device under someone’s nose.
Even so, the UK does have some quirky hazards to avoid.
Etiquette Faux Pauxs’ to avoid
Here are some suggestions as to how to be more comfortable in another country. The list is not definitive by any means, but it will give you an idea of things that can ease travel apprehensions.
In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland avoid questions about one’s health.
When you meet someone new, it is best to say, “How do you do?” The more inquisitive “How are you?” is acceptable only if the person is already a close friend.
Be careful about asking someone what they do for a living. It could lead to discussions about money and salaries which is a huge no-no.
Finally, when drinking tea, remember to add milk last.
In a country known for its precision, it’s not surprising that punctuality is an important a trait of the Swiss. Don’t be late. While you’re at it, it’s always best to bring a small gift to your host and to send a thank-you note afterward.
When greeting someone offer a firm handshake and make eye contact. That doesn’t mean you have to squeeze like George Foreman, but it’s better to be too strong than to offer a flounder-like grip.
You can always pick out the tourists because they eat fondue in summer. Whenever you do it, try not to lose your bread in the liquid ocean of melted cheese. Innocent as it may be, it is not considered good form.
Another fondue faux pas is scraping your fork on the bottom of the pot. It just isn’t done.
Like the Swiss, tardiness is frowned upon in Germany. If you’re late, do not be surprised if your host openly reminds you that you were not on time.
Perhaps more difficult for Americans these days is arriving in attire that is too casual. Sweats are improper in a country where people dress up for their guests.
As in Switzerland and Japan, you may also be requested to take off your shoes.
When eating, keep your hands on the table (so that they know you don’t have any concealed weapons). The weaponry reference is a joke, of course, but it is not polite to put your hands in your lap or to keep them out of view.
Politeness protocols and punctuality completely change in Italy. Time is merely a reference point. Being late is a national pastime. The only question is how long do you wait?
Do not expect undivided attention during meetings. Multitasking is the rule rather than the exception and is universally accepted.
Also, if you are invited to dinner in Italy, forget the possibility of a quiet evening. There’s a reason they called it the “family” in The Godfather and the idea of “two’s company, three’s a crowd” doesn’t exist.
More than likely ten or 15 family members and friends could “drop in” at any time for dessert or after-dinner drinks.
From Asia to South America
Moving on to Asia and South America briefly, in Argentina being “fashionably late” is standard. Twenty minutes is typically the rule.
Conversions usually disregard personal space and can be quite close compared to other countries. Dinners can be uncomfortably long by American and, even, European standards.
Brazil also honors the tradition of being late, including the idea that dinner will not begin at the appointed hour.
Perhaps most important, however, is to never, ever make the “OK” sign in Brazil, it is tantamount to “shooting the bird” in the U.S. only ten times over.
In Japan, check your socks before you leave. Never enter a house with dirty socks, or wearing socks with holes. You will be removing your shoes before entering your host’s house. Always bring a gift for your host. Neatly wrapped colorful packages can be found anywhere in the county.
Bowing is tricky, but a general rule is the junior person bows first. The deeper the bow determines the level of respect.
Always accept business cards with both hands and be sure to look at them, even if you do not read it.
The Chinese usually do business at a restaurant with dishes typically chosen by the host, usually a regional delicacy. If the occasion is a celebration or business meeting, a private dining room will be reserved.
As with Japan, the two-handed business card rule also applies.
These are just a few examples of proper travel etiquette. The main thing to understand is that knowing just a little about the cultural mores of a destination can make travel considerably more pleasant and hassle-free.
Do your homework.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up