- Enjoy more rewarding travel and immerse yourself in different cultures with our travel etiquette guide
- Learn the dos and don’ts of international etiquette in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa
- From the quirky to the essential – 12 noteworthy tips for being a culturally aware traveller
Travelling around the world and learning about different cultures, traditions and customs can make a holiday all the more enjoyable, but only if you don’t suffer an embarrassing faux pas. Understanding a little about international etiquette can avoid awkward moments and – more importantly – help you immerse yourself in the local culture to get the best from your travels.
No matter where you travel, it’s good to know some of the cultural norms that can catch travellers by surprise. Did you know, for example, that French manners dictate that both hands should be kept on the table while at a dinner table, with wrists resting on the edge? Place your arms on your lap, and you could inadvertently offend fellow diners. Some international etiquette is practical, while other forms of etiquette are a little on the quirky side.
While manners are a crucial part of any travel experience, demonstrating respect for other people’s religious beliefs is important, too. For example, if visiting a Hindu place of worship, it’s gracious to remove your shoes before going inside. Dressing appropriately is courteous as well, so cover shoulders, remove a hat, and wear a long skirt or trousers if that’s what is required when visiting a church, temple, or mosque – or even walking along the streets in some countries.
You won’t have to worry too much about knowing international etiquette if you’re travelling on one of our escorted tours with an experienced Tour Manager on hand. They will advise you on local customs and practices, so you can concentrate on enjoying your holiday. Some local knowledge is useful, however, so here are some etiquette tips for worldwide travellers.
12 international etiquette travel tips
Keep greetings formal in Peru
Off on holiday to Peru? Then it’s worth knowing that South Americans tend to be more formal than Europeans when it comes to greetings, so don’t be surprised if someone shakes your hand while saying hello – and goodbye. It’s also polite to wish a shop assistant or café owner good day, and also to thank them as you leave.
Be respectful in Nepal
When it comes to international etiquette, there is much to be mindful of on a Nepal tour, especially if you’re visiting a Hindu or Buddhist temple. Take your shoes off before entering a place of worship, don’t take photos unless you’ve asked permission, and refrain from touching offerings or shrines. Monks and pilgrims will also only walk around Buddhist monuments clockwise – follow their example.
Avoid being affectionate in Egypt
Etiquette in different cultures varies – you should avoid public displays of affection in Islamic countries. Even if you’re with a loved one on holiday to Egypt, don’t offend others by getting overly romantic or holding hands as you wander around sightseeing. Be sure to dress modestly, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan.
Don’t eat food with your left hand in India
If travelling to India, perhaps on an escorted tour, no doubt you’ll try the local cuisine. The country is famous for its delicious spicy dishes, but when enjoying a meal, don’t eat with your left hand. It’s thought to be unclean and only used for personal hygiene. If you’re asked to pass the chutney, reach out with your right hand.
Forget the thumbs-up sign in Turkey
Giving someone the thumbs up usually means everything is just great. However, if on holiday in Turkey, the same sign is considered extremely rude and is best avoided. Also, don’t form the round OK symbol with your thumb and forefinger as it’s regarded as an insulting gesture. Be aware, too, that while a nod of the head downwards means yes, locals won’t shake their head to indicate no – that’s a tilt upwards.
Avoid eating when visiting Italian churches and monuments
As the saying goes ‘When in Rome…’, so follow local behaviour when visiting Italy and don’t eat or drink near churches, historic monuments and public buildings. In some Italian towns and cities, it’s actually against the law. You should also never bring food into a place of worship, and avoid sipping from your water bottle while inside.
Burp during dinner in China
Fellow diners won’t be impressed if you make rude noises in a UK restaurant, but when on holiday in China, it’s perfectly acceptable to burp away – it’s a sign that you’re eating a satisfying meal. Talking with your mouth full is okay too, just be aware of customs in different countries. Waving your chopsticks around or leaving them standing in food is considered disrespectful.
Refrain from tipping in Japan
Visitors to Japan are encouraged to slurp their noodles, but when it comes to paying the dinner bill, don’t think about leaving a tip. It’s viewed as extremely bad practice and could embarrass your waiter, as excellent service comes as standard.
Try your French in France
Even if it’s just a friendly ‘merci‘ or ‘bonjour‘, attempting to speak one or two words and phrases while on holiday in France will be much appreciated by locals. It’s bad international etiquette to assume the French will speak to you in English, so try to get to grips with at least some of the local language.
Avert your gaze in Mexico
Being attentive during conversations is all part and parcel of social interaction in the UK, but if chatting with a local while on a Mexico tour, take note that in certain parts of the country it can be considered rude to look someone in the eyes. It’s also deemed standoffish to stand any distance away from another person – so move slightly closer.
Cover your mouth when yawning in South Africa
While you are highly unlikely to be bored on a holiday to South Africa, be aware that yawning without covering your mouth is considered bad manners, although this is also true for many countries. If you’re feeling tired from days exploring the wonders of South Africa, always remember to reach up and cover your mouth when yawning so as not to accidentally offend someone you may be talking to.
Don’t show off in Norway
According to the Jante Law, a code of conduct that is ingrained in Norwegian culture, you shouldn’t behave as if you’re better, smarter or wiser than your fellow citizens. While on a cruise in Norway, therefore, if you’re in a bar, café or restaurant ashore, be courteous and simply round up the bill. Leaving anything more as a tip could be viewed as showing off.
Feeling more prepared now for your next trip? As you can see, international etiquette differs from country to country. In the destinations themselves, these good manners and beliefs are just part of the norm, so it pays to respect them and immerse yourself in incredible, diverse cultures that enrich your travel experience.
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