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What NOT to do in a Foreign Country

posted in: Guides  |  posted by: Jennifer Gregory on August 22, 2009  |  No Comments

Every country has its own set of customs and traditions. Some are a bit stranger than others and you may find them to be a bit silly but know this – if you fail to adhere to some of these traditions you may find yourself in some serious hot water. Check out the following travel taboos:

10. Be Mindful of Your Feet

Matt's feet, my feet, Dana's feet, and Nick's feet

In most Arabian countries, the soles of the feet are considered dirty and impure. They are, after all, the lowest point on the body. Throughout Asia, showing the bottom of your feet is considered an insult. Hint: this is why President Bush should have been more offended at an Iraqi journalist flinging his shoes at him. The guy was trying to send a real message.

9. Insulting Royalty


Never – ever – insult the royal family in Thailand. Here it’s best to follow the old adage “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Those who fail to pay respect to the royal family in Thailand is considered as serious as having done them physical harm and can result in criminal charges being brought against you. Free speech, as we understand it, does not apply in Eastern countries.

8. Leave the Head Alone

Touching Mike's head was the cool thing to do that night

While most of us consider reaching out and touching someone’s head to be an act of affection, in many Asian countries it is considered incredibly rude and uncouth. They believe that your soul is contained within your head. Never touch or pat a person’s head when visiting Asian countries (or anywhere, really, if you’re dealing with a stranger).

7. Sneeze in Private

Okay, so Kim was about to sneeze, so she took the camera and took a picture of herself sneezing.

Sneezing and sniffling, in many Asian countries (especially Korea and Japan), is considered barbaric. This is a particularly difficult concept for visitors from the West who aren’t used to spicy foods and suddenly find themselves holding back runny noses. If you have to blow your nose, kindly excuse yourself and leave the room.

6. Shaking Hands

FVR's Chief George Gange shaking hands with Hon. Joey Lina

In every country you’ll find different standard greeting methods and shaking hands is not uncommon. In Russia, however, you should never attempt to shake hands with someone until you’ve crossed the threshold and entered (or exited) the building or room. Attempting to shake hands across a threshold will not help you make a great impression.

5. Learn to Control Your Chopsticks

Look I can hold chopsticks.. yippie!

Learn to use your chopsticks properly. Learn to pick things up rather properly than attempting to stab at morsels off food and avoid using your chopsticks to push or pull your dishes around the table. When visiting Asian countries, make sure that you never, ever stand your chopsticks upright in a bowl. Doing so reminds locals of the incense that is burned upon the death of a loved one and you will have, in essence, invited death to join you during your meal.

4. Use Your Right Hand

Eating lunch. You eat with your right hand.

In some countries, especially in South Asia and the Middle East, the left hand is used for certain hygiene practices only. Don’t try to touch a person with your left hand; don’t look at items in the market with your left hand; and don’t touch your food with your left hand. Muslims believe that Satan eats with his left hand. Do yourself a favor- especially if you are left handed – and practice using your right before you visit one of these foreign lands.

3. Holding Hands

men holding hands

In Middle Eastern countries it is not uncommon for men to hold hands. It is considered a sign of friendship and trust and doing so has no sexual connotation whatsoever. Don’t be offended if a man in an Arab country grabs your hand and – at the same time – be respectful when you see other men holding hands, especially if it’s not the social norm in your own country.

2. Make Eye Contact when Toasting

If you don't make eye contact when you're toasting, you'll have bad sex for 7 years.

The origin of “toasting” your drinks is actually pretty interesting. If an assassin had poisoned your drink he would want to watch the toast to make sure that your drinks did not splash together and mix. Therefore, maintaining eye contact during a toast symbolizes a sense of trust – or, proves that you’re not worried about either if you keeling over after taking the first sip. In Europe, the custom is to look directly into the eyes of every person you toast. If you don’t, you’ll be doomed to seven years of a horrible sex life.

1. Don’t Over-Thank Your Hosts

a host brother met a student at the airport to say goodbye

In many countries in South Asia and Arabia it is considered impolite to constantly thank your hosts. They believe that they are supposed to be a generous and gracious host at all times. If you thank them they will think they’ve done something more than expected or standard and you will make them feel awkward. It’ll be hard to do and will certainly feel strange but try to drop ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ from your vocabulary during your visit.

Familiarize yourself with the traditions in the countries you expect to visit and you’ll have no trouble once you arrive. If in doubt ask your hotel concierge what is best. They’re used to dealing with foreigners and will gladly give you the advice you need.

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