If there was ever an apt saying for this article, it would be “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” This saying came into being to warn ancient world travelers to conform to the local culture or suffer the consequences. While today, the chances of suffering are less likely, travelers can end up ruining their experience if they offend a local that decides to take matters personally. As such, we have prepared a list of travel taboos that are considered to be a standard for all, locals and tourists alike.
Everywhere: Religious Places
Mosques, Synagogues, Buddhist Temples and some Churches have many requirements in common, one of these is the dress code. Always enter any religious place with appropriate attire that includes a fully covered body with long sleeves, long pants or skirts; and covered heads in most cases. Do not raise your voice in a religious place and always ask if it is OK to take photos if there is no signage stating otherwise.
When leaving a party or getting up from a visit, always say goodbye to everyone. If you forgot to bid goodbye, you might not be invited again; and if you missed someone, you are offending them.
2. Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK
While Winston Churchill made the V sign famous for victory, he used the back of the fingers for that, if you use the front of the fingers, the nail side, it means “GFY” which is obviously an insult and might end up with you visiting the emergency ward.
While eating up all the food in some countries, it might be considered as proof of tastiness. However, in Cambodia, you must leave some food on the plate. The reason is that meat should be plentiful and be too much to eat. In other words, if you complete the food, it means your host skimped on the quantity.
White is the color of mourning which should not be worn for parties or happy occasions and should not be used for gift wrapping.
In China and Taiwan, it is considered to be a bit of bad luck when leaving the chopsticks in the food after completing the meal, and it is bad manners to point at people with chopsticks.
We all love a tasty dish of food, but did you know that if you add salt in Egypt, you will insult your host.
Don’t sit cross-legged in Egypt, it’s a sign of disrespect, based on two reasons: the first is that you show your feet when cross-legged and that is bad, the other is that crossing legs is considered to be a Christian genuflection (cross) while Egypt is a Muslim country. You do not want to be frowned upon.
When in France, let your host supply the wine. In fact, it is considered bad manners to bring wine. You should bring any other alcoholic drink if you want to, but don’t bring wine.
You might think the British invented the use of forks to eat everything; however, even the Brits don’t go as far as the Germans do when it comes to earing with your hands: they don’t. Be prepared to eat everything with a utensil.
Another aspect of travel life in Germany is table sharing. If you sit down and a stranger sits down with you, it’s natural, don’t say the table is taken… big no-no.
In Japan, while eating, place the chopsticks on the top of your bowl or beside the bowl. Don’t tip, it’s just not done and is not part of the culture.
If you visit a pub in Hungary, do not shout “Cheers”. It’s been an issue for the Hungarians since 1848 when Hungarian nationalists were executed by the Austrian Hapsburg Empire.
10. New Zealand
Do not wrap gifts in red, it’s considered an ill omen color.
If giving yellow flowers in Ukraine is taboo, giving flowers in Russia is entirely taboo irrespective of the color. Flowers are for the dead, you put them on graves, so don’t give anyone as a present.
There are too many taboos to list for Singapore, this is a “Don’t” country”: do not litter, do not chew gum, do not smoke, do not eat Durians…, and the list goes one. Just be ready to read every Stop sign, it’s vital for your survival.
13. South Korea
If you thought the number 13 was taboo, think again. In South Korea the number 4 is associated with death, so no one uses this number for indicating locations. That is why you will see the letter “F” instead of the number 4.
Do not insult any Islamic figure, especially Mohammad, it will put you in jail immediately.
In Thailand, the royal family is considered above the law and is divine. The King is revered and any conversation about the King and the royal family must be respectful. If anyone, including locals, disrespects the royal family and is overheard doing so, they will be arrested.
Do not drink in public, kiss in public and do not have any romantic connections in public with someone you are not married to. In fact when in the UAE do as the UAE do.
In Ukraine, never give someone yellow flowers, this color is reserved for funerals and is considered bad manners and bad luck for any other occasion.
Do not quarrel loudly in public in Vietnam. If you act any argument that becomes loud, it is considered bad manners. Showing anger in public is a sign of no restraint. Consider that when bargaining, you may raise your voice, but not in anger. Do not pat a person on the head and do not compliment parents of their babies, both are omens of bad luck.
There are so many more taboos, some are overlooked while others are considered to be so bad you might end up in trouble. Research the country you visit and think of how you would feel if someone came and insulted you, even if they were a foreigner.