There are a few constants in travel and one in particular on which we often reflect. This constant appears no matter who you are, where you go or how long you stay. It can slap you in the face the moment you arrive or slowly creep up as you immerse yourself for longer periods in a particular country. This constant is the cultural differences and norms you’ll experience or at least, the discovery of those norms and taboos present across the world, albeit taking on different forms, every where you go.
A while back we asked several fellow travel bloggers to share their experiences with cultural taboos. We’ve also written about cultural taboos and customs in Malaysia and shared a guest post about dining etiquette in the Sudan. Since there are so many countries, cultures and norms, we thought we’d send out another request and give you information on even more countries to help guide you on your travels!
From personal experiences and stories to general lessons learned, here are some more cultural taboos and customs you should know before going!
Pardon, Please Don’t Do in Peru…
By Gemma & Craig of Two Scots Abroad
Peru was a priority country on our list of places to visit during our 18 month career break. Craig was desperate to trek to Machu Picchu after watching numerous documentaries on it. The Lares trek to the seventh modern wonder of the world was interesting, not only because we felt we deserved to see the manmade town in the mountains after trekking twenty miles but also because we found out lots of facts along the way.
One thing that resonated with me was the photography situation. We all love to document our trip and I am still raging that I never got a selfie with a llama but did you know what many Quechan (the native Peruvians) do not like you taking photos of their livestock? This is particularly true of those who live in small villages, those who do not see many tourists bar the rogue anti-Lonely Planet backpacker now and again. These Peruvians believe that the act of taking a photo puts a curse on their animals and would result in a poor season and no money.
That brings me on to my second point. Ask before you take pictures! We witnessed an extremely awkward exchange on the touristy Uros Floating Islands. One tourist passed her camera to her partner, walked behind a Quechan couple and crouched down next to them. Their body language screamed I AM UNCOMFORTABLE! Instead of reading this, the tourist pulled them in closer for her shot. Why did you then take a photo of it Gemma? Good question! I wanted to share this with travellers to tell them to be sensible and respectful in future.
I asked if I could take a photo of two children on our trek to Machu Picchu and I gave them some fruit to say thanks. The little boy developed a massive smile on his face when he saw the image on the camera screen. I wish I could print it out and send it to him.
There are set-ups for tourists to take photos and this brings me on to my third point – pay the money! Wander around Cusco and you will see women and girls dressed in gorgeous, bright traditional clothing with llamas and alpacas. Sometimes they have baby llamas and alpacas too * COOS *
This set-up is for you. Pay them a small fee and they will happily get their photo taken with you and sometimes you can hold the baby llama. Obviously I questioned why the children were not at school, there is an issue with child labour in Peru according to our Spanish tutor, but if you want a photo of Peruvians in their traditional gear, this is your opportunity! Please do not zoom in at them from a distance; it’s cheap and disrespectful.
Two Scots Abroad (Gemma and Craig) have downed tools as teacher and tradesman and are traveling The Americas on an 18 month career break. They are currently living it up on the Sunshine Coast of Canada after four months in North, South America and Cuba. Follow them as well on Instagram
Dining Etiquette in Switzerland
By: Paula & Gordon of Contented Traveler
I will tell you how this story arose. The delightful lady had taken us to the Kornhuaskeller from Bern Tourism. This is one of the most beautiful underground restaurants in the capital city of Switzerland. As Gordon and I chatted away with Michelle, I noticed that she was not eating. Every time we spoke she put her cutlery down. We kept eating and talking. I asked her if we were offending her by talking and eating. This was when she told us, that like us, she and her family talk, eat and laugh during meals. However, the Swiss, particularly at a business dinner as this was, do not eat when the other person is talking. We are Australian, and we talk and eat – I think we are more like Italians.
She was very relieved that she didn’t have to stand on ceremony, and she caught up fairly quickly on her entree, which would have been totally cold.
As we all talked, ate and drank through the main meal, she told us about the dining etiquette in Switzerland. Most families do not talk while eating; her family was a rarity. Another was that punctuality to any meal was expected. I am punctual so that would never be an issue, but some people are late a lot. Don’t do it in Switzerland. Apparently pointing your index finger at you head is an insult, but I am yet to figure that one out.
On a subsequent business dinner in another city in Switzerland, we found out another very enjoyable dining etiquette expectation. You are supposed to keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal and not in your lap. Your left hands must always be visible. Switzerland has a very high ownership of guns, just behind the U.S, with the number of guns per capita. Now that is something I didn’t know. I did look around the restaurant and wondered who was packing heat. You should not put your elbows on the table but can rest your wrists.
At the end of the meal, place the knife and fork next to one another to indicate that you have finished eating as if they were hands on a clock at 5:25. This is what we do in Australia, but we know that other countries don’t.
So be on time, keep your hands visible especially your gun hand, eat and don’t talk unless you have dinner with someone like our lovely friend and enjoy.
Paula and Gordon of Contented Traveller regularly travel to Switzerland. They have been travelling together for 12 years, and independently for a lot longer than that. They are Experiential Travelers and love experiencing a country, city or place by connecting to its history, people and culture. Follow them also on Instagram.
Jive With Locals in South Korea
By Alice of Teacake Travels
South Korea is the wonderful land of kimchi, K-pop, unbelievable amounts of plastic surgery, endless hiking and enough karaoke joints to last you a lifetime. Whilst you’re having the time of your life here, here’s three things that will keep you in the locals’ good books.
Dress like a nun on top and a 60s Barbie doll on the bottom: South Korea is all about the legs. For all you ladies out there, feel free to show as much of your pins as you wish. No one will blink an eye and in the summer you’ll easily be able to keep yourself cool. However, flash one bit of your cleavage or show your bare shoulders and the oldies will not be impressed. They’ll think you’re working the sexy night shift so to speak.
Keep your voice down. No-one needs to hear your ramblings thank you very much: There’s a very clear rule that if you’re on public transport, you need to keep a lid on it. Whether you’re on the bus, subway or train, don’t talk with your travel buddy like you’ve both been to too many rock concerts. Koreans speak incredibly quietly in these places, to the point that they will cover their mouth whilst speaking on their mobile phone. Look over this rule and you will most certainly be shushed immediately.
Accept food and drink like you’re not going to be fed for a week: Koreans love to eat and share food with others so please accept everything you are given. To decline it is very disrespectful. Even if you know you can’t finish it, still take what is given to you gratefully and try your best to take a couple of bites or sips. When it comes to alcohol and the infamous Korean liquor ‘soju’, it is impolite to decline it. Do what others have done before if you can’t stomach it: throw it over your shoulder, swap it for water or whatever your creative mind can think of to keep the locals happy. Follow these rules and South Korea will be super happy with you!
Teacake, of Teacake Travels is a British chick travelling around the world for as long as she can get away with it. Willingly throwing herself into anything outside of her comfort zone, she’s rocking girl solo travel one stride at a time! Follow her as well on Instagram
What Your Gestures Say in the UK!
By Margherita Ragg & Nick Burns of The Crowded Planet
When I was leaving on London, I learnt that in the UK signing ‘V’ with your index and middle finger pointing the knuckles away from you is a derogatory sign – kind of like giving the middle finger. I had no idea! In Italy (and I’m sure in many other countries) that simply means ‘two’.
One day, when I was working at a café, a customer asked me for two cappuccinos. ‘Two’, I asked, doing the infamous reverse V sign. What are you doing!? Are you telling me to F*** off? he replied, visibly angry.. I was totally shocked and unaware of what was happening – luckily a coworker came to my rescue. That day I learnt it’s actually an offensive sign – keep it in mind if you’re travelling the UK!
Margherita and Nick, of The Crowded Planet, are a writer and photographer from Italy and Australia, long-term travellers and lovers of nature, wildlife and the outdoors.
How To Meet ‘n Greet in Hanoi, Vietnam
By Kach & Jon of Two Monkeys Travel
Vietnam is one of the most culture and tradition rich countries we have ever visited, which is why we chose to live in Hanoi for 9 months. This modern, thriving, bustling and chaotic metropolis is still heavily infused with long-standing traditions and social rules of conduct. One of my favourites, as it incorporates several customs in one, is incredibly important to know when invited to dinner – The order of drinking!
Upon sitting down on the floor for dinner with a group of Vietnamese, you must immediately scan your surroundings, looking for the oldest man in the room. This will usually be the grandfather of the house, or an older uncle, which is your next challenge, as the way to respectfully greet a person in Vietnamese depends completely on their age relative to yours. A man of similar age or slightly older is addressed as ‘Anh’ (ine) – brother, about ten to twenty years older is ‘Tu’ (too) – Uncle and any more than that must be addressed as ‘Ong’ (omg) – Grandfather. Be careful though, as although age is a sign of status, a ‘Tu’ may still take offence at being called an ‘Ong,’ but call an ‘Ong’ a ‘Tu,’ or even worse an ‘Anh’ and you’ll be devaluing their social status. Have fun with that one, I know I did!
Now you need to say hello – Xin chao! (sin chow!), plus their title. ‘Xin Chao, Ong!’ Extend your right hand, with your left hand resting palm down on your arm, just below your right bicep. This is the proper way to show respect while shaking hands, anything else might be deemed casual and flippant.
It’s now that you’ll probably be offered a drink, in the form of a shot of home-distilled spirit, called either Rượu Mạnh, or Zio, depending on how it’s made. Raise your glass and say cheers – ‘ZO!’ – then knock it back and try to keep a straight face! Shake hands again, just like before and say thank you – ‘Xin Cam on’ (sin gahm un), or simply ‘Cam on’. And you’re done!
Yes, I know, that’s a lot to remember just to introduce yourself, but the good news is that as a foreigner, every man in the group will want to drink with you (and some of the women too!), so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice! Just try to keep up, as it’s considered bad manners to refuse to drink with a man, regardless of whether you’ve just stopped for lunch in the middle of a 12 hour motorbike ride. (That was a hell of a day!) Then again, passing out in the middle of dinner is probably equally frowned upon!
Kach Medina and Jonathan Howe of Two Monkeys Travel are working-on-the-road couple from the Philippines and UK. Having each decided to quit their jobs and set off around South East Asia to start their new lives, neither imagined they would end up traveling the world with someone they met in a backpacker’s bar in Laos. But that’s what happened! Follow them as well on Instagram
Three Golden Rules of Travel in Dubai
By Mel of Footsteps on the Globe
Dubai is an exciting and glamorous place to spend some quality sunny holiday time. Less than 50 years it was a small fishing village on the edge of a desert, now it is one of the fastest growing cities in the world breaking world records for the tallest building, the biggest mall and the fastest roller coaster. But at its heart it is still a traditional and highly religious place so travellers take note not to offend any local people with these three golden rules.
Couples, don’t be over affectionate in public. In recent years there have been some horror stories coming out of Dubai about public displays of affection gone too far, resulting in the couple in question swiftly being asked to leave the country. The social codes are not as strict as they are in the other Emirates such as Sharjah however the rules still apply. Be respectful and aware of your surroundings. A peck on the cheek and loose hand hold are generally fine when out in public but be conscious of who is around you and whether it really is appropriate.
Dress appropriately. This goes for everyone however particularly for the ladies, be mindful of what you wear out in public. As a general rule, women should have their legs and shoulders covered and men should always wear a shirt or t-shirt. Although the most liberal of the Emirates, Dubai is still in a Muslim country and therefore anything short or low cut in public is a big no no. If you’re heading out for the night and are a little dressier, take a scarf or a pashmina with you just in case.
Don’t eat or drink in public during daylight hours in Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan you cannot eat, drink, chew gum, or smoke in public during the day. Nothing is permitted to pass through your lips between sunrise and sunset during this month, and foreigners must abide by Ramadan in public areas in which time locals fast during daylight hours for 29-30 days. The beginning and end of Ramadan is dictated by the Islamic Calendar but usually falls between June and July every year so make sure to check dates before booking your flights if you’d rather not travel during this time.
Mel, of Footsteps on the Globe is a British travel blogger who loves nothing more than immersing herself in different cultures and exploring new places. She shares her latest adventures, travel inspiration as well as tips and tricks on how to make your money and holiday allowance go further. Follow her on Instagram as well!
Finding Your Southern Charm in the USA
By Jennifer of Made All The Difference
Don’t call a Southerner a Yankee. It doesn’t matter that during the Revolutionary War all Americans were Yankees. To a Southerner, a Yankee is from the North. Be prepare to run should you call a Southerner a Yankee.
Order an unsweetened iced tea. Iced tea is meant to have sugar in it. It is impossible to get the proper ratio of sugar to water without dissolving the sugar with boiling water.
Do not try and tell Southerners that Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey are the same thing. They are different and we don’t want to hear why you mistakenly believe they are the same thing.
Don’t assume we only like country music. The south is the birthplace of much of the USA music scene. From rock and roll to jazz, the South helped develop the music and provide many of the founding stats. Do not forget that the “King of Rock and Roll” was a good ole boy from Tupelo, Mississippi.
Jennifer, of Made All The Difference, is a young American female who dreamed of moving away from her small town in Tennessee and getting to see the world. She is travelling the world for work and using her free time to explore.
The Dos & Don’ts Down Under
By Vera of The Flash Window
Do not be too affectionate. This might not come as a surprise as Australia has always received a big influence from both the United States and Great Britain, and neither they’re famous for that. So, when you meet somebody, they will barely give you a handshake, if not only a little tilt with their head in order to ‘acknowledge each other presence’. Don’t even go to the two kisses as in Spain or three as in France, especially if it’s the first time you meet someone. And don’t even think about hugs. DON’T. You might be sent some awkward looks. This fact of course may be different for every Australian, and you might run into a big hugger, but just remember to be careful not to cross the line too soon.
Although not being strictly a costume to break, it’s essential to know that they drive on the left side in Australia – AKA the wrong side. Besides keeping to the left side while driving, keep this fact in mind when you are a pedestrian too. If you come from a right-driving country do remember that if you are walking through a busy street, you shall go to the left in order to keep two ordered tracks. If you cross with somebody who is going the opposite way, you are meant to move over to the left (on so does he/she) so you both don’t bump. If you are using the mechanical stairs, you shall take the ones in the left –or otherwise you won’t be going up. And before crossing any street, do remember to look to the other side your common sense tells you to. You’ll thank me later.
Do not break the rules. Ok, don’t never break the rules, but especially if you are in Australia. They are not there to play around. When they tell you they are closing at 5pm, they are. When they tell you not to cross, don’t. And do not try to push those boundaries. There aren’t many rules but it is essential to follow those few.
Extra: don’t mess around with football. If they say football – or footy – they mean Australian football. Soccer and American Football are two completely different things. And Australians love their sports, so you better get this fact straight from the beginning or they won’t hang around trying to explain it.
So you see, there aren’t many weird traditions you shouldn’t be breaking when you are Down Under, as most Australians come from various backgrounds and they’re pretty open to every culture. But please, remember to make sure you follow the few costumes they have or otherwise they could get pissed off.
Vera, of The Flash Window, is a curious girl who was born in Barcelona, yet she considers herself yo be a citizen of the world. Her biggest passion is to travel to awesome places and discover incredible things along her way. Follow her on Instagram as well!