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Mind Your Manners

Here at Travelzoo we love nothing more than jetting off to new places, learning about the culture and meeting the local people. However, understanding and communication can sometimes be tricky. 

For many, if you can’t speak the language, you can at least communicate via gestures. Not so in Bulgaria where a simple headshake or nod can cause endless confusion. Unlike us, the Bulgarians shake their heads when they mean “yes”, and nod their heads when they mean “no”. To confuse things further, they sometimes switch these in order to help tourists. We reckon talking is probably easier – use “ne” for “no” and “da” for “yes”.

It’s a similar story in Japan, except in this case people tend not to openly say “no”. If someone says “maybe”, you can assume they mean “no”. To further add to the confusion, their “come here” motion is done with a wave away from the body, in the same way that us Brits would gesture for someone to go away. Be warned though – in lots of South American countries the “come here” gesture insinuates romance. You’ve been warned…

On to introductions now. In the Middle East, it’s perfectly normal to greet someone with a kiss on the cheek, in South America kisses and hugs are the norm, and in New Zealand they press noses. The “hongi”, as it is known, is a traditional Maori custom symbolising the breath of life being exchanged and involves two people pressing their noses and foreheads together. Don’t try this in Thailand, though; in Thai culture, the head is the most important part of the body and touching it is seen as incredibly disrespectful.

In the same vein, in India the feet are seen as the lowliest and dirtiest part of the body, so avoid showing your soles or pointing your trotters at people. If you accidently do, apologise immediately.

A bit about food and mealtimes now. In Japan, never stick both chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice – this is something they do at funeral altars; don’t chew gum in Singapore as it’s banned (laws were introduced in 1992 to keep the streets clean); and when eating Indian food the traditional way, with your hands, only use your right, even if you’re left handed.

Talking of hands, in China, you should always present money or a business card with two hands. A one-handed exchange is considered incredibly poor form, though less so for tourists who may not know the etiquette.

Confusing, right? Fear not, though, no one expects foreigners to know all the habits of a country, and if you spend enough time in one place, you’ll soon pick them up. Besides, learning them is half the fun.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, London
Thursday, 5 July 2012
See more Tips from
Felicity Pont