Part of the beauty of traveling to a foreign country is the education, thrill, and excitement that one experiences from being immersed in a foreign culture whose customs and traditions are entirely different from what one is accustomed to in one’s home country.
So, while the euphoria of traveling overseas is wonderful, one cannot afford to underestimate the importance of social and cultural differences or exhibit behavior that is offensive to the natives of the host country.
Here are some norms that even the savviest and most observant traveler will do well to consider:
- In Hong Kong as well as other Asian countries when passing on a business card, it should be done with both hands, anything less is considered highly disrespectful. Blinking conspicuously during conversation in Hong Kong is also considered rude.
- In Egypt, showing the sole of your shoe is considered unacceptable so be careful about crossing your legs while sitting in that country.
- In some cultures, numbers are important; for example in Russia, giving even numbers of flowers as a gift is considered a no, no – an even number signifies death. The number four in China sounds very close to the word for death so avoiding anything in fours may be a good idea.
- Touching another person also have significant meaning in some cultures; for example touching someone on the head in Southeast Asian countries may rub one the wrong way. The head is considered to be the most sacred body part in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. Any touching of the head is considered inappropriate. In Thailand, the head is said to be the seat of the soul.
- Avoiding eye contact, unnecessary chat with strangers, and maintaining personal space are now the norm in Western Europe and as said “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
- Speaking in a loud tone of voice especially in a one-on-one conversation is viewed as tactless in many cultures. Also, one should be very careful in the telling of jokes because it may not translate well in other cultures.
- In Zambia, pointing directly at someone or something is viewed as rude.
- Talking with your hands in your pockets is considered impolite in Belgium.
The truth is lack of understanding of social and cultural differences may not only be humorous at times but could also lead to costly mistakes.