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The etiquette rules to watch out for when travelling

Etiquette rules are something we all know: they include many norms, values, and customs that we learn from a young age.

Etiquette rules serve as an unofficial guide of "dos and don’ts," determining how we interact with others and behave in public or among acquaintances. Social norms are deeply woven into the fabric of our daily lives, whether it involves dealing with elders, keeping shoes on or off in someone's home, table manners, or our sense of punctuality.

To help travelers who often encounter unfamiliar etiquette rules have a smooth start at their destination and to promote cultural exchange, Remitly, a provider of digital financial services for immigrants and their families, conducted extensive research into the nuances of etiquette rules. The team analyzed Google search results for terms like "etiquette in [country]" or "types of etiquette in [country]" across 165 countries worldwide.

The findings from this research represent a wide range of etiquette rules. Certain topics stand out in particular: the recognition and appreciation of elder members of society, the significance of hand gestures and their cultural relevance, dining etiquette and practices, and the importance of punctuality.

The diverse dining habits around the world

Sharing a meal is a cornerstone of civilization, found in all parts of the world. Remitly's research reveals a fascinating diversity of dining habits from country to country. While Mexicans insist on enjoying tacos with their hands, Norwegians consider eating without utensils to be impolite.

In Italy, sprinkling Parmesan cheese on pizza is almost considered sacrilege. In France, it is advised against having a Martini or Scotch before dinner, as it could impair the sense of taste.

In the United Kingdom, it is tradition to always pass a decanter of port wine to the left. If someone hesitates, it is often jokingly asked, "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" – a reference to a famous incident where the said bishop fell asleep in front of a decanter.

In Chinese culture, sharing a meal symbolizes enjoyment and well-being. Talking with one's mouth open, slurping, smacking, and even burping are considered expressions of satisfaction. However, turning a fish on the plate should be avoided as it is seen as a bad omen.

In Iceland and Senegal, people view burping after a good meal as a gesture of appreciation towards the cook. In Japan, slurping food is also seen as a sign of gratitude for the meal.

In India, eating with fingers is common, but only the right hand is used as the left hand is considered impure, used for cleaning oneself in the toilet.

In the United States, tipping is widely practiced and expected, while in Australia, it's best to avoid saying one is full after a meal as it can be subtly interpreted as a hint of pregnancy by some.

The many different ways punctuality is handled

The handling of punctuality varies greatly from country to country. While punctuality is valued in Germany, the research revealed that many cultures prefer a more relaxed approach to timekeeping. In countries like Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Kenya, and Uruguay, it is fashionable to arrive late.

In contrast, punctuality is highly valued in Poland, Singapore, and Sweden. Being late is considered rude in these countries, so strict adherence to time schedules is common.

Respect for older people is customary in almost all cultures.

Age is not merely seen as a number in many cultures. Showing respect to older individuals is deeply ingrained across nearly all societies. However, the specifics of this respect vary from country to country.

In Guinea, it's customary to avoid direct eye contact with older people, whereas in Nepal, older individuals are addressed with significantly more formality than younger people.

In Angola, Botswana, and Lebanon, it's common to greet older individuals first, while in Vietnam, the oldest person at the table begins eating first.

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Hand gestures vary widely around the world

Using hand gestures as a means of communication can be particularly useful when not fluent in the local language. However, this can also lead to misunderstandings, as gestures often carry different meanings than they do in one's own country.

In countries like Ecuador, Nicaragua, Indonesia, and Malaysia, pointing at someone is considered rude. Instead, in Ecuador and Nicaragua, people point with their lips and even whistle accordingly. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the thumb is more commonly used for pointing than the index finger.

There are other intriguing cultural norms as well, such as the expectation in South Korea to sing karaoke when hosting guests. In Finland, it's customary to go to the sauna even for business meetings. In Venezuela, tradition dictates placing a broom behind the door to signal to guests that it's time to leave.

This article is from the 3/2024 issue of the magazine "Life Abroad".

The magazine is published four times a year free of charge with many informative articles on foreign topics.

It is published by the BDAE, the expert for protection abroad.