10 Cultural Norms to Know When Traveling

By March 13, 2019Culture

How to Maintain Social Etiquette in Foreign Countries


One of the best parts of traveling to a foreign country is the exposure to new languages, traditions, and cultures. It allows you to step out of your element and get a break from everything you’re accustomed to back home. However, you don’t want to neglect cultural norms, make a social faux pas, and embarrass yourself, a waiter, or new friends. Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of social etiquette rules to keep in mind when traveling.


1. If you’re traveling to India…

Wear sandals or slip-on shoes so you can easily remove them indoors. This rule applies to many Asian countries in general, but if you plan on visiting India’s major attractions, like the Taj Mahal, you will be expected to remove your shoes.

Also, cows are considered sacred, so you will likely not see many beef options. However, many popular chain restaurants, like McDonald’s, have adapted their menu to include vegetarian options.


2. If you’re traveling to Dubai…

Don’t be offended if a local of the opposite gender does not wish to shake your hand. This is a religious practice and quite common among Muslim-majority countries. You should not take this personally. Instead, simply smile and make eye contact when greeting someone.

Because of Dubai’s robust tourism industry, locals have become accustomed to seeing visitors in Western clothing. However, keep in mind they still expect you to dress modestly. For instance, swimsuits by the pool or beach are acceptable, but don’t expect to throw on a sheer cover up and make a quick stop to your hotel room. You may be asked by staff to wear something more appropriate.


3. If you’re traveling to the Philippines…

Be aware of the concept of the word “hiya.” While there is some debate of the origin and true meaning, basically it relates to shame and shyness and causing someone to lose face. Filipinos may avoid a confrontation or other unpleasantness during a conversation in order to not cause shame to themselves or you. This may come across as being passive or shy but the reality is they are very considerate of the feelings of others. Keep this in mind and be respectful and polite when dealing with Filipinos, especially those in the service industry who you may encounter during your travels.


4. If you’re traveling to South Africa….

Remember to bring a small gift when visiting someone. Gift-giving is common in many parts of the world, and South Africa is no exception. As a former British colony, you’ll find many remnants of English culture here – including the tradition of giving a small gift. Afternoon tea is practiced here so you may consider a gift that would go well with tea, like chocolate, other sweets, or a bottle of wine if you’re visiting around dinnertime.

In many parts of Asia, it’s polite to remove your shoes before entering a temple, restaurant, or home. In Japan, you may find slippers specifically for use in the bathroom, as shown above.


5. If you’re visiting Pakistan…

Avoid displaying the soles of your feet/shoes for any reason. The bottom of your feet is considered the dirtiest part of your body. Therefore, it’s insulting to show them to someone. When sitting cross-legged for example, make sure not to prop your leg up so that the sole of the foot is pointed at the person next to you. While in the US, no one would bat an eyelash, in Pakistan this is seen as highly rude.


6. If you’re visiting France…

Make sure to greet a store clerk when entering with a friendly “Bonjour!” and “Au revoir!” when leaving. The French are often perceived as snobbish or snooty, but the truth is they adhere to a strict social code known as “la politesse.” Many shops in France are independently owned. By not greeting the shopkeeper, you’re basically saying you don’t care to acknowledge the pride and hard work they put into their business. Also, don’t expect to rifle through clothing racks as you would in the US. Your shopkeeper is more than happy to help you find what you’re looking for. And because they know their store better than anyone, it’s polite to let them act as your personal shopper.


7. If you’re traveling to Japan…

Bowing and handshakes are both acceptable in Japan. See what the other person does first so you don’t do the opposite #Awkward

Expect to bow when greeting someone or saying goodbye, even at stores. Sometimes the Japanese will perform a handshake because they know it is the Western way. Wait to see what the person you’re greeting does first and follow suit – just don’t bow and shake hands at the same time. It will make everyone involved feel awkward. Like India, you will most likely be expected to remove your shoes indoors and slippers will likely be provided. Some places even have designated slippers for restrooms!


8. If you’re visiting Brazil…

Get ready for a warm greeting. Brazilians are open, friendly people who love to embrace friends and show affection with a physical touch. Don’t be surprised if they ask personal questions. It’s not meant to be rude. It’s just their way of getting to know you better and showing interest in your life.


9. If you’re visiting China…

Feel free to burp after eating! While this custom is the exact opposite of good manners in Western society, in China it is seen as a way of respecting the cook. You liked their food so much, you ate a lot and filled up. With that being said, don’t try to compliment your chef or server with a tip. While tipping is customary in America, it’s rude in China. If you try to offer your server a tip, you’re basically saying you don’t think the employer values their work as an employee. If unsure, it’s better to ask ahead of time to avoid embarrassment.


10. If you’re traveling anywhere…

Think before you take a selfie! Many places, like museums and monuments, strictly prohibit things like selfie sticks. Other places don’t feel the need to state selfies are prohibited because it’s common sense. As a traveler, always use common sense and good judgment. You don’t want to be Instafamous in a bad way. Not only will you be embarrassed, you could be fined for showing disrespect.


When you’re ready to see the world, call Jaya! Our customer service representatives are standing by to speak to you and happy to answer any questions you may have about local customs or package details. Call or go online to get your free quote today!


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