How Not to Embarass Yourself in a Foreign Country

Travelling is supposed to be fun, and you’d want to explore new places feeling as confident and relaxed as possible. But before you head to the airport to catch a flight to Korea, Japan or US, take a look at this cheat-sheet to manage your expectations on cultural customs and behaviors.

1. Know when (and when not) to touch a person
Whether to touch or not can be confusing when you are in a foreign land. In many European countries, invading personal space for a bit may not be a big deal. But with much of African and Asian countries, you wouldn’t want to appear clingy. In France and Italy, maintaining eye contact, touching the other person and reaching out are considered more polite gestures than just staring at the person with your hands crossed over your chest. However, in Nigeria, maintaining eye contact can be perceived as threat or an overly bold move.

2. Mind the table manners
Although you were always taught that elbows should always be off the table and do not leave anything on your plate when done eating, table manners vary widely from country to country. In India and certain parts of Africa, it’s more than just keeping your elbows off the table. You also have to be mindful of your left hand—it shouldn’t touch anything on the table or it will be considered dirty. In Japan, you can slurp the soup, but do that in China and you’ll get all the strange stares at the table. In China, eating your rice with chopsticks is customary, but in Thailand it is considered inappropriate (use a spoon, instead).

3. Know whether you need to tip or not
In America, people do not leave a restaurant without leaving 15 percent tip on the table. However, in many countries around the world, tipping is either already part of the bill, unnecessary because the staff are paid much higher or just plain rude. Do not tip in Australia, Brazil and Japan. Leave at least five percent tip in Germany, France and Italy, while at least 10 percent tip in Russia, Egypt, South Africa and Hong Kong.

4. Dress appropriately
Unless you are headed somewhere In U.S., it’s best to dress more conservatively when in a foreign land. Cover your arms and legs and avoid wearing shirts with graphics and slogans that are too loud to the sight.

5. Learn the most basic local phrases
This is an obvious one, but we’ll say it again: learning the foreign language of basic phrases like “Hi,” “Hello,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “Where’s the bathroom,” and “Do you speak English” will go a long way in making you appear more friendly to the locals. It only takes a few minutes to learn these magic phrases that can greatly help turn strangers to friends anywhere you are.

Above all, be observant. Try to be the tourist that does not make the locals roll their eyes behind your back.

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