13 things NOT TO DO when travelling abroad

Know a bit about the culture before you go to stay out of trouble abroad.

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What may seem natural and normal in one country may be frowned upon or even illegal in another.

1Alcohol and Islam

Alcohol is generally forbidden in Muslim countries and if Muslims drink they won’t do so in public so don’t embarrass them with a gift of a bottle of any sort of alcohol.

Dogs and pigs are considered to be unclean animals in Islamic countries, so your faux pas can be even bigger when you give a Muslim alcohol in a handmade pigskin bottle holder.

2Look, but don’t touch

Public displays of affection such as kissing are not allowed in places like Dubai. And sex outside marriage is illegal in the whole of the UAE. One couple who made love on a Dubai beach faced six years imprisonment!

3Thumbs up or OK

In European countries and in the US a thumb up sign means in fact, that everything is OK (all correct). Showing a thumb-up sign is an easy way how to show that you are having fun, good time or that nothing goes wrong. But in Iran a thumbs-up is called bilakh and means an unquestioned insult. Literally, it means “Sit on this”.

The OK sign — when the thumb meets the forefinger to form a circle — is a gesture that tells all is well when used in the US or Europe. In Turkey and Brazil this gesture tells the other person that you are comparing him or her to a part of the human anatomy best not mentioned.

4Patting someone’s head — a gesture of affection?

In Europe, patting a child on the head may seem like a friendly gesture, yet demeaning if done to an adult. In Buddhist countries, where the head is regarded as sacred as the seat of soul, touching it is insulting even for a small child.

5Pointing your finger

Finger pointing can be used to indicate a direction or object by Americans and Europeans. In Malaysia, however, people point with the whole fist and the thumb at the top indicating direction.

Filipinos, on the other hand, point to an object by shifting their eyes towards it or pursing their lips and pointing to it with their mouth.

6Taboo subjects

In China, don’t mention Tibet and when chatting to the Irish don’t call their Isle part of the British Islands.

7Dress code

In Muslim countries, be aware that showing flesh — especially by women — is extremely offensive. So no shorts or topless sunbathing.

8Don’t enter a Japanese temple or home with the shoes on

In Japan and other countries in the East, it is customary to take off your shoes and hat. The Japanese will often give you a pair of slippers to take you from the front door to their living room, where they should be removed before you step on the tatami (the red mat). Be careful, always wear clean socks!

9Careful with the flowers

It is customary to give flowers, but in some countries the variety and colour have meaning. Don’t take carnations to a dinner party in Germany, Poland and Sweden as these are used for funerals.

In Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, and Turkey, this is true of chrysanthemum.

In France and Austria red roses suggest romantic interest, while in Mexico and Chile yellow roses are a sign of grief and separation.

Give a bunch of flowers always unwrapped in Germany, Sweden and Poland!

An odd number of flowers are unlucky in China and Indonesia; even number is considered to be unlucky in India, Turkey, Russia and Germany.

10What shall we drink to?

Everyone loves a good toast. It’s friendly and fun but in some countries such as Russia and former Soviet Union countries it is taken very seriously.

In Scandinavia and Germany, make eye contact when saying Skal or Prost! In Russia, you should drink the vodka in a single gulp. In Georgia and Azerbaijan, the toasts often go for hours and led by the tamada or toast master. It is considered to be rude to talk or sip between the toasts.

11Careful with the chopsticks

(c) atmo

There is a lot of etiquette surrounding chopsticks. The more you hold your chopsticks apart from your food, the more sophisticated you are considered to be. Hold the chopsticks at least in the two-third up.

Don’t cross them over each other, point at people with them or rest them on the opposite side of your plate. The worst thing you can do with them is to put them upright in a bottle of rice. This is a Japanese funeral rite when the chopsticks are left by the bedside of the newly deceased!

12Sole of your shoe

sole of the shoe
(c) Martino Matijevic

Resting your foot on your knee and bearing your sole is an insult if it happens in Singapore, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Thailand.

13Nod your head if you mean No

(c) damk

In most places nodding your head vertically up and down would indicate a “yes” and from side to side is a “no”. Not in Bulgaria, where the “yes” and “no” nod are reversed.


Have you got any more examples? Leave a comment