Cultures and Customs Around the World
Common practices for you — such as sitting up straight, saying please and thank you, and keeping your elbows off the table — may no longer be the norm. Behaviors considered taboo in one culture might be expected in another. In China, Taiwan and much of the Far East, for instance, belching is considered a compliment to the chef and a sign that you’ve eaten well and enjoyed your meal.
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If cultural norms vary by country, we should be prepared to understand and adapt to a country’s customs when we travel. “Before embarking on your next vacation, take some time to research and get to know your destination’s customs and cultural etiquette before you go,” suggests travel expert Jim Menge, President of Rovia™, a global travel provider and lifestyle company.
In Greece, any signal that shows your open palm may be considered extremely offensive, including simple gestures such as waving and making a stop sign. If you’d like to greet someone with a wave, Menge recommends waving with your palm facing toward you, like a beauty pageant contestant or a member of the royal family, to ensure you aren’t offending anyone unintentionally.
Chewing gum is considered vulgar in some parts of the world, including Luxembourg, Switzerland and France. In Singapore, most types of gum have been illegal since 1992, when residents grew tired of scraping the sticky stuff off their sidewalks and buildings. However, gum has advantages for travelers. “The chewing motion and act of swallowing can help your ears to pop while flying at higher altitudes,” notes Menge. “I recommend packing gum for your flights to aid in easing the pressure on your ears, then leaving it in your luggage during your stay to be safe from offense.”
In many cultures, greeting people, shaking hands, and giving and receiving gifts should be done with your right hand and can be considered rude if done with your left. In part, this could be because the left hand is associated with evil in some regions, leading to superstitions about left-handed people being sinister in nature. However, the aversion to the “unclean” left hand may also be practical: it’s common in parts of Asia and Africa to use your right hand for eating and your left hand for everything else, so make sure you know the appropriate dining etiquette before sharing a meal with locals!
Menge and his team at Rovia believe that vacation experiences open travelers’ hearts and minds to new cultures and customs around the world, creating a more globalized planet with greater respect and understanding for each other.