Customs and courtesies around the world

March 26, 2010

By Judy McEuen
Travel Writer
Troy Media

Judy McEuen
Judy McEuen

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Mar. 26, 2010/ Troy Media/ — Traditions, customs and courtesies around the world vary as much as hand gestures do. This is one more category that can be fraught with pitfalls and misunderstandings.

We think you should always be sensitive to the customs and courtesies of the people whose country you’re visiting. That means that you should watch how you dress and act in public as well as how you behave if you are visiting someone.

If you show respect for the customs of the country you are visiting, people will appreciate it, and trust us, you’ll have a better time. You’re traveling to experience their culture after all!

What is the dress code?

Here are just a few things you should research before you leave home.

If you are touring in an Islamic or very conservative country, dress modestly. If you and your spouse like to hold hands while walking remember that there are just some places where you shouldn’t.

Should you remove your shoes? You should be able to tell when you see shoes outside the door. This goes for religious sites in many countries, but it may also be the custom when you are visiting someone’s home.

Should you shake hands or not, bow or not, when you meet someone? Should you kiss on the cheeks? While the kissing on the cheek custom will be reserved for people you know, you’ll still need to know whether you should kiss two, three, or even four times! It’s different from France to Belgium and depending on how well you know the person you’re greeting!

If you receive an invitation, should you be punctual or is it the custom to be “socially late”. Should you compliment your hostess or not? In an Islamic country, men shouldn’t try to shake hands with women. Women should follow the lead of their hostess.

If you are invited into a home on your travels, you should take some type of gift: the question then becomes what? Customs and courtesies vary a lot. You should usually avoid personal items. Wine is an option, but not in Islamic countries. Candy, fruit, or flowers can make good gifts, but . . .

How about flowers then? Sounds safe, doesn’t it? But in some countries it might be inappropriate for men to take flowers to the hostess, in other countries they are expected. Read up on the country you’re visiting.

If flowers are OK, you still need to know what kind and what color! Certain flowers are used for specific events and have connotations you might not wish to convey. Red roses may be only for lovers, but other colors could be OK. Chrysanthemums may be associated with funerals. And then should the bouquet have an odd or even number of flowers? Search the internet for answers before you leave home.  

Don’t point

If you are invited to dinner, should you clean your plate, or is it polite to leave something?  

If you eat with your hands, remember to use only your right hand. If you’re traveling where chopsticks are used, practice with them before you leave home.

There are so many places where pointing is just as rude as your mom always told you, so to be on the safe side and don’t point your finger, or your feet, at anybody.

We won’t even get into tipping except to say in some counties it’s expected but in others it’s actually an insult!

So always brush up on traditions, customs and courtesies before you set out on your trip to a foreign country!

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, March 28, 2010

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