Become Local Custom Savvy Before You Travel

June 26, 2023


When travelling to foreign countries, we can easily inadvertently cause offence, which can sometimes lead to uncomfortable situations and possibly even greater problems in some countries.  Learning about the culture and customs of a country should be just as much a part of holiday planning as buying travel insurance is, so do your homework! 

To help with this, Europesure Travel Insurance has collated a few dos and don’ts from around the world:

1. Japan

In Japan, it's considered rude to eat or drink whilst walking, so find a pleasant place to sit down and enjoy your food.  It is also seen as impolite to show your teeth when laughing, so try not to do so, or do what locals do and cover your mouth whilst laughing.

Also, don't tip! Tipping at the end of the meal, although commonplace in the West, is considered offensive in Japan.  Staff take pride in performing well in the job they are paid to do and so the added incentive in unnecessary.

2. Abu Dhabi and the Middle East

In Abu Dhabi, it is a legal offence to take a photo of someone without their consent, so do not be camera happy.  Dress modestly in public and only drink alcohol in your hotel or complex. Do not reach for an electronic cigarette (also illegal) or show affection to your partner in public.  Many of these rules apply in other Islamic countries too.

3. Pocket this European tip

In Poland, Germany and many parts of Europe, it’s considered impolite to speak to people with your hands in your pockets.

4. Hung out to dry

It can be tempting to use a holiday clothes line and string it up on your balcony, to hang up swimsuits and items that you’ve washed, but be aware that, in places like Kuwait and Dubai, it is an offence to hand laundry out on a balcony.  Even some Croatian towns ban this, as do Rome, the Canary Islands and even places in France.  Do your research before you string up that washing line!

5. Where to avoid left-handed actions

In India and the Middle East, try to avoid doing anything with your left hand.  In these cultures, the left hand tends to be used for hygienic purposes and is considered unclean.

6. Italian etiquette

In some parts of Italy, it is illegal to eat food or take a drink around a religious site, historic building or public building.  Never take food into a place of worship and also be respectful in terms of your dress.  In many Catholic churches, not just in Italy but elsewhere too, there is an expectation for women to cover their shoulders and possibly their head too.  Also, as in other countries, such as France, chrysanthemums are given to people only at funerals, so don’t offer them as a gift, to your host or someone who helps you.

7. Something to point out

In Malaysia and Indonesia, it is extremely rude to point at anything with your index finger.  If you must highlight something, you should use your thumb. 

8. Yes or No?

In Greece, nodding your head upwards means ‘no’.  A downwards nod of the head means ‘yes’.  In fact, nodding your head to gesture ‘yes’ is not polite - better to say "yes" instead. 

Making the OK sign is also considered a rude gesture.  Meanwhile, if you're out enjoying the local nightlife or a party and the evening ends with dancing, do join in. This is considered polite and is a sign you are enjoying yourself, which will make your host happy.

9. Hand signals

In Turkey, having one hand in your pocket is considered arrogant and, if you want to make the stop sign, with hand up and palm facing away in front, bear in mind this means "go to hell", in both Turkey and Greece.

The 'rock on' hand gesture, made popular by rock-music-loving Americans, where your index finger and little finger point outwards and your remaining inner fingers and thumb come together, might get you into trouble in Latin and Mediterranean countries.  Here the 'devil horns' symbol means, “your wife is cheating on you”.

10. Food appreciation

In many countries, finishing your food and leaving a clean plate after a meal is considered good manners; a sign you enjoyed your food so much that you might want more!  Slurping is also considered a sign that you’re enjoying your dish, in countries like Japan.  However, leaving an empty plate in some countries, such as China, Thailand and Russia, could get you into the bad books, as it can be seen as a sign that you might still be hungry and your host did not give you enough food.

11. The old thumbs-up downer

For many, a thumbs-up is a relaxed way of saying, "everything is good' or "I agree", but in Turkey, Greece and parts of Italy, including Sardinia, it's the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger.  It's advisable to avoid making this gesture at all.

12. Yawning

In cultures such as Spain and Portugal, yawning is considered rude.  Even if your day’s travel itinerary hasn’t thrilled you, or you’re a little worn out, try not to yawn in public and definitely not whilst speaking to someone!

Part of the joy of travel comes from experiencing new cultures and embracing them, so be prepared for what’s expected of you before you arrive, and you can really embrace life as a local, as well as avoiding embarrassing faux pas. 

If you plan on travelling on more than one holiday this year, the Europesure Annual Multi-Trip policy (needs a link) covers all of your trips, over a 12-month period, with European-only and worldwide policies available. Visit Europesure Travel Insurance to select what suits you, the frequency with which you will travel and your intended destinations.

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