When travelling around the world, you may not know everything about your destination before you arrive. Whether you need help learning the local language or simply require a map to get around, landing in the thick of it can often be the best way to pick up the knowledge as you go.
However, trying to impress corporate leaders when travelling for business or making a good impression on new friends made on your gap year can be tough if you can’t identify when you are being rude. While most locals will forgive a slip in etiquette from an enthusiastic traveller, there are some areas where it’s best to know the rules and guidelines for polite and inoffensive travel.
At the table
There are many different table-side acts that could be considered rude in certain countries, while they are encouraged manners in others. If you’re eating in a restaurant in the US, Portugal or Canada, for instance, you’ll want to include a 10-20 per cent tip on the end bill. However, tipping is impolite in Japan and China, and discouraged in some other nations.
How you eat can also be a challenge, with Indians eating just with their right hand, the fork only being used to push food onto the spoon in Thailand and slurping of noodles encouraged in Japan.
Finally, when finishing up, remember to leave a little on your plate in China, the Philippines, Cambodia and Egypt, as this shows the host they have given you enough to eat. However, if you’re eating in a noodle house in Japan or a cafe in France, a clean plate signifies you have enjoyed your meal.
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your host. Most locals will be happy to steer you away from potential rudeness.
Visiting landmarks and sacred places
Certain landmarks will definitely be on your must-see list when travelling to particular countries, but remember to do your research on proper etiquette.
If visiting the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, for instance, you should never step over a monk’s cushion in or near a temple. Instead, walk around the pillows, even when they are empty. Additionally, the stupas and chortens are important religious figures and should only be walked around in a clockwise direction.
Another vital consideration in all sacred and religious locations is wearing appropriate clothing. For a quick guide, you could try looking at pictures of when a politician or celebrity of your gender visited the location. Often, these individuals are trying to make the best impression, so will be dressed in a noncontroversial way.
A good guide is to cover up your shoulders – even in more liberal locations it pays to have a scarf in your bag to remain modest in a religious building. Also, check before taking photos in any important site. If you are able to take photos, turn the flash off first out of respect for other visitors.
If you are unsure, you can usually rely on common sense or simply asking your host in order to stay out of trouble. Most places will be somewhat tolerant to tourists, but it’s far more enjoyable to be respectful to avoid any potential hard feelings.