Due to the steady increase in expatriation, it has become much easier for a larger number of people to insult a myriad of nations without even realising it! I’ve therefore valiantly taken upon myself to create a list of cultural faux pas to help even the most socially challenged among us:
#1: The sole of discretion
The bottom of the shoe touches the ground: agreed? Ergo the bottom of the shoe is the dirtiest part of the body: correct? Yes, this is why in many cultures, particularly in Buddhist and Muslim countries it is seen as an insult to point the sole of your feet / shoes at someone.
#2: Rule of thumb
In West Africa moving the thumb up and down is their equivalent to giving the finger, the middle finger.
photo: Aidan Jones
#3 Caught on camera
From the Native Americans to the Australian Aborigines many cultures believe that a photograph not only captures a moment but also the soul. So please be wary of being too snap happy.
#4 Everything is a-okay
Although it is the international diving symbol for I’m doing pretty well, gesturing the o.k. symbol in Turkey or Brazil can get you into hot water with the locals. In their culture, you are basically calling them an unsavoury part of your rear end.
#5 Touch and go
In the western world patting someone on the head is usually seen as affectionate, however, in the majority of Buddhist countries it is the most offensive thing you can do. The head is considered a sacred part of the body and one person should never touch a fellow human being’s head, not even that of a child.
#6 Getting handsy
In Indonesia, while it is frowned upon for two people of different sexes to have any physical contact, it is completely normal for people of the same sex to walk down the street holding hands. It is seen as a gesture of friendship rather than sexual preference.
#7 Make some noise
The Japanese are seen as purveyors of strict discipline and politeness, so it may come as a huge surprise to both travellers and expatriates that the highest compliment you can pay to a chef is that of a loud resounding burp. Also, a strong slurp is much appreciated. Expats rest assured that that’s not how they do things health insurance japan style however!
#8 Feeling toasty
In Georgia and Azerbaijan long-winded toasts are the dish of the day, in some cases they can last for hours, however, drinking or chatting while the toast is underway is considered the height of disrespect.
#9 V for Vendetta
In most countries making the V gesture with your index and middle finger is the apex of hippy peace and love or victory, however in Ireland, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand this is the same as flipping the middle finger.
#10 Ear we go
In Italy you should never flick someone’s ear; this is basically classed as a homosexual slur.
photo: Sutha Kamal
#11 Rocking all over the world
The traditional Anglophone gesture of rock music, index and baby finger extended, rather than showcase how riotous a band is, will deliver the sharp blow that the person the gesture is aimed at, is being cheated on by their partner in Italian, Greek, Spanish, Yugoslavian and French culture.
#12 Lady luck
In many cultures the symbol of crossed fingers is inextricably linked with the quest for good luck, unlike in Vietnam, where it is an explicit symbol for the female genitalia and one of the most offensive gestures around.
photo: mind on fire
#13 Frost bite
Despite the frosty conditions in Romania it is considered the height of bad manners to shake someone’s hand while wearing gloves.
In Serbia waving your hand in the air with your thumb, index and middle finger extended is considered an affectionate greeting however the same gesture in Austria is synonymous with the neo-nazi movement even though it is also their way of counting. So it could simply mean three pils bitte.
#15 Mellow Yellow
If attending a dinner party in Germany never ever hand the host/ess yellow roses this is considered a communication of their partner’s infidelity.
photo: PinkStock Photos!
#16 The early bird
For some nations punctuality is a badge of pride and arriving early is considered the highest achievement known to man, however the Dutch wouldn’t agree. Netherland natives think it the epitome of ignorance to arrive a mere 5 minutes earlier than the allocated time.
#17 Talk the talk
In Japan it is very rude to speak on your mobile phone while on the public bus system, yet the people in Graz, Austria have taken this one step further by making it illegal.
#18 Red or dead
In most countries a red rose is the ultimate emblem of love and romance, in Latvia however it signifies funerals.
#19 Cut it out
If you ever happen to be friends with someone from Chile, never give them a present of a scissors or knife. In some South American cultures it is the harbinger of the severing of said relationship.
#20 Tongue in cheek
You know when your mother threatens you that if the wind changes, your face will stay the same, every single time you stuck out your tongue as a youngster, if that worst case scenario were to happen, emigrate to Tibet, in some parts of the country its considered a very acceptable way of greeting others.
photo: Tambako the Jaguar
So go forth and be polite. Cultural curiosity doesn’t have to kill the travelling cat. Being slightly more aware of your surroundings can make the world of difference to both you and the local community in the region you are in.
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