Over the years, Mom taught us to “be polite” and “use good manners.” While we think we’ve usually got it covered, what’s considered polite may vary once we leave the “safe” confines of the U.S. Some manners are virtually universal, such as please, thank you, I’m sorry, etc. Others can be a bit more interesting. Things we wouldn’t ever think of doing might very well be the accepted way of life in other countries.
Belching, for instance … to us, ugh! However, in some Eastern cultures, it is an affirmation to the host or chef that you enjoyed every bite, and it may be rude to restrain yourself! Along those same lines, while Mom would not approve, slurping noodles of any kind in China is a huge compliment to the chef and sends a message that the food is delicious. Do leave a bit of food on your plate; it will acknowledge your host’s generosity. If you clean your plate, the host will feel obligated to keep refilling it or feel he or she has not served enough.
If an associate gives you a business card in Asia, do not simply shove it into your pocket or purse without looking at it first; that is a sign of disrespect to its owner. Also, do not write on it or fold it for the same reasons.
Lefties beware: The left hand is considered unclean in most Arab countries. Passing food or eating with the left hand is impolite, and offering it for a handshake is considered insulting. Why? Historically, desert people didn’t have access to toilet paper and it was the left hand that was used for “sanitary purposes.”
Spitting? Definitely not polite in our culture. However, in the Maasai Tribe of Eastern Africa, to spit on a newborn is the highest compliment—it is a wish for long life. Tribespeople spit at each other the same as we would shake hands.
When in New Caledonia (a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific), sticking out your tongue at someone is a wish for wisdom and energy. In the Caroline Islands (north of New Guinea), it is a way to banish demons.
Everyone loves flowers, right? Not necessarily! Some flowers are used only for funerals, while the color of flowers can indicate feelings that range from hate (really?) to bad luck. Even the number of flowers in the bouquet can symbolize joy, grieving, luck or something ominous! Sadly, the best intended gesture could end up backfiring if you don’t do your homework first.
Every culture is blessed with its own unique set of manners and etiquette that makes it special. Before we travel to another country, it is our responsibility to learn about the culture and then respect and celebrate that way of life. If we didn’t want to experience things that are different than what we are accustomed to, why leave home?
Ready to experience something out of the ordinary? Call or email Travel Leaders/Goli’s Avenues of Travel at (608) 784-9820 or EmailLse@TravelLeadersGo.com to get started.
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