To prepare us all for hosting the Olympics in 2012 the Tourism Board has drawn up a list of ways in which we should avoid giving offence to foreign visitors and handy hits like how we shouldn’t be perturbed if Argentinians attack our clothes or our weight as it’s just their way of joking. But it’s all too easy to cause offence without even realising it when we’re in far-off places. Never fear, at dealchecker we’ve been seeking out all sorts of ways to avoid offence on your travels and make your interactions as fun as possible.
Photo by a2gemma
Hand gestures can get you into a lot of trouble. South Africans can be almost instantly offended if you happen to put your thumb between your index and second fingers as this is seen as a very rude gesture. Putting your thumb up in Western Africa is the equivalent of giving the middle finger in the UK, whilst pointing at people with a closed hand will make inhabitants of Hong Kong uncomfortable as the gesture implies you think they are no better than animals. Similarly beckoning a Filipino with your forefinger does nothing of the sort, and in fact lets them know you think they are a dog. And remember to avoid using your ‘unclean’ left had when visiting an Arab nation, India or Africa, especially when eating.
Photo by Martin Kingsley
And once you get into a conversation the pitfalls can keep cropping up too. Many cultures will be offended if you start using overly-familiar names too soon and the French in particular hate it if you change from the “vous” polite form of “you” to “tu” the informal version without asking. Disagreeing with an elderly African is severely frowned upon and losing your temper in Thailand will make anyone around you feel uncomfortable as they see this as losing face, unthinkable for Bhuddists.
Photo by anna gutermuth
Once your new friendship blossoms don’t think it’s time to let your guard down! In Scandanavia when clinking glasses to say “Cheers!” be sure to keep your chin up as looking at your feet is extremely bad form. Common in the UK as a sign of affection to children, don’t pat a Buddhist on the head as this is the seat of their soul. If you feel the urge to blow your nose in Japan or China then excuse yourself before you do since it’s considered rude and disgusting, with putting your used handkerchief back in your pocket the ultimate in gross behaviour.
If an Argentinian invites you over to eat be sure to avoid turning up on time, rather arrive a little late, as it’s considered a sign of greed to show up punctually. And if a Finnish person has you over for dinner, don’t even think about chatting through the meal, which is so disrespectful, instead concentrate on eating and compliment the meal after.
Photo by BrentDPayne
Business relations can be fraught with disasters too, not only are you a little jetlagged or working in a strange environment but the funniest things can get your new colleagues in a tiff. In Japan putting a newly acquired business card on your desk is bad, instead revere and admire it. Milanese businessmen never admit they are wrong, saving face is the most important thing of all, so don’t try and argue! And if you wish to offer a gift when you leave it’s best to seek advice from a trusted local as all sorts of things are bad luck like giving a clock in China, and expect Arabs to take their gifts to open in private.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan
There’s one thing that the jury’s out on though, and that’s the etiquette behind reclining your airline seat. Maybe the air is the diplomatic equivalent of international waters, where nobody rules. It seems that the first people in the queue get the best seats so what are you to do if you need a little more room? Really the only thing to do is try to be as polite as possible, if you want to recline then check behind you that it’s safe to do so and you’re not going to bust a laptop or squash a tall person’s legs. And if it seems like it might be a problem, perhaps just try to get on as best you can.
Top image by Abulic Monkey