Don’t Embarrass Yourself Abroad-2

While Americans often give carnations as signs of friendship, these flowers—in many European countries—are more appropriate for funerals and mourning. (Wikimedia)
While Americans often give carnations as signs of friendship, these flowers—in many European countries—are more appropriate for funerals and mourning. (Wikimedia)

A few weeks ago we ran a piece on things Americans should make a point not to do when traveling abroad. We posted our 5 tips and felt good about it. We soon learned, however, that we had just scratched the surface of a very rich subject. This is an area, we realized, that generated significant interest among readers and warranted further exploration.

So, what are a few other tips to assure that you don’t embarrass yourself abroad—or even worse—unintentionally offend people—or even worse—unexpectedly find yourself in jail for actions we might not consider a big deal in the U.S.?

We’ve done a little more research and come up with 6 more tips to consider when visiting certain countries:

  1. Touching Can Be a Touchy Subject. In many Middle Eastern countries kissing and other public displays of affection are not only frowned upon but are often illegal. In fact, The Travel Magazine once reported that one pair of tourists visiting Dubai faced a possible 6 years in prison after they were caught making love on a beach.
  2. Affectionate or Insulting? In the U.S. or most European countries, patting a child on the head is usually taken as a sign of affection. But in Buddhist countries throughout Asia, where the head is seen as the seat of the soul and, as such, sacred, touching it is considered an insult, even when the person is a small child.
  3. Down on “Thumbs Up.” For us, this hand gesture means that things are good or the task has been done correctly. But, in Iran, this gesture is called “bilakh,” which literally means “Sit on this.” Definitely a major insult.
  4. When the “OK” Sign is not OK. This is another hand gesture to be aware of. To signify OK, we often bring the thumb and forefinger together to form a circle. But, in nations such as Turkey and Brazil, this gesture means that you are comparing this person to a part of the human anatomy that is best left unmentioned.
  5. Shoes Off. We usually don’t have an issue when people enter homes or houses of worship with their shoes on, but in Japan and other Far Eastern countries this is considered quite inappropriate. Often in Japan, your hosts will give you a pair of slippers to take you from the front door of their home to their living rooms. There, you should remove them before you step on the “tatami,” or the red mat. One extra bit of advice—when you come calling, make sure you are wearing clean socks.
  6. Flower Etiquette. In most countries, giving and receiving flowers is a cherished custom. In many of these countries, however, the variety, color, and even number of the flowers have meaning. In Germany, Poland, and Sweden, for example, the carnation is used for funerals. And in Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and Turkey, the same is true of the chrysanthemum. Be careful with roses, too. In France and Austria, red roses—as they do in the U.S.—suggest romantic intentions. In Mexico and Chile, however, yellow roses signify grief and separation. Finally, the number of flowers you give can also be significant. Giving an odd number is considered unlucky in China and Indonesia. Giving an even number is considered unlucky in India, Turkey, Russia, and Germany. So, count carefully!

If you have any tips you would like to add to our list, please—by all means—post a comment. We would love to hear from you. What do you make sure you do so you don’t embarrass yourself abroad?

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