When you are travelling the world the last thing you want to do is offend anyone, but sometimes you can walk straight into a difficult situation without knowing it. Some actions that wouldn’t bat an eye in your home country could be considered blunders or completely tactless in others.
Shannon Oddie, marketing manager for Student Flights, gives some insights into avoiding the cultural landmines that can plague travellers. So if you have the tact of a rhinoceros then take heart â?? Student Flights has the inside scoop on the travellers guide to good international relations.
â??The best tip I can give is to always do some cultural research before you go. It is not only what you say or how you say things that can be deemed offensive. Often it is the little gestures that we take for granted that might have others looking at us as if weâ??ve just taken the last piece of toast from the breakfast tableâ? says Shannon.
Gestures that we take for granted can often translate into unforgivable peccadilloâ??s says Ms Oddie. For example to beckon with index finger means â??come hereâ?? to us. To motion with the index finger to call someone is insulting, or even obscene, in many cultures. Expect a reaction when you beckon someone from the Middle or Far East, Portugal, Spain, Latin America, Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It is more acceptable to beckon with the palm down, with your fingers or whole hand waving.
nother potential faux pas is to sit with soles shoes showing. In many cultures this sends a rude message. In Thailand, Japan and France as well as countries of the Middle and Near East showing the soles of the feet demonstrates disrespect. You are exposing the lowest and dirtiest part of your body so this is considered insulting.
Believe it or not but a common diving hand signal can also be misinterpreted. Try forming a circle with your thumb and forefinger to indicate â??okâ?? and youâ??re likely to get some strange looks. In Brazil and Germany, this gesture is obscene. In Japan, this means money. In France, it has the additional meaning of zero or worthless.
When youâ??re in the Far East donâ??t be tempted to pat a child on the head. The head is the repository of the soul in the Buddhist religion. Children from cultures which are influenced by Buddhism will feel uncomfortable if their head is touched.
And be wary of how you pass things along. For example in Japan if you pass an item to someone with one hand it is considered to be very rude. Even a very small item such as a pencil must be passed with two hands. In many Middle and Far Eastern countries it is rude to pass something with your left hand which is considered â??unclean.â?
Sometimes no is actually yes. By nodding your head up and down to say â??yesâ?? in Bulgaria and Greece you will in fact convey the exact opposite message. In India, emphatic wagging of the head side-to-side might mean â??yesâ?? or any number of other things. What you need to know is that it doesnâ??t mean â??noâ??. So when youâ??re bargaining and bartering your way through the markets your shake of the head actually means â??yes, Iâ??ll take it at the price youâ??ve quotedâ??…
And finally, if youâ??ve ever been given the hairy eyeball by the border officials in Mexico itâ??s probably because youâ??re standing with your hands on your hips. This is an overt signal of hostility making it a good stance to avoid when dealing with border guards, police and members of the army.
Student Flights top tips for smooth International Relations
1. Do learn the local words for thank you; excuse me; hello; goodbye; yes and no. You may find it a little patronizing at first, but using a few local words can bring a hugely positive response.
2. Do try to eat the local food. If you are unsure about the level of spiciness, then order a few dishes and share them
3. Donâ??t insist loudly on having your way. Try to win the day with quiet perseverance. Itâ??s much more effective in most parts of the world.
4. Do remove your shoes before entering a dwelling, a temple or a shop if there is any indication that others may be doing this. If in doubt, ask.
5. Do dress presentably in the streets of a business area and when entering shops. People should wear a shirt at all times away from beach and pool areas. Bathing suits may seem all right in town, but check what the locals are wearing.
6. Donâ??t dress too revealingly in countries where it doesnâ??t seem the norm. People will pretend they donâ??t notice, but some will be deeply offended and resentful.
7. Most importantly do remember you are a guest. A paying guest maybe, but still a guest. Treat each destination with the respect you would like your own country to be treated with, and you canâ??t go wrong.
For more information on travel products contact Student Flights on 0860 400 737 or visit www.studentflights.co.za