There is nothing more embarrassing than to be in a crowd of people in a foreign country and accidentally commit a “travel faux pas.”
But, it happens, more than we’d like to admit. I make sure that if I’m traveling to someplace I have not been before that I do a little research on-line and/or with reputable travel books on what “not to do”. I also try to take a moment when entering a new situation and watch what the locals are doing. You know the old saying, “when in Rome”, well there is truth to that admonition. Don’t’ draw negative attention to yourself by unknowingly doing something that offends the culture of where you are. Here are ten travel faux pas that I have had personal experience with, mostly in Germany and Austria.
Open Markets: Vendors in open market stands are very proud of the produce and products that they are offering. It is considered rude to pick up, handle and inspect every lemon in the bin before buying. Just ask the vendor. They will select their best for you and give it to you with a smile.
Churches: Many churches listed in your travel guides are open to the public, but also still serve as a place of worship for the community. Be aware of what time services are. Always enter a church with quiet and respect. Excessive noise disturbs those who have come for the religious service or quiet meditation.
Restaurants: Don’t be in such a rush. Germans and Austrians like to take their time when relaxing for an evening meal out. As Americans, it seems we’re always rushing. If you are in a hurry and need to eat quickly in order to get somewhere after dinner, tell your waiter or waitress when you order so they know that you need your check quickly after you finish eating. Otherwise, be prepared to just sit back and enjoy the moment. And, do not expect or ask for “tap” water to drink with your meal. It just isn’t done.
Airport Customs: Do your research and know what is allowed to enter a country. When I traveled to Thailand in the mid-1980’s, there was a dress code to enter the country. I actually saw the customs officers escort a business man flying in from Australia into the restrooms to change out of his shorts and sandals into something more appropriate and respectful. While I think it has most likely relaxed a bit by now, you need to know what is expected and approved beforehand. You don’t want to start off your trip with a bad experience at the airport.
Touching: In most places, touching a religious leader, or government leader/royalty, such as a priest or monk is very disrespectful and in some extreme cases means that person must undergo a cleansing. Again, stand back and take a look at what others do as they approach a temple or religious sanctuary. Then follow their example. And it is never OK to point or laugh at any person or ceremony taking place in a religious or cultural location.
Taking Photographs of People: For this topic, just use the golden rule. Do unto others as you would want them to do to you. You wouldn’t want your picture taken in a rude and disrespectful way…so don’t do it. If you are taking a scenic shot and there happen to be people in the picture that’s OK. If you are sitting in a restaurant or other close quarters situations and want a cute picture of the little girl at the next table….ASK!
Head Covering: In many churches, women entering the place of worship without a head covering is a big “no-no”. I always carry a large handkerchief or folding hat in my travel purse so I can use it to cover my head when going into conservative churches.
Elbows on the table: I know your Mom taught you to never put your elbows on the table during dinner, but in Germany and some other European countries, it is rude to have your hands and arms under the table during a meal.
Hand gestures or verbal slang words: What might be accepted back home in the States could be totally offensive in other countries, and in some cases could get you in real trouble. Keep the slang and American hand gestures at home.
Toasts and Salut: In Germany it is considered rude to not make eye contact when clinking glasses for a toast. It is also customary to always greet people coming into a room with, “guten tag” or “guten abend.”
With a little bit of research and a watchful eye, you can keep from offending the culture of those around you as you travel the world. Happy Travels…from Connie’s Corner.