No matter where you are in the world, nobody wants to be that guy. You know, the clueless tourist who offends locals and other travelers by committing some grave faux pas that could have easily been avoided with a little prior research. We’ve done some legwork for you and compiled a few of the most common “oops” moments from around the globe. Now do us a favor and don’t experience any of them firsthand.
Wearing inappropriate clothing to religious sites
With over 2 million visitors a year, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is easily one of the most popular and most written about destinations on the planet. So how is it that travelers still arrive in shorts and a tank top only to find that immodest dress is not allowed at this sacred temple? This is true of all temples in Southeast Asia, and many other churches, mosques, and synagogues around the world. Dressing as the locals do is always a good rule of thumb, but at the very least, you must honor the dress code at sites of religious importance. Cover your shoulders and knees, as well as your head if necessary. Otherwise you’ll be stuck donning a questionable sarong provided at the entrance, or worse, left on the street to miss out on a critical travel experience.
Mishandling your eating utensils
Every culture has its own eating customs, whether it’s eating with only your right hand in India or folding your pizza in New York. Read up on your destination beforehand to determine what kind of utensils you should use (be it fork and knife, chopsticks, or hands), which hands you should use to eat, and other food and drink etiquette. If you’re travelling with companions, research in advance to learn whether sharing food and splitting checks is acceptable.
Making rude gestures
Many hand gestures that seem completely innocuous in the U.S. are extremely offensive in other parts of the world. The “OK” sign will ruffle feathers in Brazil, while a thumbs up in Iran will not make you any friends. (It’s literal meaning is “sit on this!”) Pointing, beckoning, and even crossing your fingers can deeply offend people in various countries. Add hand gestures to your list of cultural research to undertake before your trip.
Insulting the government
Americans can often take their freedom of speech for granted. While dissention and debate are integral to democracy, in many other nations, speaking ill of the country’s leadership could have quite serious consequences. Cuba, North Korea, and Thailand are all countries where disparaging the government won’t just offend people – it could land you in jail. Knowing a little about the politics of your destination before landing could help you avoid a vacation nightmare, but when in doubt, avoid the topic in conversation.
Getting names wrong
In much of the Western world, folks become fast friends and catapult to a familiar first name status, but don’t make the mistake of assuming such intimacy is the norm in other countries. Throughout Asia, colleagues of 20 years might still call one another Mr. or Ms. as a sign of friendship and respect. What’s more, it’s customary for many Asian names to order the family name first and the given name last – the reverse of what you see in the States. When making introductions, keep cultural rules like these in mind, and be sure to say your own name clearly and slowly. After all, foreign names can be hard to pronounce.