If you love to travel, you’ll be well aware of the pure joy discovering new cultures can bring. From ancient traditions with a powerful influence in the modern day, to the fascinating variety of human interaction, jetting across the world lets you explore lifestyles a million miles from your own.
But with all these eye-opening cultural encounters comes the odd mistake. What is perfectly polite in Britain might leave the Eastern Europeans gasping and shaking their heads. Likewise a greeting in North Africa could be overwhelming for a timid Brit. And while all this confusion will make a brilliant holiday anecdote, mishaps might be better avoided, whether you’re there for pleasure on on a business trip.
To help you avoid culture-shock, here are some of the top etiquette rules for world travellers, broken down by country:
Don’t be offended if no one looks at you during a South African dinner – it’s typical for natives to avoid eye contact while dining. And when it comes to business, according to this guide to etiquette around the world put together by Expedia, meetings may run as much as two hours late, so patience is vital in this corner of the globe.
When eating out in North America, if the restaurant was your idea you’ll be expected to pay – including a 10% tip – so make sure the location fits your budget. In business, small-talk is best avoided in meetings, since for US citizens time is money.
In Argentina, wine is a way of life and there’s much more than Malbec to explore. But with all kinds of complex rules on pouring the stuff, you’re better off letting your host handle that side of things. If you’re doing business with an Argentinian, be sure not to tell them they’re wrong in front of others; it’s considered very bad form.
While in many countries a bottle of wine makes an ideal gift between friends, the Dutch can spend hours picking the right tipple for dinner, so a plant or book is a preferable option to give your host. If you’re there for business, remember exaggeration and drama aren’t part of Dutch culture, and what may come off as blunt is simply directness on their part.
Dinner in Spain is unlikely to start until at least 9pm (though probably later). When introduced to strangers it’s customary to give a kiss on each cheek. After dinner, don’t shoot off. The Spaniards love to indulge in a long, lazy ‘sobremesa’, which is basically an after-dinner chat as your meal sinks down.
As cleanliness is king in Japan, shoes must be removed before entering any house, and slippers (including a separate pair for the bathroom) will be provided. Make sure you leave your shoes pointing away from the doorway you’re about to go through. Gesturing with chopsticks or crossing them are no-nos for the Japanese.
As in many Muslim countries, eating with your left hand is considered unclean, so if you can it’s best to avoid using it at dinner. An important part of mealtimes is ‘uzooma’, where the host offers more food, and the guest politely refuses a few times until persuaded. In a similar vein, haggling is the norm in all areas of Egyptian life, including business, so have a price in mind before the bargaining begins.