There’s simply no doubt about it – travelling is amazing. Experiencing different cultures, tasting new cuisines and just generally feeling like the weight of the world is no longer on your shoulders. You’re free… free to have fun, free to explore and free to do the things you don’t usually have time for. Maybe something adventurous or even just doing nothing but enjoying a drink in one hand and a book in the other.
So all this freedom is great right!? Yes! But every so often, we forget that we’re not actually free to do everything. We need to be wary of the country we are travelling to and be sure to avoid making any cultural mistakes/rookie errors/faux pas.
This is a list of five common mistakes I have come across in my years of travelling.
Faux pas number 1: Shouting
Shouting – yes they speak another language but no they are not deaf. This maybe isn’t as common any more but I still see it happen from time to time. If there is a language barrier then why not try an alternative option like carrying a translation book with you so that you can refer to it in times of need. Learning the key phrases of a language as well is very important and can help in many situations. I always try to learn the following:
- Hello/please/thank you
- Excuse me
- Bottle of water
- How much?
I also always try and learn a few directions so that if you get familiar with where you are staying, you can direct the taxi driver if need be. It never fails to surprise me how many times I have been abroad and taxi drivers have either not known where they were going at all or pretended they didn’t and driven round in circles – ultimately adding more money to the metre and not doing any wonders for your sense of direction.
And last but by no means least, don’t forget to learn how to say your favourite drink and the quantity. Una cerveza, por favor (one beer, please).
Faux pas number 2: Thumbs up
Not knowing the cultural expectations in the country you’re visiting. For example, showing the soles of your feet in some Muslim/Buddhist countries is a big no no. It’s considered the dirtiest part of your body and therefore a huge insult. Giving the thumbs-up in some countries simply means ‘all good’ but in some places like the Middle East and West Africa it can mean a lot more than that. In fact it can mean that you’re going to put that thumb somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine. So if someone asks ‘did you enjoy your meal?’, please avoid responding with the thumbs-up – awkward for all involved.
Faux pas number 3: Tipping
Tipping – yea or nae? In different countries, there are different rules but it’s always best to do your homework. For example, in America, tipping will definitely get you in the good books because although it’s not ‘mandatory’, it’s expected in almost all sit-down restaurants.
On the other hand, we have countries like Japan where handing over a wad of cash can be considered rude. (In what world would that be rude, I know?)
Now once we’ve established where we should and shouldn’t tip, it’s important to find out who to tip and how much.
I learnt the hard way in Egypt when I gave the little girl who led my camel a tip (she couldn’t have been any older than 6). She had her hands out as though it was to be expected so after I gave her what I thought was appropriate, she wouldn’t stop hassling me for more. A very uncomfortable position to be in, particularly when it’s only a child you’re dealing with. It certainly pulls on the heart strings.
Faux pas number 4: Stray Puppy
Thinking ‘aww what a cute little puppy’. Those words should stay as thoughts, because, granted it may seem far fetched but in some countries where rabies exists – animals, particularly stray animals may be carrying this disease. Being bitten by an animal whilst you’re away is just going to cause you anguish and force you to make unwanted trips to the hospital. It’s better to just steer clear of animals all together and save all the mushy gushy pet stuff until you get home.
Faux pas number 5: Con Artist
Being sucked in by the ‘nice’ locals who turn out to be anything but nice. Note: this of course only applies to a tiny minority of locals. Generally, the vast majority of people make a big effort to be friendly, say hello and make you feel unbelievably welcomed. But like anywhere in the world, and as much as we don’t like to believe it, there are con artists looming around the occasional corner. It’s best to have your common sense in tact and go with your gut instinct – if something doesn’t feel right, then it most likely isn’t.
I’ve been in Thailand and been forced to pay for six locals and their non-alcoholic drinks (for some reason they really stressed this point), but somehow their drinks were quadruple the price of the equivalent with a dash of vodka. The.mind.boggles. Anyway, it was an extremely awful position to be in – the bar was empty and they wouldn’t let us leave until we paid for their drinks. We walked into a bar planning to have one drink – we did – and then we walked out with empty purses having forked out about £40 between the two of us. Not ideal! Especially when you realise how far that money could have stretched in Thailand – four nights accommodation, a week of meals, you name it!
So there we have it – five faux pas to avoid! Have you made any of these mistakes whilst travelling? Or is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.