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10 Quirky Local Customs Travelers Should Know

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Flight: booked. Hotel: reserved. Language podcasts: Completed. What else do you need to prepare before jetting off on vacation?

Most of us would probably never think that feeding pigeons in parts of Venice could get us fined as much as our plane tickets there cost. Likewise, while we always leave a substantial tip after dining at a restaurant in North America, the practice is a foreign concept to many international visitors. Needless to say, very diverse cultural customs abound around the world. Here are a few quirky ones that we love and think are useful to know for preventing cultural mishaps abroad.

Brazil: Brazilians love to touch each other, so don’t be surprised when you talk to a Brazilian and they tug at your shirt or wrap their arm around you. It’s not a sign of flirtation but a means of friendly communication.

China: Finish all of your food? That could potentially make you rude. In China, some interpret a completely cleaned off plate as a sign that guests weren’t fed enough. They could take offense — or try to stuff you with unwanted extra helpings. To be safe, leave just a bite or two on your plate when full.

Germany: It could be 4 a.m., there might not be traffic, and there might not be even the hint of a car. No matter: You never jaywalk. Unlike most places where jaywalkers plague the streets, jaywalking in Germany can often met with scoffs and disapproving glares. That’s why some crosswalks now let you play ping pong against those across the street while you’re waiting for the light to change.

Greece: The Greek word “moutza” or “mountza” refers to thrusting an open palm with all fingers extended and stretched to another person. With a reference to a period in time when criminals’ faces were smeared with cinder as punishment, the extremely rude gesture equates to the American middle finger. Avoid throwing out your palm at anyone, whether you’re hailing a taxi or motioning for someone to stop.

India: India’s a diverse society, but who would have guessed that its alcohol laws are just as complex? The legal drinking age ranges from region to region; in some states it’s 18, others 25. In a few areas, mostly in the East, alcohol is prohibited entirely.

Ireland: Stand your round – meaning you never order a drink for just yourself, which is interpreted as standoffish. In order not to ostracize your Irish brethen, always offer to pay for a round. And if you can’t quite drink like the Irish? Stand your round early so you can sneak away before total inebriation.

ItalyFeeding the festering pigeons in Venice’s St. Marks Square may accrue a $700 ticket, and shorts and tank tops in an Italian church might get you some glares.

Japan: With a few exceptions like tour guides and private drivers who mostly work with international visitors, most Japanese find tipping insulting. But if a restaurant truly wowed you, for example, return for another meal to show your gratitude.

Mexico: Many Mexicans, especially of the older generation, consider it rude to stand with your hands in your pockets – it signifies a casual lack of interest. In the same vein, standing with your hands on your hips indicates anger. Needless to say, one generally minds not only where but also how they stand.

United States: The tag price is not the actual price. For example, your $10 dinner really costs $10.80, and that’s not even factoring in the tip. This isn’t news to most of our readers, but it especially baffles plenty of visitors from other countries.

5 Comments

  • al says:

    On your “United States” tip you appear to be presuming a 8% sales tax at a restaurant. But actual restaurant sales tax rates vary considerably from state to state and city to city, from 0% to 10% as far as I can tell.

  • Tommy Burson says:

    Nice catch, Al. We included the “8%” sales tax as a general rule of thumb that tax isn’t included on most purchases. Of course, states like Oregon, Delaware, and a few others don’t use a sales tax, but that doesn’t always guarantee the price on the sticker is the true price of the good, especially when you consider tipping at restaurants.

  • Pat Wright says:

    I believe I’m right in adding 2 more quirks to your list. Both in Arab cultures. You never sit cross-legged and show the bottom of your shoe. Considered an insult to any Arab in your presence. Also, never shake an Arab’s hand using the left hand (their’s or yours), as the left hand is the “bathroom hand” and considered inappropriate.

    And, while we Americans (especially ladies) like to “touch the merchandise” while shopping, Europeans don’t seem to do this and are offended if we do so in their shops.

  • doris says:

    8%?? here in jersey dining is cost of dinner say 10.00 plus tax 7% plus tip 15% it should be the tip with out the tax figured in.

  • rick baldwin says:

    Fifty years ago the drinking age for all of India was:45.
    This must be a new law for St Mark’s Sq-about time.
    In Rio,no woman will acknowledge a male’s presence when on the street,but they are very sweet when inside.

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