How to behave overseas

Posted Date: 29 April 2016
How to behave

From slurping your soup in Seoul to slipping off your shoes in Shanghai, things can be done a little differently around the world. But learning these behaviours takes time, and travellers aren’t expected to be etiquette experts everywhere they go.

However, conformity can be considered flattery overseas and the effort alone will surely be appreciated.

So here are 15 easy tips to ensure your travelling behaviour will surprise and delight locals the world over. 

How to behave overseas infographic created by: Southern Cross Travel Insurance

International etiquette

Whether it’s an unintended swear or an inappropriate sneer, accidentally offending people is easy to do. Unfortunately, it can be even easier overseas. Did you know presenting somebody with an even number of flowers is a grievous insult in Russia?

Experiencing cultures and customs old and new is the most rewarding part of travelling, but also has its challenges. Assuming that offending the local population is not part of your itinerary, here are some tips on how to behave overseas:


1. Use both hands in Asia
When paying for things in Asia, passing your money using both hands is considered a sign of respect. The gesture will be appreciated, and may even score you an extra prawn on your plate.

2. Cover up in India
If you have tattoos of Hindu religious figures or iconography, keep them concealed as they may offend locals. Also avoid wearing printed t-shirts with Hindu deities and other clothing bearing religious imagery.

3. Others first in France
Always attend to the glasses of others before refilling your own in France - no matter how tasty that Sauvignon Blanc is.

4. Slurp in Seoul
In many parts of Asia, slurping and burping during meals is an acceptable sign of enjoyment. Just don’t let the kids take home too many habits!

5. Formal in Frankfurt
In Germany, it generally takes a while for people to warm to each other. It may sound like strange advice when travelling, but try not to be overly friendly.

6. Off limits in Thailand
Discussing the Royal Family in Thailand has landed some travellers in hot water in the past. It’s a good idea to avoid political discussion in more developing countries, as it’s often a volatile subject.

7. Roses in Russia
Believe it or not, it’s considered highly offensive to buy or give an even number of flowers in Russia - these are only used at funerals.

8. Shoes off in Shanghai
You’ve probably heard of removing your shoes when entering a house in China. But did you know this custom is also observed in Hawaii? Not that you’ll need them very often on your tropical getaway.

9. No tips in Japan
The sushi was spectacular, but that doesn’t mean you should tip. If you do, it’s likely you’ll be politely refused, often after a few confused looks from the wait staff.

10. Plastic in Phnom Penh
Expectantly waving around your credit card in a remote restaurant in Cambodia or Vietnam is not a good look. Always make an effort to use the local currency, they'll thank you for it.


A few general tips for travellers

Respect, don’t expect
Don’t expect locals to be waiting on your every whim, even when staying at a resort or dining out. Show respect by doing a few tasks yourself and they’ll certainly warm to you.

Culture and cuisine
Always be willing to dive into the culture of your destination. Simple things like sampling an exotic dish at the restaurant will show your local appreciation.

Mind your tongue
Depending on your destination, assuming everybody can speak English is unwise. If you do find a local keen to practice their language skills with you, be patient and try not to raise your voice when repeating yourself.

Culture is key
Make an effort to be on your best behaviour when visiting sites of historic, cultural and religious significance. If you’re unsure of what’s appropriate, ask a guide or fellow tourist for advice.

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