*The following is a guest post from Emily Buchanan and contains a sponsored link.*
Social etiquette varies from place to place and, if you want to be a considerate traveller, it’s extremely important to read-up on local custom before you go. For example, in Pakistan it’s rude to show the soles of your feet, in Indonesia it’s impolite to eat or accept gifts with your left hand (apparently it’s associated with unhygienic activities) and in Italy it’s seen as a compliment to burp after a meal. Make sure you know whether to clear your plate (to show how much you enjoyed it) or leave a little (to show that you’ve been sated). Are you expected to cover up or are you on a nudist beach? The world is an etiquette minefield.
A great tip for etiquette success is to observe what the locals are doing. You can garner a lot of information about a societal group just by people watching, and it pays to heed the behaviour of others. In parts of Europe, for example, it’s very natural to be warm and personable with strangers. Expect more than three kisses on each cheek, a lot of shoulder grabbing and maybe even a few friendly slaps of your derriere. This kindness usually comes hand-in-hand with major generosity and before you know it, you’ll be stuffed to the eye-balls with delicious eats, half-drunk on sunshine and part of the family. Expect this kind of welcome in Ireland, the Eastern Alps and Salzburg. However, this attitude is not European-wide and other parts of the continent can be extremely conservative. The same goes for other parts of the world. Dubai is infamously reserved and many westerners have been caught out by the strict Sharia law. Read up on etiquette before you go and make sure you’ve got a good understanding of how you’re going to be treated, in Dubai, you can’t even kiss in public. Many places are used to tourists and you’ll barely stir up a second look. However, in China, a lot of western travellers have reported unusual treatment. Here, a tourist is seen as a ‘laowai’ (an outsider; non-native) and this may turn you into a curiosity. But remember, the more international and cosmopolitan the city you’re in, (Hong Kong, Shanghai) the more you’ll be treated like an equal.
Two simple but effective ways of becoming a considerate traveller are to a) tip well and b) speak the language. Don’t go anywhere without knowing ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the native tongue, at least. There’s nothing more repellent than a tourist who refuses to try and it gives an impression of laziness and ignorance. You’ll be looked on kindly if you make the effort, even if it means flicking furiously through your guidebook or speaking in broken sentences. As for the tipping, unless you find yourself seriously off the beaten track, lots of major cities and destinations rely on the tourist trade. Plus, if you’re generous during your first visit to a restaurant, you’re sure to be treated well the next time.
Respect dress codes, travelling is a culture gesture and the way you dress sends a message out to those around you. You’re either saying ‘I respect your traditions,’ or ‘I’m not from here I’ll do as I please.’ I shouldn’t have to tell you which is preferable.
One last good tip: If you’re planning on getting a taxi in a foreign country, always agree on a fee before you get in. This is the polite way of avoiding a difficult situation and will save you a lot of hassle when it comes to paying up. If you don’t, the taxi driver may take you for a (literal and metaphorical) ride whereas clued-up a tourist will grant a lot more respect. This, I find, rings true internationally, so do your homework. Alternatively, it really is a good idea to hire a car. What better way to live like a local than to take to the road? You’ll not only have the freedom to explore, but it’ll save you a lot of brain-ache when it comes to negotiating the social etiquette of public transport. Economy Car Hire covers a whole load of destinations, from Latvia to Morocco to the USA.