Previous articles in this series covered the following topics in the “General Information about X” (where “X” is the country/ies I will be visiting) document I prepare for every trip outside the U.S.”
- Part 1: obtaining foreign currency, currency-related scams, etc.
- Part 2: choosing, using and protecting the “plastic” you carry with you.
- Part 3: Tipping and awareness of and sensitivity to the culture(s) of the country/ies you will be visiting.
In this part, we’ll discuss cultural differences in law and etiquette, and how to prepare yourself in order to avoid any misconceptions.
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush, thinking he was flashing a sign of encouragement to protesting farmers in Canberra, Australia by holding up his first and second fingers with the back of his hand toward the crowd, set off an international incident for which he had to offer a public apology. With the back of his hand toward the farmers, he communicated the same as if he had held up just his middle finger!
Crossing one’s legs in Muslim company so that the soles of one’s shoes are showing is a grave insult; same thing holds true in China. And while we’re talking about China, one might want to “unlearn” one’s parents’ exhortation to “clean your plate” – doing so in China can communicate to one’s host that her/his servings were inadequate. About the only thing of which one can be assured is that there WILL be some cultural differences wherever one travels. So, again, there is no substitute for a few hours’ research and no excuse for failure to do so.
Swissotel Etiquette Guide – Thailand – ©2016 Swissotel
Fortunately, as we found with tipping, some very good resources are a mere mouse click away. The international hotelier Swissotel provides “The Ultimate Guide to Worldwide Etiquette” which addresses cultural expectations for 29 countries/regions. My personal favorite, however, is the “Tipping & Etiquette” page on TripAdvisor for most anywhere. All one needs to do is enter “Tipping & Etiquette” (in quotes), TripAdvisor and the name of the country one is planning to visit in one’s favorite search engine. The following search (“Tipping & Etiquette” TripAdvisor Ecuador) yields a wealth of information for anyone visiting this South American country or using it as a gateway to the Galapagos Islands.
Staying On The Right Side Of The Law
A faux pas is one thing; breaking the law abroad is quite another! Travelers are 100% subject to the laws (regarding which they may not be aware and which they may not understand) of the country/ies they visit. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” is even more true when traveling than it is back at home in the U.S. Ask James Feigen, member of the U.S. Olympic men’s swim team, who had his passport seized and was pulled off his departing flight by Brazilian police for questioning about the gas station incident in Rio de Janeiro. He ended up paying USD$10,800 for the return of his passport so he could finally return to the U.S.
The State Department’s “Arrest or Detention of a U.S. Citizen Abroad” webpage should be required reading for every American traveling internationally. The State Department also provides a “Traveler’s Checklist” which provides TONS of good information. Don’t overlook the first hyperlink on this page; it takes you to another invaluable resource (“Learn About Your Destination”) which allows you to enter the name of the country/ies you will be visiting to obtain invaluable information about “local laws and circumstances” and, in addition:
- Entry, exit and visa requirements,
- Safety and security,
- Health, etc.
If a city I will be visiting has an embassy or consulate, I include its information in my “General Information for X” document. So my “General Information for China” document includes the following:
- Tourist hotline: 86 010 6513 0828
+86 021 6433 6880
|Beijing||No. 55 An Jia Lou Lu, Chaoyang||+86 010 8531 3000|
|No. 2 Xiushui Dongjie, Jianguomenwai||+86 010 6532 3831|
|Chengdu||4 Lingshiguan Road, Chengdu, Sichuan||+86 028 8558 3992|
|Guangzhou||Huaxia Road, Zhujiang New Town||+86 020 3814 5000|
|Shanghai||1038 West Nanjing Rd., Westgate Mall 8th Fl.|
|Shenyang||52, 14th Wei Road, Heping District||+86 024 2322-1198|
|Hong Kong/Macau||26 Garden Rd, Hong Kong||+852 2841-2211|
Coming in Part 5: “Communication”