Travel

29 Embarrassing Things You Should Absolutely Avoid While Traveling Abroad

Major no-nos include forgetting to take off your Japanese toilet slippers and giving Russians a death bouquet. Tips from real residents, inspired by this Quora thread.

1. Don’t botch the slang.

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Mayur Makheri: Flip Flops/ slippers are known as jandals! Don’t ask why. Swimming trunks are called Togs. Chicken are called chooks. Singlet tops are know as wife beaters. Cricket is a sport and not an insect. We have places named FUCK A PAPA, FUCK A TANI, spelled as Whakapapa, Whakatane. If you are chuckling right now, please re-read the sentence above!

2. Never disrespect the dialects, the Queen, or LOTR.

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Mayur Makheri: Do not confuse New Zealanders with Aussies! Kiwi accent is funny, don’t point it out. The indigenous people of New Zealand are called Maoris. Do not make fun of the culture or language. Queen of England is still a big deal here! Not a good idea to make fun of her. Hobbiton is a real place. Kiwis are proud of Lord Of the Rings! Do not make fun of the franchise!

3. Feel free to go barefoot, but don’t swim, apparently.

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Mayur Makheri: If you find people walking with no footwear whatsoever, don’t stare. It’s perfectly normal to go about in public places without footwear, and in some cases a shirt. You will still be served. Swimming in NZ waters is extremely tricky. Although there are no sharks, the tides and currents will kill you.

4. Don’t tip anyone.

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Makiko Itoh: No one. NO ONE. Tipping is just not part of the culture. Don’t even leave small change. People will come running after you with it. Seriously.

5. Don’t forget to remove toilet slippers or wash your private parts.

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Makiko Itoh: Don’t forget to take off the special toilet slippers once you leave the toilet room. You will encounter ‘washlets’ or toilets with attachments for washing and drying your private parts everywhere. Don’t get too freaked out by them…and if you can’t figure them out, you can always use toilet paper.

6. Don’t get overenthusiastic about nudity.

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Elvind Kjorstad: People are pretty relaxed about nudity, and both men and women will for example change on public beaches without any attempt at covering themselves up. You are however expected to look away.

7. Never compare them to Sweden.

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Ole Peder Amrud Hagen: Do not assume that everything in Sweden is more advanced and modern. Swedes and Norwegians may make fun of each other, but Norwegians are quite sensitive as to how we’re perceived abroad.

8. Make sure to give an odd number of flowers as a gift.

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Traditionally, an even number of flowers is given only at funerals. An odd number is given for celebrations. That’s why you can often find a man throwing out a flower when he buys a large bouquet.

9. NEVER wear your outdoor shoes inside the house.

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This is a major faux pas, particularly since Russian streets are generally very slushy and no one appreciates bringing grime onto their immaculate floor. This rule also holds in Norway, Malaysia, Japan, and many other countries.

10. Don’t ask about Russia’s history or politics.

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Katherine Makhalova: Don’t criticize Soviet Union when talking with people over 40. They grew up in those times and might be nostalgic. Even if they enjoy modern life they might not like hearing foreigners talking about it. Don’t assume we support everything our government does. Quite often we don’t. Don’t criticize our government. We do it a lot by ourselves, we don’t need your help with that.

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12. Don’t touch the top of anyone’s head.

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Neha Kariyaniya: Never touch anyone’s head or pass anything from above the head. It is considered to be the most sacred body part.

13. If you have to point, use your thumbs.

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Neha Kariyaniya: Do not point your forefinger at things. Instead point a thumb. Pointing a forefinger at anything is considered rude.

14. If you’re a woman, avoid touching monks.

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Neha Kariyaniya: Do not touch or give anything to a monk if you are a woman, they have to fast and do ritual cleansing.

15. Try not to kiss or hold hands in public.

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Balaji Viswanathan: In some jurisdictions, kissing in public can get you into jail under “public obscenity.” Hugging and handshakes are still frowned upon in most parts of the country among members of opposite sex. This is not illegal and no one goes to jail for hugging/handshakes. On the other hand, among members of same sex hugging is pretty common.

16. Don’t touch anything with your feet.

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Balaji Viswanathan: If you stomp over a book, national flag, image of a deity etc, you can get into trouble. While stomping a book is frowned upon (people will think you are an idiot), deliberately stomping an image of a god of any religion or India’s national symbols (such as the flag and the emblem) might get you arrested.

17. Get the language right.

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Marianna Porto: DO NOT ASSUME WE SPEAK SPANISH. We speak Portuguese - we were colonized by Portugal, though our languages are completely different nowadays. Actually, we have very few similarities with our fellow South American countries.

18. Cover up.

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Rose Thuo: Avoid wearing short, revealing clothes, so no short skirts, shorts and clothes that reveal cleavage. Cover up modestly, not like a Muslim in their religious dress, but as if you were going to play at a golf tournament, people like to dress modestly here.

19. Remember, Hakuna Matata is not just a Disney song.

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Rose Thuo: Everything runs late, don’t get pissed off or impatient, learn to go with the flow, things will happen, just not on time. Hakuna Matata. It’s the phrase from Lion King and it applies in Kenya, it means there are no worries, we try not to worry about anything and take everything in stride.

 

21. Don’t do anything Nazi-related.

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Judith Meyer: Don’t do the Nazi salute. Not even in jest. It’s a crime and every year there are tourists arrested for it. Also don’t carry any Nazi symbols on you.

22. Don’t wish people an early happy birthday.

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Judith Meyer: Don’t wish someone a happy birthday before the day. Same for anything. The origin is a superstition that something bad will happen to them (they might die) before their birthday if you do. The same rule applies in Russia.

23. No shoes, no shirt, no religious service.

Pachara Yoosawat: Dress appropriately when visiting temples. Do not wear shorts, short skirt, bikini, tank top, tube top, or any other inappropriate clothes. Note: This was a popular one, and holds true for most of Europe and Asia.

24. Don’t mock Buddha.

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Pachara Yoosawat: Respect Buddha images. Do not do any kind of inappropriate posture near images of Buddha. Do not say anything negative about the king of Thailand and the royal family. Most people love the king. If you say something bad about the king, people will hate you. You can also go to jail. Note: This is also true for Malaysia.

 

26. Don’t assume everyone lives in igloos.

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Mark Blei: When you come to Canada to visit , do not start saying “eh?” after every sentence in an ironic way. Unless you are an aboriginal living in the far north, we don’t know how to make an igloo which means that we obviously we don’t live in one. If you come here in July, dressed in your winter coat with gloves , you’re going to look like a fool.

 

28. Don’t do anything with your left hand.

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Floren Pan: Indonesians use their left hand to clean their bottom. It’s considered impolite to do anything with your left hand.

 

30. NEVER walk in the bicycle lane.

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Bram van der Kruk: In Amsterdam pedestrians should not walk in the bicycle lane! As you know the Dutch are know for their permissiveness, drugs..prostitution..all fine… but our collectively pent-up intolerance is reserved for those unlucky visitors that dare to walk where they are not supposed to.

 

32. Don’t turn down food.

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Marco Brandizi: When someone offers you food or drinks, especially if you’ve just eaten the dish being offered and that was cooked by the house lady, you’re supposed to accept or have a good/nice excuse for not doing so. Refusing is considered impolite or a sign you didn’t like it.

33. Drink coffee the right way.

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Marco Brandizi: Don’t look for Starbucks in Italy. Expect the ‘tourists, pfh!’ gaze when you order cappuccino during lunch or dinner. Cappuccino is for breakfast, we can’t understand how it is that you keep ingesting milk together with tomato sauce and you haven’t yet died of ulcer.

 

35. Don’t visit places on national holidays.

Fish Shen: Do not visit any place in any part of China at any Chinese festival or holiday, especially at Chinese National Day (October 1st).

36. Don’t give clocks or umbrellas as gifts.

Fish Shen: Chinese people really care about homophones. Some, like the number 8, are considered good luck. The word umbrella sounds a lot like “separation,” and “clock” sounds like “paying last respects,” so those are bad.

CORRECTION: Russian custom is to gift an even number of flowers. An earlier version of this post misstated that Russian custom is to gift an odd number of flowers.

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