While managing one of the top hotels in Manhattan which catered to an exclusive international clientele, my team & I had to be especially mindful of committing any social & cultural faux pas, for e.g. a simple hand gesture as a thumbs up commonly accepted in most parts of the world (including the U.S & U.K) may be considered extremely offensive in another part of the world (Latin America & Middle East).
If you intend to travel to a foreign country, either on a short business trip for or a longer stay as a student take some time to look into the local culture before you get there. I’ve noted a few basic travels dos & don’ts categories below that will help you prevent awkward situations and any misunderstandings.
- Social invitations – When you’re invited to someone’s house for a meal, it’s considerate to inform them in advance of any food allergies or dietary restrictions that you may have so that they can be prepared accordingly (Vegetarian/Non drinker etc.). Always carry a thoughtful gift (bottle of wine/beer etc. if you drink and chocolates or some flowers for the hostess if you don’t). In China or Japan never leave your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice, as this is symbolically only done while offering a bowl of rice to the spirit of a dead person.
- Appearance – Dress for the occasion. A sloppy appearance (wrinkly, ill fitting or mismatched clothing) is considered disrespectful in most parts of the world especially in Japan & Europe. Please be mindful of personal hygiene, especially while travelling. Bathe everyday, wash hands before & after every meal and remember to check your appearance prior to leaving the house.
- Punctuality – Being on time is extremely important when meeting for business (try and be at the meeting location at least 15 minutes before the time agreed upon). Being late is unacceptable in many countries (like Germany) where leaving people waiting is taken as you thinking your time is more valuable than everyone else’s.The rules are slightly more relaxed in a social setting, keeping in mind how formal the event is, how well you know the host, the number of attendees etc.
- Appropriate small talk – Try and stay away from controversial topics like politics, religion or salary with people that you aren’t very well acquainted with and stick to safer topics involving general questions about their hobbies, sports, hometown, recent vacations etc.
- Body Language – Be mindful of the concept of personal space, whether you’re in line at the airport or attending a business event. Maintain a comfortable level of eye contact when engaging someone in conversation & be careful of how & where you place your hands (for e.g having one hand in your pocket is considered a sign of arrogance & frowned upon in Turkey & South Korea).
- Tipping – I worked my way through college by waiting on tables in a local restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island. While tipping is encouraged in the U.S (minimum of 15% of the bill) and salaries are adjusted accordingly, it’s discouraged in Japan & South Korea. In those countries, workers feel they are getting paid to do their job, and take pride in doing it well; they don’t need an added incentive.
Depending on wherever you are in the world & when interacting with locals, please remember that you’re in their country & they aren’t in yours. Don’t be embarrassed to ask when unsure of how to do something & when in doubt speak less, listen & observe more. Always remember to be yourself, have fun and travel safe.
Credit: Pintrest.com & Yahoo.com