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Experiencing a new culture is one of the highlights of a trip away. But behaviour seen as normal at home can sometimes embarrass, offend or insult people abroad. Here’s some advice to help you blend in with the local customs and remain faux pas free.
The first and simplest step is to be respectful and polite wherever you go. You might not always be aware of your cultural errors, but politeness will make people more inclined to overlook them.
Find out the customary way to greet people at your destination – your standard handshake may not be appropriate.
Learn a few phrases in the local language to show that you’re willing get to know people on their terms – you’ll often be surprised how rewarding even a little effort can be. Start with basic greetings, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, then add a few useful phrases you’ll need most often, such as how to ask directions and prices.
Find out what the local views are on public modesty where you’re visiting and try to dress appropriately.
You probably won’t be expected to wear the local dress, but you might have to refrain from wearing vest-tops or shorts, as some cultures expect shoulders and knees to be covered.
What better way to learn about a culture than through its culinary triumphs? Don’t be afraid to try new things, but bear in mind that you might come across some local delicacies which seem strange to you. Be tactful if you want to decline.
You’re a guest in another country, so try not to offend anyone who might just be offering to share their favourite dish with you, even if your stomach is finding the encounter less than appetising.
One of the greatest joys of travelling is the chance to experience new cultures. But different ways of life go hand in hand with different values and practices. Respecting local customs will make it easier for you to fit in and will help you avoid accidentally offending anyone. Find out more
One of the simplest ways to help you get on friendly terms with local inhabitants is to speak their own language.
While it’s unlikely you’ll have time to become fluent before you travel, even a few words can go a long way. Here are some tips on how best to pick up the local lingo. Find out more
Religions can have a huge, interesting and exciting influence on the character and culture of the countries you visit.
As an outside observer, you need to behave respectfully and appropriately. As a traveller, you also need to know how religious practices and festivals might affect your trip. Find out more
Make yourself aware of local customs and laws about public displays of affection. Some cultures can be quite conservative, and even something as unconsciously familiar as holding hands can cause upset.
If you want to take a photo with a local person in it, always ask their permission first. They’re going about their daily lives and may feel like a tourist attraction.
Money culture can really vary between countries, so read up on local expectations tipping and bartering before you go. For more advice on haggling, see our shopping abroad section.
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