chopsticks

Using proper chopstick etiquette while in China is one way to avoid cultural faux-pas abroad. (pixabay/CHEN_victor)

As the world globalizes, societies interact with each other more. People start to travel more. As they travel more, they often stumble and regurgitate offensive things to other cultures by mistake. 

Unfortunately many people lack savoir-vivre, the ability to know social rules and customs. Savoir-vivre would help them avoid these mistakes. If people were aware that they can stumble so much, they may freeze or stop interacting with a country’s residents in general. In order to prevent such catastrophes, here are pointers on what to never do in these most-visited countries. 

Among the most-visited countries in the world, travellers must be especially wary of their actions in China. Avoid kissing or hugging publicly. According to the South China Morning Post, public displays of affection are rare in both Hong Kong and China. 

Like every other country, China has its own dining etiquette. China Highlights states that it is imperative to allow older people to eat first to avoid offense.  

Chopsticks are an integral part of Chinese culture, yet tourists oftentimes seem to struggle with them. Two tidbits to remember are to never wave chopsticks in the air and to never stab your food with chopsticks. Rather, hold the chopsticks secure and firm to bring them smoothly to the mouth. These pointers alone will not make faux-pas in China impossible, but they can hopefully prevent some.

 Some Americans believe it hard to make gaffes in another Western country like France, but gaffes are nearly inevitable. Notably, avoid asking highly personal questions. With acquaintances, prattling on about one’s job or family is off limits. Travel Taboo adds that one should do la bise- a quick peck on both cheeks (varies by region)- instead of handshakes or hugs when meeting or interacting with others. However, handshakes are still acceptable in business meetings. Greeting others is paramount. Failing to greet is considered ill-mannered. 

 Similar to France and China, Spain is not without its taboos. While people from other cultures may want to arrive early to events, the Spaniards will have none of it. Arriving early to something is impolite as arriving excessively late, according to Expatica- an online news portal for Anglophonic expats. 

Another mistake would be to dine too early. In Spain it’s rare for people to dine at 9 p.m. or after, as reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Although foreigners misattribute this to the belief that Spaniards are more laid back, the late dinners actually tie to being in the wrong time zone. While Spain should belong to Greenwich Mean Time, Spain follows Central European Time. Although less crucial, avoid major plans on Tuesday the 13th. These days tend to carry the negative weight that Friday the 13th carries in the UK and the US. 

With its proximity to the U.S., it may be easy for U.S. citizens to forget how different Mexican culture is from American culture. Yet as seen with the aforementioned countries, multiple faux-pas exist in Mexico. According to Lonely Planet, being on time when invited to someone’s home can be considered impolite. The Travel Guide advises invitees to be 30 minutes late, although this may be a generalization. While arriving on time will be impolite, giving the “OK” gesture will be vulgar according to the Mexican News Daily. This is because the symbol represents a certain body part. Among other rude actions is employing religious profanity. Granted this will never be polite anywhere, it is especially impudent in Mexico.

 Awareness of other cultures’ customs and taboos is imperative to traveling. From arriving too early in Spain and Mexico to handshaking a friend stiffly in France, the mistakes we can make in other countries are plentiful. However, by learning the taboos of various societies we can develop a cultural savoir-vivre.