Body language of the world: Body signs to avoid in travel...
Body language of the world: A traveller's guide to avoiding faux pas
Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater
August 10, 201110:21AM
In the Middle East always eat with your right hand. Eating with your left is considered unclean. Picture: Flickr user hiyori13
In Japan bowing is a sign of respect. Picture: Flickr user alf melin
EVERY country has its cultural quirks. To avoid being the subject of tut tuts and disapproving looks while you're travelling, we take you through the top taboos from Japan to the Middle East.
The most common greeting in Japan is the bow; the timing, posture and movement of which should reflect sincerity, respect and graciousness. A beautiful bow is often compared to a ripe rice stalk swaying in the wind: the more mature the person, the deeper the head is lowered. An improper bow hints at a lack of education and maturity. As a foreign visitor you are not expected to emulate this ritual faithfully - a gentle nod will do. -Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook
Personal space boundaries vary from country to country, but in Latin America they are set closer than in Anglo-Saxon countries. People stand closer when talking to one another, and casual touching of the arm or shoulder during conversation is not unusual. Good friends will typically greet each other with an abrazo (hug) or beso (kiss), and it’s quite normal to see people of the same sex walking down the street arm in arm.
-Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook
In Mexico, when paying for something, place your cash or credit card directly into the hand of the person you’re dealing with. This applies in cafes and restaurants, as well as hotels and shops. Leaving payment on the counter can be interpreted as a sign that you don’t respect the person enough to have contact with them. -Lonely Planet Mexican Spanish Phrasebook
The traditional greeting of New Zealand Maori is the simultaneous pressing of noses and forehead, known as the hongi. The word directly translates as smell or sniff, but is more evocatively described as an exchange of ha, the breath of life. Such greetings are commonplace on marae, the open space in front of a Maori meetinghouse where visitors are welcomed, nowadays with a handshake at the same time as the hongi. -Hirini Moko Mead, Tikanga Maori (Huia, 2003) & Lonely Planet South Pacific Phrasebook
The hongi is a traditional New Zealand Maori greeting. Picture: Lonely Planet
When ‘no’ gets mistaken for ‘yes’ there can be all sorts of trouble, but you can always rely on a shake of the head or a nod, can’t you? Not in Bulgaria, where the nod means no and the shake means yes. To complicate matters further, polite Bulgarians will often try to compensate by reversing their normal habit. For absolute verification, familiarise yourself with the words da (yes) and ne (no). -Lonely Planet Bulgarian Phrasebook
Before you whip the big thumbs up out of your pocket to convey that ‘all is well’ or ‘I’d like to hitch a ride’, be warned that you may be about to make a boo-boo. In some parts of the Middle East you may as well be flipping the bird, and the gesture has a similarly negative meaning in Nigeria and parts of South America. In Germany, you will be indicating the numeral one, which will be fine unless you really want to order two.
Meanwhile, eating with your hand is acceptable in the Middle East, as long as it’s the right one! The left hand is considered unclean. Practicing this custom is particularly important at communal dinners, where many hands may come into contact with shared food, but it’s also important when shaking hands or giving and receiving gifts. -Roger Axtel, Gestures: The do’s and taboos of body language around the world
Just don't raise your thumb in the Middle East. Picture: Lonely Planet
As you would expect in a country that came up with the word etiquette, it is easy for foreigners to commit faux pas in France. At the dining table the odds increase dramatically. To avoid offence, keep your hands on the table, not in your lap. Break up your bread roll into nibbles, rather than shoving the whole thing in your gob, but beyond that try to avoid eating anything with your fingers. Peel fruit with a knife and eat it with a fork; avoid man-handling sandwiches if you can. -Lonely Planet French Phrasebook
In India - as in much of Asia - it is the feet that are considered unclean. Do your utmost to avoid touching any part of someone else’s body with your foot or shoes, and if you do so, apologise straight away. Pointing the soles of your feet at someone is also offensive, so don’t prop your feet on chairs or tables while sitting, and take care how you arrange yourself when sitting on the floor. -Lonely Planet Hindi, Urdu & Bengali Phrasebook
The ultimate beau geste (gracious gesture) is one that is used in every country on earth. Although in some cultures in certain circumstances it can have negative connotations, it is seldom misunderstood and can be used in many situations. It conveys an array of positive emotions, and as such is the great bridge builder between peoples of the world. It involves only the eyes and the mouth, and so requires minimal effort. It is particularly useful in sticky situations. It is so powerful it is thought to release endorphins into the body that generate a feeling of euphoria. It is, of course, the smile.