Faux-pas-free travel

Fancy seeing the world but afraid of making gaffes?

The Knowledge

There’s nothing better than exploring different countries and cultures and nobody wants to cause offence. But how were you supposed to know that the French aren’t fond of joke telling, but it’s fine to slurp your soup in China? Here are a few tips to ease your travels, based on a few countries who are happy to share what to expect when you’re in town…


China is a fascinating and exciting place to visit, as long as you know the rules…

• If you fancy it, feel free to belch and slurp soup while eating, it’s considered perfectly acceptable.
• Eating rare beef is considered barbaric so stick to medium rare or more.
• Leave some food on your plate to honor the generosity of the host.
• Be ready to make a small toast for any and all occasions.
• If a Chinese person greets you with applause, applaud back.
• Clicking fingers and whistling is considered very rude so hold yourself back.
• Show special respect for older people and always offer your chair.
• And finally, never ever point with your index finger.


They’re a pretty friendly bunch but the Mexican’s have a few rules you could do with knowing before you land.

• Don't leave the table immediately after you finish eating if you’re out for dinner.
• Forget the reputation for free-flowing cocktails, drinking to excess is frowned upon, especially if you’re a lady.
• Keep both hands above the table when you’re eating.
• Get accustomed to people standing close to you. It’s considered perfectly normal, there’s no need to back away.
• It's OK to be late to a social engagement. In fact, it’s considered the norm, so follow suit.


How should we behave when visiting Russian’s on home turf, or attending Russian-hosted parties here?

• If you’re invited to dinner by Russian friends, don’t make post-dinner plans. It’s expected that you will stay and socialize.
• Russian’s not the easiest language to learn but a little will go a long way. Start with a few phrases to show that you’ve made the effort.
• Don’t be shy. Hugs and generally demonstrative behaviour is the norm, although shaking hands across a table/threshold is considered bad form and bad luck so hold back if this is the case.


Dining can be a formal affair and woe betide you if you’re late for a German dinner party.

• It might seem odd, but using a knife and fork to eat sandwiches is the norm, so get carving.
• Don’t start dinner until you’re host has given the go-ahead. A “Guten appetit" is said before eating and means "enjoy your meal." It is the host's way of saying, "Please start."
• Another formality, and quite a nice sign of respect, is the expectation that guests should stand when an elder or higher-ranked person enters the room.
• Don’t be too effusive in your praise - compliment sparingly, it may embarrass people.
• And finally, Germans are more formal and punctual than the rest of the world. Try to follow suit. This means never turning up late and dressing up if you’re unsure what the code is.


Fancy a ski trip or a perhaps a summer hiking holiday in Austria? Take note before you jet in…

• You might encounter a dumpling or two when you’re eating out. Never cut it with a knife; break it apart with your fork.
• Don't discuss business during a meal unless the host brings it up.
• The person who extends the invitation to a restaurant will generally pay the bill. They’ll be offended if you argue.
• Avoid wearing shorts while shopping, it’s considered rude and too informal.
• Shake hands with everyone, including children, before a social or business meeting and for heaven’s sake don’t be late.


The Spanish are known to be some of the world’s friendliest people but there are still some rules to follow…

• It’s normal for bread to be served on the table, not a side plate, so don’t be alarmed
• Spaniards don't waste food so don't take what you don't think you can eat.
• Be patient and expect to be interrupted when talking.
• It is acceptable and common to be 30 minutes late to social functions in Southern Spain, 15 minutes in Northern Spain but never be late for a bullfight.
• Tip everyone for everything. It’s the law. No, not really, but is very much expected.


Eating out in Italy is a sport, as are most social engagements, and there are rules to match…

• If you’re eating pasta, you most likely will be, don't roll it on your spoon, do it on the sides of your plate.
• Burping is considered extremely vulgar so control yourself.
• Keep both hands above the table while you're eating, but keep the elbows off.
• As we know, the Italians are a stylish lot. Dress elegantly but conservatively to fit in.
• Try not to yawn or remove your shoes in public, this is very bad form.
• Italians are generous; they'll forgive most faux pas except arrogance and rudeness.

Great Britain

Brits have an unfair reputation for being a bit uncouth but there are still rules to watch when you’re visiting..

• Always leave a very small amount of food on your plate when finished eating.
• Leave a dinner party shortly after dinner ends, unless you’ve been expressly asked to stay on.
• Wait for your host to begin eating before digging in.
• Handshakes are light, not firm. Too firm is seen as scary and will be remembered.
• Do not push, shove or cut in line. Ever. The Brits love a queue.
• Always hold the door for the person behind you.

United States

It’s not just the “have a nice day” that set the Americans apart, there are other rules too…

• Never arrive early to a dinner party. You will fluster your host.
• If you are offered a second helping of food, feel free to take as much as you want. Americans like people to eat well.
• "See you later," is just a farewell expression; it doesn't mean anything. Same with "How are you?" ("Fine!" "Great!" Doing well are the only appropriate responses. Nobody expects an answe, save the chat for close friends)
• Smile. Americans like to smile and be smiled at. It’s a little unnerving but it’ll help you fit in.
• Try to avoid silence; it apparently makes Americans uncomfortable.


The French have a bit of a reputation for being aloof, but who knew they didn’t like jokes?

• When eating in company, never eat fruit whole. Peel and slice it.
• Don't cut your crusty baguette, break it with your fingers.
• Don't order a cocktail before dinner; they're considered palate numbing.
• The French value their privacy, don't be nosy or ask too many questions.
• Avoid using any of the following in public: nail clippers, combs, toothpicks, chewing gum. And while you're at it, don't scratch or yawn either.
• The French don't make or tell jokes so keep yours to yourself.
Fed-up of other people’s cultural gaffes? Have a tip of your own to share? Then tell us…

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