Stretch out your feet thoughtlessly in Thailand, be stingy when it comes to tips in the USA, give a "thumbs up" in the Orient - better not. Anyone traveling should familiarize themselves with local conventions.
Finally on the road again, immersing yourself in foreign cultures and really relaxing: The summer of 2022 was and is again a real travel summer. But beware! What is not worth mentioning in this country can lead to irritation elsewhere. A selection of blunders that we quickly make when abroad:
1. Choose an inappropriate greeting
Handshake or kiss? hug or bow? Or just a slight nod? There is a large selection and it is difficult to make up for wrong decisions when greeting.
A wonderful example of this was the "bow shake" of then US President Barack Obama: During his first meeting with the Japanese Emperor in 2009, he stretched out his right hand to shake hands and bowed at the same time - a real faux pas that the Emperor acknowledged with a smile.
Germans are known abroad for the "bone breaker" handshake. Only: You don't leave a good impression with this, but at best pressure points on the other person.
2. Gesture carelessly
In many countries, excessive gestures are not only considered somewhat rude, they are also often misunderstood. Who knows that the "thumbs up" gesture in Germany and the USA means "top", but in various oriental countries it corresponds to a vulgar "piss off" (that's still the nice wording) and in Israel as a sign of the Prostitution applies?
Or that the cutthroat gesture in Poland and Russia is translated as "heavy drunk"? And these are just two examples of many situations in which gestures lead to misunderstandings.
3. Tipping incorrectly
The German ten percent rule is correct in many countries, but not everywhere. In the US, for example, where employees depend on tips, it can be twice as much.
In other countries, such as Singapore or Japan, tips are not customary at all and are simply not accepted, because good service is taken for granted. If you give the tip to the waitress in a patronizing way, the blunder is perfect. It is better: leave it discreetly on the table after paying.
There are needs that are the same internationally. But this does not apply to their implementation: So why is there a bucket in the corner of a Thai toilet? For the toilet paper, of course. Failure to use it may cause embarrassing floods. And what do you do if there is no locking device on the public toilet? Knock before entering, of course, and don't sweep in with force.
One of the most beautiful blunders in the world are the Japanese toilet slippers that are waiting in front of the toilet in the restaurant, for example. You wear them - the name says it all - for hygienic reasons on the toilet, and only there. Of course, Western visitors regularly forget to exchange them for regular shoes and slouch back at the table with them, much to the disgust of Japanese guests.
It's quite possible that the said toilet shoe wearer also has a large stain on his trousers because he got hold of the butt shower button while looking for the flush (note: Japanese labeling!).
5. Being (un)punctual
Met nice people and even been invited to a party abroad? Great! Now it's time to find the right arrival time. If you show up on time in Brazil or India, you have a good chance of catching the hosts in a fine-rib undershirt or with hair curlers - and then sitting around alone for a while. Because up to an hour late is standard.
Once you have learned this lesson and apply it to a dinner invitation in Sweden or Switzerland, however, there are cold food and touched hosts. It is better to inquire discreetly beforehand how the term "on time" is interpreted locally.
6. Believing you are not understood
Of course it's fun to talk about the experiences in the holiday country. Or to gossip about a round if things don't always go smoothly. But what most German travelers mercilessly underestimate is the number of people who learn German abroad - and therefore also understand it.
In Italy, Belgium or Holland, people may be reluctant to use the complicated German grammar themselves. But that doesn't mean that caustic remarks about the country and its people aren't understood. Contrary to all prejudices, even in France there are plenty of people with a solid basic knowledge of German as a foreign language.
7. Use or display specific body parts
Did you quickly grab the change out of your pocket with your left hand and pay for it? In the Orient and in India this is a faux pas, the left hand is considered unclean here. Logically, the left hand is therefore not used at the table either.
In Thailand, on the other hand, you shouldn't stretch your bare feet towards anyone, not even a Buddha statue - and you'd better not stop a fluttering banknote with a courageous kick. Because the king is depicted on it, this could be interpreted as an insult to majesty.
(This article was first published on Saturday, August 27, 2022.)