The contents of this article tend to be somewhat light-hearted and though we may find others culture odd and amusing, so could they in the same way find ours rather bizarre! However nothing derogatory is intended.
In South Africa we have a greater number of people in the middle and upper income brackets, making travel more affordable and thereby creating more awareness of how fascinating other nations are. Etiquette is not what it used to be, but nevertheless the anomalies of international custom can leave one red faced if not observed but at the same time test one's patience. Rule number one, always consider oneself a guest in another country, so attempt to "fit in" without going insane
A few selected customs are featured below:
Italians are highly suspicious when the number 7 arises, so much so that 7 seated at a dinner table can mean that the occasion is doomed from the start!
In many countries bringing a bottle of wine for the host is the norm, but in Italy this can be disrespectful and indicates that theirs is not good enough.
Flowers are acceptable but carnations are verboten as these are used at funerals and have the connotation that death is on the cards.
Asking what a person does for a living is very bad form as is not looking one in the eye when being introduced.
As we in the west associate black with death, white is worn for mourning in many East countries and is a bad omen.
However red is considered very lucky.
Business associates meeting one at the airport will burst into applause on your arrival. Even more baffling is that one must should follow suit and applaud too.
Blowing one's nose in a restaurant is considered to be the act of a barbarian!
Yawning and stretching is considered uncouth throughout the Far East. A bone crushing hand shake is fine in the west, but in eastern culture can be interpreted as aggression!.
In much of the east belching is considered a compliment to the chef, yet totally unacceptable elsewhere.
Westerners are fascinated by the fact that about 4000 children were named Aoyun, meaning Olympic games!
Trying not to offend the Chinese can be a mind field like showing disgust over dishes like chickens feet and other strange delicacies. Most offensive is the pointing of chopsticks, yet slurping noodles with mouth full while screaming into a cell phone does not appear to upset anyone.
Chinese people do not smile at strangers, which can be interpreted as cold and indifferent.
But in Japan laughing and smiling is preferable as sorrow and displeasure must not be shown. "Losing Face" has long been imprinted on the National psyche.
The number 4 denotes death so must be avoided.
In conversation saying no is rude, so this is replaced with maybe, which can be most confusing.
A winning move in Japan is to continually nod when being spoken to otherwise loss of interest is interpreted.
And as for bowing, the least important person bows the lowest.
Gift-giving is an on-going ritual and one must reciprocate in order to maintain social bonds.
A golden rule is never to finish one's drink in a glass or food on a plate as this indicates a wish for more and a hostess will go to great lengths to accommodate one!
Should one want to know what it is like to be famous then India is the place to be.
Staring is common, as these people, especially in more rural areas, are fascinated with the height and blondness of Europeans.
The famous Indian "head wobble" can be demystified and is a source of much confusion to foreigners and leave one bewildered. This non-verbal gesture has dozens of meanings like good, understood, thank you, let us consider and so forth, but rarely has a negative connotation.
Westerners will find some habits repulsive like spitting and the length of the nail on the small finger, especially when it is used to explore the inner ear!
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