Cultural Blind spots

March 26, 2018

Cultural Blind spots

(Or unknowingly offending the locals)


Certain things that we do without a second thought will be frowned upon in some cultures. Some years ago, giving the thumbs up sign was the equivalent to ‘giving the finger’ in Iran. Now, I believe they are better informed.

Imagine asking someone in Tehran for directions and then giving them the thumbs up as a sign of thanks or appreciation.

Japan: Opening the taxi door yourself or closing it after the ride is not done in Japan. The driver does it remotely. It’s taboo to pour one’s own drink and when pouring for others, the elderly get served first.

China: Always take off your shoes when entering a house or a temple. Do not stretch your legs so the soles point at anyone.  Also, do not blow your nose in public and do not compare Japan with China. They are very old rivals.

France: Don’t butter your croissant, it’s made with butter. Do not ask your companions to share the final bill after dining. It’s customary for just one person to pay for all.

Muslim Countries: Offering your hand for a handshake to a woman is not done. So is showing skin by wearing reveling clothes or appearing drunk in public.

Italy: When ordering coffee, never order any with milk after 10.30 am. Milk is only for breakfast as its considered filling. When visiting cathedrals and churches, men should avoid shorts and women should have their shoulders covered and the skirt should be below the knees. Also the midriff should not be exposed, so saris might create a problem.

Greece: Greeting someone in Greece involves hugging as well as kissing the cheeks; so be prepared to do it. Also make sure that you dress properly when visiting famous attractions such as Acropolis, where women cannot wear high heels as they can damage the site.

Singapore: $3000 fine even if carried by mistake and 2 years in jail if caught selling the stuff. By ‘stuff’ we mean chewing gum. Singapore outlawed chewing gum in 1992. Instead feel free to burp, smack your lips or slurp your coffee/tea as these convey signs that you are enjoying them.

Thailand: Thais consider the head sacred and the feet unclean. So when sitting or lying down don’t point with your feet and avoid touching anyone’s head. Also don’t pass things to your pals over someone’s head. Thais also have extreme reverence for the king, so stand in silence when his song or the national anthem is played.


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