5 Unique Customs Around the World
The world is the best classroom, and whether you travel a couple hours from home or 1,000's of miles, you're bound to learn something new along the way. One of the more interesting things about travel is that is teaches us all about the different cultures around the world and how they differ from our own.
Customs differ greatly from country to country and some are more unique than others. There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing a custom in another country and unintentionally offending the local people. So sit back, whip out a pen and paper (or an iPad) and remember these 5 unique customs from around the world the next time you are traveling!
1) Never touch someone's head in Thailand
In Buddhist culture, it is considered extremely disrespectful to touch someone's head, as it is considered the most holy place of the human body. if you brush by someone's head or accidentally touch their hair, apologize to them. It is often an unconscious thought to reach out and touch the head of a child, but watch yourself in Thailand. Outside of the major cities, you will even sometimes be asked by a hairdresser if they can touch your head while cutting your hair. So watch out and hands off!
2) Don't give flowers as a gift in China
In China, flowers are a sign of death and traditionally only brought to funerals. While we would hope any fiance would warn you before showing up to meet their parents with a bouquet of flowers, think twice before you buy those roses. And if you are heading to a business meeting, while it is customary to bring a gift, don't dare bring flowers as it will be a sign that any business deal is doomed from the start.
3) Always drink the Vodka in Russia
Russia is known for drinking vodka, and while it might inspire some parties and mayhem, there is an order to the madness. First of all, never turn down a drink. Sure it might be 8 in the morning, and you might have thought you were going to have a productive day, but if someone offers you a drink, you take it. Sipping is not allowed either, so bottoms up!
4) Eat with your Right in India
Being left handed, I have struggled with this one every time in India. Since it is customary to eat with your hands in India, the hand you use to eat must always be kept separate from your "bathroom" hand. Even if you are eating in restaurants where you are offered utensils, it is still polite to only use your right hand to eat. While I can't say I always remembered to do this, don't be surprised at the stares you will get on the street if you are walking around eating anything with your left hand!
5) Always remove your shoes in Japan
While taking your shoes off when you enter a house seems like a practical practice to many and a cleanliness issue to others, it really goes much further than that in many Asian cultures, especially in Japan. Entering a house without taking your shoes off in Japan is simply downright disrespectful. In Japan, it is considered an honor to be invited to someone's home, and you should respect that as much as you can. Even a modest home or lower class family will remove their shoes and all provide uwabaki (slippers) for guests to wear inside the house. But keep your socks on, as going barefoot can be considered rude in some formal situations as well.
So there you have it, from Asia to India and Russia, make sure to keep these local customs in mind the next time you hit the road - and remember to always ask a local for any advice on local customs so you can make sure not to embarrass yourself to much along the road!
Jeff Johns and Marina Dominguez are the co-founders of Latitude 34 Travel Blog, and the Adventure Travel Editors for Wandering Educators. Through 65 countries on 6 continents they have accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Their goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before they are too senile to remember them all.
Both graduates of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, their true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food, and a good laugh.
Together they run Latitude 34 as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it.
All photos courtesy and copyright Latitude 34