Good manners abroad

One of the best things about travelling is that you get to experience a different culture. No, you don't even have to fly far for that: even a Dutchman often behaves very differently from us Belgians. How do you avoid a culture clash and behave politely in another culture?


Don't worry too much. The locals in your holiday country also know that you are a tourist and therefore probably not very well informed about the local mores and customs. But you'll get a smile if you show you've put in the effort.


  • If you raise your palm as a greeting in Greece, you insult the person in question.
  • A circle with thumb and forefinger indicates in France that you think someone is a fat zero. In Italy it means 'thank you', but in the rest of southern Europe it refers to the female genitalia.
  • Never bring a bottle of wine with you when you are invited to someone's home in France. This indicates that you suspect that the Frenchman does not have good wine in his house.
  • Except at the beach, sneakers and shorts are not appreciated in Spanish tapas bars.
  • Touching your earlobe in Italy indicates that you think someone is a sissy. In Spain you do it to someone who is too stingy to pay for a round. In Portugal it is a token of appreciation.
  • Raising your thumb is an insult in Greece, while in the rest of Europe it means 'excellent'.


  • In the United States you always spontaneously add 15% gratuity to the bill.
  • A circle with thumb and forefinger is an obscene gesture in South America. In the United States it stands for the o of okay.
  • Americans don't shake hands too often, and they don't kiss with strangers. Just saying "hey" or "hi" is good enough.
  • In Ecuador you shake hands with everyone you meet. They are the politest of all South Americans.
  • In Brazil, even fancy restaurants welcome shorts and flip flops.
  • In American restaurants it is the most common thing in the world to ask for a 'doggy bag' to take home the food you do not finish.

Middle East

  • Female nudity, from bare legs to plunging necklines, is not appreciated and often not even tolerated in the Middle East. The exceptions are seaside resorts in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, tourist resorts in Israel and surprisingly tolerant Lebanon.
  • Always take off your shoes when visiting a mosque.
  • A circle with thumb and index finger means 'loser' in Morocco and Tunisia. In Turkey it means 'gay'.
  • Don't raise your thumb in the Middle East, because then you're saying someone can screw up.
  • When visiting a Turkish hammam, women wear bikini bottoms and men wear boxer shorts. Of course they bathe separately.
  • In the Middle East, never give anyone money or anything else with your left hand as it is for wiping your ass.


  • When an Indian shakes his head, he actually nods yes. When he means no, he jerks his head back.
  • In Thailand, Nepal, India or Indonesia, if you are greeted by someone holding their palms together, it is rude not to immediately do the same.
  • You can visit Buddhist temples and monuments in Asia barefoot.
  • Never point the soles of your feet at anyone in Asia. Not even in the direction of a temple. That is very disrespectful.
  • Stupas or burial mounds in Tibet, Nepal or South-East Asia should always be kept to your right (i.e. clockwise around them).
  • A circle with thumb and forefinger indicates in Japan that you want your change in coins.


  • Never stroke an African child over their head to feel that nice frizzy hair, because then you disturb their guardian spirits.
  • Never throw sweets from the car in a poverty-stricken African village, because then you risk that children end up under the wheels.
  • Never get out of your safari vehicle in a game park, because that is dangerous and prohibited.
  • In every conversation an African will ask you extensively about your well-being and your family. It is rude not to respond and ask how he or she is doing.
  • Don't buy in a market without haggling. Not only will you pay way too much, but you will also lose the seller's respect. Once a price has been agreed, you are obliged to buy.
  • Many people in Africa have to get by on 1 euro a day. If you tip one poor guy 5 euros out of pity, you actually disrupt the local economy of that village. Rather donate 5 euros to a common project.


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