Customs Around the World: What You Should Know

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Customs around the world - In Germany, it's considered polite to shake hands with everyone who is there, including children.
In Germany, it’s considered polite when entering a room to shake hands with everyone who is there, including children.

Greetings in Germany and Japan

The custom of shaking hands reaches its pinnacle in Germany, where formality often reigns. When entering a room, it’s considered polite to shake hands with everyone who is there, including children. On the other hand, bowing is the tradition in Japan when greeting or thanking someone, and it’s customary to bow lower if the other person is older or has a higher social status.

Some mishaps involve the hands and feet. In a number of Middle Eastern countries, the left hand may be used for bodily hygiene and is considered to be unclean. As a result, shaking hands with your left hand is insulting.

In some cultures, it's offensive to show the soles of your feet.
In some cultures, it’s offensive to show the soles of your feet. Photo by Paul Hakimata

It’s the feet that can cause a problem for visitors to various Arab, Muslim, Hindu and some other countries. Because the feet are the lowest part of the body, they may be considered less than clean, so showing the soles of your shoes to another person also may be taken as an insult.

Another helpful hint involves when to arrive after being invited to dinner. In the United States, it’s usually acceptable to arrive a few minutes after the appointed time, which is considered to be “fashionably late.”

In Germany, leaving other guests waiting is seen as a sign that you believe your time is more important than theirs. On the other hand, in some Latin American cultures, no guests are expected to arrive at the precise time they were invited to a dinner party.

The practices that travelers encounter throughout the world include the entire alphabet of nations. Australia is one of several countries where passengers in taxicabs often share the front seat with the driver. To climb into the back of the vehicle as most people in the U.S. do would be considered snobby.

Table manners are very important in Norway, where even a sandwich may be eaten with a knife and fork.  In Japan and South Korea, tipping is not customary. Workers there take pride in doing their job well, and don’t believe that they need the added incentive of a tip.

In Russia, China, Thailand and the Philippines, an empty plate after a meal may be taken as an indication that you were not served enough food. You may have to leave a bit as a signal that you’re satisfied.

When exchanging business cards in Japan, give and receive the cards using both hands, and ensure the card is turned towards the receiver,
When exchanging business cards in Japan, give and receive the cards using both hands, and ensure the card is turned towards the receiver. Photo by Stuart Jenner

Business Customs

Minding one’s manners in another country can be even more important when traveling for business. Demonstrating that you took the time to learn the local customs may help to make the sale or close the deal.

For example, business people in some countries who share a meal with a potential customer often discuss personal matters before they turn the conversation to work. The local host may chat about his family, ask about yours and find out if you have any hobbies in common. Only then will the discussion turn to business.

In Finland, business is often discussed in the sauna. Photo by Robert Kneschke
In Finland, business is often discussed in the sauna. Photo by Robert Kneschke

One of the more enjoyable, if unusual, examples of mixing pleasure with business takes place in Finland, where relaxing in a sauna is part of the way of life for many people. It’s not unusual for a meeting or sales presentation to be followed by an invitation to share a sauna with the host. If so, that may indicate that the discussion of business went well.

Whether planning a trip for business or pleasure, taking time to do a bit of advance research about the way things are done can add to the enjoyment, and avoid making mistakes. You may search for information on the Internet or contact the tourist bureau of your destination.

Author Bio: After gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries around the world, and writing about what he sees, does and learns, Victor Block retains the travel bug. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education, and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.