It was my first international trip and no vacation to London would be complete without a stop to a pub for a drink. As my travel companions and I sat down at the bar the cheerful bartender asked us what we would like to drink. Not really sure, we asked him what he recommended. After asking us each a few questions he suggested a drink for each one of us. He was charming, attentive and had us laughing until we thought we might tinkle just a little. He was great fun and when it was time for us to leave we wanted to show our appreciation for his service, as is customary for us Americans, by leaving him a tip. As we started to put the money on the bar he seemed a little confused by what we were doing. Then an older gentleman leaned over and said “that’s not how you do it. If you liked his service you offer to buy him a drink. You only leave a tip if you have table service.”
While our misstep was no big deal, no harm done, in some countries what might seem like a small detail to you may be a major faux pas to them. For example, in Egypt if you want to visit a mosque you will be asked to remove your shoes or put covers over them because it is considered disrespectful for the soles of your shoes to touch the floor of the mosque. While in a mosque in Egypt I watched a man walking around holding his shoes and taking pictures. He wanted to get that perfect shot and without thinking, innocently started to set his shoes down on some steps in order to better grasp his camera. In his mind he thought it would be ok to put his shoes on the steps but not realizing it is considered offensive for the bottom of his shoes to touch anywhere inside the mosque not just the carpeted area that is used to pray. Fortunately, I was standing close by and was able to stop him just as several men raced towards him with frantic looks on their faces. His shoes never touched the floor and all was good.
Before you travel to a foreign country spend a few minutes doing some research and learn what the local customs are, what is considered polite and what is not. You want to adapt to the customs of that country so you don’t come across as rude or disrespectful. If you are polite you will find that the locals are much more willing to help you and interact with you. You may not get it 100 percent right but people will appreciate the effort and you may avoid a very uncomfortable situation.
General Etiquette Rules:
- When meeting somebody shake hands.
* When invited to someone’s home for a meal bring a small gift such as a box of candy or bottle of wine (Skip the flowers).
- Send a ‘Thank You’ note after someone has you over for a meal.
- Dress conservatively, even though Europe is known to be much more open about things in most areas the people dress in a conservative fashion. In some areas outside of Europe, women are considered “loose” if they show their shoulders, mid-drift, or knees.
- Check to see if you should remove your shoes when entering someone’s home. Many people in foreign countries remove their shoes upon entering the home so make sure before you start tromping through their house with your dirty shoe, you check if they would like you to remove them.
- Don’t sit down until you’re invited to do so.
- When having a meal the cutlery starts on the outside and works inward towards the plate as you progress through the courses. The dessert spoon and fork are at the top of the plate.
- When you are finished eating cross your knife and fork over your plate.
- In most countries it considered rude not to finish all of the food on your plate, except in Croatia, Italy, Portugal and Sweden where they do leave a little on the plate.
- In some countries, they don’t cut their salad leaves with a fork. Fold the lettuce onto your fork.
- Bread is usually torn apart by hand.