When you visit a foreign country, you’re a guest. It’s polite to learn at least a bit about the local customs and a few basic phrases in their language before you pack your bags and jet off in a magical flying bus in search of sights to see. Genuine effort counts for a lot! However, no matter how perceptive and careful they might be, tourists are bound to accidentally reveal who they are sooner or later. It comes with the territory. Some of the things that we do are so ingrained, we hardly notice our behavior which might be considered rude elsewhere. And that’s how the locals know that we’re from out of the country.
We've collected some of the biggest tourist faux pas from a viral Quora thread asking what behavior immediately identifies a non-local, so scroll down and upvote the worst slip-ups that caught your eye. Have you ever done something similar when you were on vacation abroad? What sets tourists apart in your home country? Share your thoughts with all the other Pandas in the comments!
Bored Panda was interested to learn more about tourist etiquette, so we reached out to Professor Christine Vogt, the Director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University. Professor Vogt explained that learning about local customs and language is a must when planning your trip and doing background research before your visit abroad. "More than likely that is what draws a person to visit a certain place. The more local knowledge a traveler has, the more a traveler can feel like a local and fit in," she said.
Read on for the full interview where Professor Vogt discusses the importance of learning local customs, whether the pandemic has made countries more open to tourists, and the best way to protect historic sites from tourists that like taking one or two 'souvenirs' back home with them.
London, UK: Leaving a large tip. "Tipping in restaurants is generally expected, but much more modest than in the US, as wait staff earn a reasonable wage. In the US, service staff are expected to be polite to customers. In the UK, customers are expected to be polite to service staff."
Edinburgh, Scotland: Pronouncing the "G" at the end of Edinburgh.
"The '-burgh' at the end of a place name is pronounced '-burra,' as in 'Edinburra,' not 'Edinberg'."
Seattle, Washington: Looking tan.
"When someone walks into the coffee shop on the corner with a perfect tan, shorts, a t-shirt, and actually looks like they've seen light before, we all know they aren't from around here."
According to Professor Vogt from ASU, some of the local customs can include how to dress, eat, the etiquette of using a cellphone, among many other things.
"Local customs can include how a traveler dresses, eats, uses a cell phone, etc. When a traveler is out in a community such as walking in a downtown area or eating in a restaurant, these local customs can come into play. For example, in Buddhist countries, a woman who has not covered her shoulders or legs may not be allowed into temples or even a restaurant. Learn as many local customs as you can and a few key words to enhance your experience," Professor Vogt explained to Bored Panda that adhering to customs can enhance not only the experience of your trip but also help show the proper respect for traditions.
In other words, putting in the effort is a win-win. For you. For the locals, too.
1. Most tourists go to pubs to get the full Irish experience (for good reasons). Now the thing about Irish pubs, besides the good beer, is that pubs are very good places for socialising. It happens quite often that someone overhears your discussion and might join in (politely) and then you have a pint together (or more).
Let me tell you about the word ‘craic’. It is pronounced /kræk/ (same as crack cocaine) and it means fun, good times, news and a couple of other things.
Now one of the questions you’ll hear most often in pubs is one friend asking the other: “How was the craic last night?” meaning: Did you have fun last night? To which the answer is usually: “Craic was mighty” or some variant of this.
Imagine the tourists’ faces and what goes through their head when they hear 2 Irish lads talking about how good the cocaine was.
Every single time I hear this exchange of words I look at other people’s faces and immediately spot the tourists. Works like a charm!
2. Also related to pubs, you can easily spot a tourist if he spills beer on the floor. No matter how drunk, no matter how crowded the pub is, a local will always be able to handle at least 3 pints at a time without spilling. He might fall down the stairs, but the beer won’t go to waste. Some exceptions: brits & germans.
3. Lastly, the weather.
Tourists are always surprised when it starts raining and they’re not properly dressed even though they took a look at the forecast in the morning and dressed accordingly (big mistake) AND IT WAS FECKIN’ SUNNY 5 MINUTES AGO! Irish will talk and complain about weather, but rarely act surprised. It gets worse in February, March when you can have 4 seasons in the same day.
San Francisco, California: Wearing a suit as business attire.
"Wearing a suit as business attire, even to job interviews, communicates that either 1. You are not from here or 2. You are selling something. Most tech employees, including many execs, wear anything ranging from business casual (khakis and a button-down shirt) to sandals and jeans, or even shorts, for day-to-day office activity."
Barcelona, Spain: Referring to Barcelona as "Barca." "We cringe every time we hear that."
We were also curious to find out whether the Covid-19 pandemic had made countries warier of tourists or quite the opposite—more welcoming. According to Professor Vogt, the countries and places in the United States that have been hit hardest by the novel coronavirus or have public health as their priority "may have pulled all marketing to attract tourists" and have also made it harder to visit by adding restrictions. Among these are visa restrictions, mandatory testing for Covid, and self-funded quarantines.
However, this isn't the case everywhere. Some areas are desperate to recoup losses and improve financial streams they'd usually get from tourism. "Unfortunately, many places in the US continue to want a rebounding tourism industry and promote themselves as open for tourism. It is critical that these open destinations are also practicing the appropriate health and safety protocols," Professor Vogt said.
Moscow, Russia: Whistling indoors.
"This casual gesture immediately identifies you as a non-local. This is because the Russians believe that by whistling you're blowing your wealth away."
Alberta, Canada: Feeding the wildlife.
"Don't feed our wildlife or treat them like they are pets. Respect them, and their space. Personally, I think we should just feed the tourists that do this to the problem bears. Kind of a win-win."
I’m from Hong Kong!!! Well, I lived here for many years, so I’m quite familiar with the local culture.
1. Tourists are usually the ones that marvels on how well you speak English. HK is a bilingual city, we used to be colonised by the British. Just because we are Asian does not mean we can’t speak good English.
2. Going on massive shopping sprees in the shopping malls. This mostly apply to tourists from mainland China, but also from some gwai lo (aka foreigners) as well. They would go into some Chanel store and come out with 15 bags of cosmetics etc. HK stuff are somewhat cheap compared to other countries, so it’s only natural that tourists will bulk buy.
3. Taking selfies and pictures in those run-down restaurants in crowded, stinky alleys. Those restaurants are usually cheap and the quality of their food isn’t the best, but they are what most locals eat when they don’t feel like having anything fancy for lunch. Tourists are the kind that take selfies of themselves in the crowded restaurant and snapping pictures of their food (which is just fried toast with honey, or maybe instant noodles with an egg on top). We just eat there, because we don’t find the food as special.
4. Trying to speak Mandarin. A lot of locals do know Mandarin, but it’s not our main language. Our main language is Cantonese, and some of the locals do get offended if tourists come and confuse our language with another.
5. Assuming that Mandarin and Cantonese are the same. Please, please don’t say that. We use the same characters, but the way we use them are very different. Mandarin is a really recent and simplified version of Cantonese, while Cantonese is arguably one of the most ancient languages in the world. And please don’t just say “nah, they are the same to me”, because they are so different to us.
Bored Panda also wanted to hear Professor Vogt's take on how to protect historic sites and artifacts from tourists with itchy hands. She said that some of the best ways to ensure that artifacts stay where they should be is to post the penalties for stealing, setting up signs discouraging thievery, and using cameras to catch those who break the rules.
She also suggested setting up a display of items that have been returned and pointed out that the Petrified Forest National Park in Eastern Arizona has just such a display. That's the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that we can get behind. And it makes us hopeful that even the rudest tourists can eventually have a change of heart and try to make amends.
Singapore: Sticking or throwing out chewing gum in a public space.
"It is illegal for chewing gum to be sold in Singapore and Singaporeans are notoriously afraid of violating the rules."
Tehran, Iran: Not trying to haggle supermarket prices.
"Bargaining is so extreme in Iran that supermarkets have actually raised their prices by a lot to keep their old profit margins."
Melbourne, Australia: Calling these "flip-flops."
"Okay foreigners, it's time to get this straight: THESE ARE TWO THONGS! And calm down England, we are not walking around commenting on revealing underwear all the time."
Words of wisdom to go by are to leave the place you visit better than when you came. It’s a great tip for life in general, too!
That can mean anything from picking up a piece of litter if you see any lying around to not stealing artifacts from historical sites to keep as souvenirs. Not stealing things sounds obvious, but far too many tourists do this and some discover that their lives suddenly become… ‘cursed,’ like the BBC reports.
If you’re ever confused about what (not) to do and you’ve forgotten to brush up on local customs, remember to err on the side of politeness. Be open to learning new things. Apologize if you’ve offended someone. Be a decent human being, not a belligerent brat, and you’ll find that the entire world’s your back yard.
I live in a small town in Canada up in the mountains, I'm not going to say where, for privacy reasons although I doubt anyone will try to stalk me down but anyway.We don't get many tourists here since it's not a very well known place, but lots of people from nearby cities and towns come in and visit and it's very clear who are tourist.I live on a lake, where tons of visitors come per day to swim in. You can tell someone is a tourist when they are walking around in the shallows carelessly.Locals would use the dock instead of entering the water by foot. Why? Leeches.Leeches are disgusting things that live in the mud in the shallow waters. Some are small, some are big, they look like slugs. I'm not going to insert a picture of one because they honestly are so disgusting.Not only do they look disgusting but they suck your blood, They can attach themselves to any part of your body and they are quite hard to remove. After the gross little thing sucks your blood you will then have a bleeding cut. Leeches suck your bad blood, and they are sometimes used for medical causes but ew.Most Tourists have no idea leeches exist until one attaches to one of their body parts.
Chicago, Illinois: Visiting Navy Pier during the summer.
"The Navy Pier is the most visited place in Chicago every summer. But everyone there is a tourist. If a local wants to go to Navy Pier, they go in the fall."
"It's crowded, overpriced, and there is very little to actually do there; most Chicagoans only go with friends from out of town."
New York, New York: Going to Times Square.
"Locals would not be caught dead hanging out here."
But above all else, don’t expect foreign countries to be exactly like your home town. We might travel to relax, expand our minds, or discover ourselves, but it’s not so that we can experience the exact same everyday life we do at home. If something’s different, accept it. Admire it. Then, adapt.
Soon enough, you’ll be just like the locals—poking fun at loud tourists with flip-flops, fanny-packs, and selfie-sticks who complain that they’re outside of their comfort zones.
Cairo, Egypt: Wearing camouflage clothing.
"I don't know what it is but for some reason, a lot of tourists walk around like they're about to go on some super dangerous, ultra important journey through a jungle. They wear big hiking boots, thermal backpacks, etc. They also wear very camouflagey stuff."
Mexico City: we know you’re a tourist when you start trying to respect road signs and stoplights. If there’s one thing I severely loathe about this city- it’s not the pollution, nor the crowded feeling you get once you get here, nor the un-ending yearn from locals to believe that any foreigner is automatically better qualified for the job- it’s the utter disrespect and indifference for your own life or those of others. Big 6-lane avenue? Let us ignore the bridge and cross underneath it while we zigzag between cars and their scared drivers. Stoplight just turned green? Better cross with my 3 kids behind me while cars honk at me. You want to cross the street now? Ignore the zebra crossing and run almost drunkenly through the street while cars are still circulating (this is almost a national tradition). Both-ways street? Let me park my big-ass truck here and not let anyone through. Bike-lane? I, as a cyclist, want to draw the symbol for infinity while getting in the way of other 8 lanes. Subway doors are opening? Better charge like a quarterback and maybe punch my way through before letting anyone from such wagon out. In the midst of this, you see confused tourists being pushed by the locals because we just can’t wait to cross even if the stoplight turned green 2 seconds after. You see people waiting at the zebra crossing wondering why people are crossing all over the avenue. If you see people trying to do things correctly in the vicinity of streets or public transport, they’re most likely tourists. Works the other way around. Once in Vienna I crossed a street following my mexican tradition of doing it wherever and whenever I please (and ignoring the zebra crossing), and a policeman gave me a warning! It was a tired, compassionate one, as in saying ‘you people just don’t know any better, so I’ll let it pass’. I was so embarrassed for me and for my country. I’m trying to be better now.
The motherland of Russia.
Disclaimer: Note that some of these bullet points are just generalizations based on my experience living here as a foreigner for 6 years. Some locals do/don't follow the rules, but the Russians know they are generally accurate.
1.) Handshake by the door entrance: Never shake a person's hand before entering the doorstep as doing so is cursing the house owner. Don't do it.
2.) Whistling in the public/or anywhere: By doing such a casual gesture immediately identifies you as a non-local. This is because the Russians believe that by whistling you're blowing your wealth away.
3.) Similar to many European countries, you stand on the right lane of the escalator by default. The left lane is reserved for those who are in a hurry. So don't be that idiot that stands in the middle of an escalator, people in big cities like Moscow don't tolerate that very well from my experience. Which leads me to the next point.
4.) Not knowing when to show aggression. The Russians are known to be direct and confrontational, they are not afraid to show their fangs when feel threatened. So if you're the timid little guy who grew up in Asia and tend to swallow up things, there you are~non local.
5.) Not saying приятного аппетита всем(Priatnava Appetita) as you enter a room full of people eating. It's a polite gesture of wishing people to enjoy their meal, some of you know it better as Bon Appetit. Not saying it doesn't make you a non-local, but by saying it certainly shows you have lived in this land for some years.
6.) Not saying будьте здоровы(boot-eh zdarovi). You say that when someone sneezes, it means bless you! Similar to above, saying this to a Russian when he/she sneezes, they'll embrace you better as part of the российский (rassiski) family.(note I didn't use the word русский(ruski) because this term is reserved for Russians by blood.)
7.) Two is better than one? Not necessarily so in the Russian culture. Buying flowers for the girl you're in love with in even number is as good as wishing her dead. Don't believe me? Try it on your own ;)
Madrid, Spain: Eating lunch before 1 p.m.
"We are well aware that it's our meal times that are unusual, but they are very culturally ingrained and expected to be followed. In big companies where there is an office cafeteria, or in schools, 1pm is a normal time for lunch — it's considered earlyish but more or less in the middle of the work day. Otherwise the normal time is 2pm, or even 3pm on weekends."
Portland, Oregon: Using an umbrella when it's raining outside.
"You sort of stop caring about the mist, and just wear wool that stays dry."
"Locals just wear a light rain jacket, and are on their way. No local will cancel plans because it's raining outside or wait for the rain to let up."
I’m Egyptian and live in Egypt. When tourists buy all that overpriced pharaonic crap. Tourists get scammed like you wouldn't believe. They buy these, like, picture things with hieroglyphics on them, they buy pyramid and mummy and camel and sphinx figurines, they buy papyrus paper with random symbols on it. They buy all sorts of stuff that's made especially for them, costs fifty times more than it should and its sole purpose is to get their money.
I live in Toronto, ON. It’s not too different from any typical North American city but there are some particulars:
1. Pronouncing it “To-ron-toe” instead of “Tuh-ronno”: Locals always drop the second T. It’s such a part of our identity that Canadians from other parts of the country, even if they’ve lived here for years, refuse to drop the second T. It’s stems from the love-hate relationship the rest of Canada has with this city.
2. Calling the Subway lines by number or colour: They used to be unnumbered, and we only have a measly four lines, so we would refer to Line 1 as “the Yonge line”, Line 2 as “the Bloor-Danforth line”, Line 3 as “the Scarborough line” or “Scarborough LRT”, and Line 4 as “the Sheppard Line”.
3. Standing on the left side of the escalator: However, there have been some issues about how the rule of “stand on the right, walk on the left” might be troublesome for accessibility, so this rule might change in the future.
4. Biking on the sidewalk: I know this city has a severe lack of bike lanes but that doesn’t mean you risk the lives of innocent pedestrians.
5. Assuming there is only one Chinatown: There are actually two official ones downtown. Prominent Chinese communities also exist in North York, Scarborough, and the Greater Toronto Area. I would argue there is better Chinese food uptown than downtown.
6. Asking how to get to Niagara Falls while in the middle of the downtown core: Niagara Falls is a different city about an hour and a half outside of Toronto. I’m afraid you must be very lost if you want to get there.
7. You don’t immediately shudder when someone mentions the Dufferin bus: Beware the route 29 Dufferin bus. Beware.
I haven’t seen an answer from anyone living in the Middle East so here goes.
Lebanon used to be quite the touristy country and still has a lot to offer tourists if they’re brave enough to come with the Syrian war right next door. So if you’re planning to visit and don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb here are some things that you might want to consider.
Warning: A lot of the things aren’t what is considered good etiquette or even legal in developed countries but that is what makes the Lebanese experience so great.
1. Patiently waiting your turn in small sandwich shops and restaurants. You’ll find some of the best sandwiches in the world in these small shops, however, the service is chaotic. During rush hours it’s a battle of who can push through the sea of people to get to the register first. If you’re going to stand there and wait for the line to clear then you’ll probably be leaving on an empty stomach.
2. Not bargaining when buying things from local shops. Although this has gotten better with time, most local shops have the price tags adjusted with the idea that shoppers will try to bargain and lower the price when they’re buying something. This means unless you don’t try to negotiate the price then you’re going to be ripped off on almost everything.
3. Waiting at pedestrian crossings. Although we have stop lights and pedestrian crossings in most populated areas these have never been taken seriously. It’s the norm for people to cross the road with oncoming traffic or for cars to ignore red lights.
4. Driving straight on roads or staying in specific lanes on the highway. The roads in Lebanon are notorious for their huge potholes and absence of clear lines. Locals have adapted to this and will always try and steer away from the endless potholes and just create their own lanes on the highways.
Last but not least, Not wanting to use your hands when eating. A lot of the local food, including Hummus, is meant to be grabbed or dipped into by hand using the local bread. Anyone seen using utensils to put the food on the bread is directly singled out as a non-local.
I have grown up in Sarnia ON Canada my whole life all 38 boring years of it and for the life of me tourists please STOP ASKING WHERE MCDONALD’S IS!
Concord, New Hampshire: Owning an unusually nice car.
"We're glad you chose New Hampshire for your second home."
Boston, Massachusetts: Stopping to watch street performers.
"Non-locals stop and watch street performers, especially in the T stations. These people are literally situated for tourists. Everyone else walks by, trying to cram onto the subway, to get to where they want to go."
Paris, France: Calling the newer of Paris’s two main airports “Charles de Gaulle."
"When I lived in Paris, nobody called the newer of Paris’ two main airports 'Charles de Gaulle.' What did they call it? Well, just the town CDG has been built on: 'Roissy.'"
Johannesburg, South Africa: Being friendly or talkative with strangers.
"Usually — though not always — the inhabitants of Pretoria aren’t very friendly or chatty. Not only do we not have the patience for it, but we’re also wary of the safety risk of stopping to talk to some random person on the street. Most non-locals, however, will chat on for ages about something they saw in a shop, or just approach you while you’re minding your own business and dive into a conversation about the weather. If it’s not a compliment or about sport, we probably don’t want to hear it."
South Central Alberta Canada here. (Lived in Calgary for ten years)
Tourists are known by the fact they wear a sweater or jacket when it’s below 25 C. Most people will be complaining it’s too hot.
They think moose are cuddly. No, they will seriously mess you up.
They take selfies with grizzlies/moose/bears/elk.
They try to pet a bear/moose/whatever.
They use aboot, or eh. No. Just don’t.
Tans aren’t too common, at least the really dark tans aren’t.
Cutting queues. I know that sounds odd, but even if it’s a relaxed one, like you’d see at the C-train or bus stations, there is still one.
Riding the C-train when it’s 35 then complaining it’s too hot when and if the train breaks down, or service is interrupted due to people passing out.
Expecting AC on the C-train. Dream on. When you get fifty people crowded into one of the cars you might as well crawl into an oven. And that’s on a good day!
Calling the C-train an LRT )Light rail train.)
Not knowing what, or where, the C of Red is.
Bashing a Canadian’s favourite hockey team. They might do it, but will give you quite a dirty look if you do the same.
Not saying thank you to a bus driver.
Tipping a HUGE amount after a meal. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re always welcome, but you’ll always get a surprised thank you, and some will ask what part of the States you’re from. If you return expect to be waited on hand and foot.
Tipping the bare minimum for good service, or not tipping at all. This will earn you the barest minimum service the next time you come.
Not saying thank you to someone holding a door. You might even earn a muttered and sarcastic “You’re welcome” for that.
Expecting us to celebrate X holiday (Where X is a country’s holiday (not a religious one) such as the 4th of July) and being surprised when we don’t.
Taking pictures of snow, or being surprised at snow in September/early June. It’s rare, but it happens. (Grandma remembers one year when there was snow during the Stampede in July)
Not knowing what or when the Stampede is.
Willingly going anywhere near downtown during Stampede without going to the Stampede. This means via car, bus, or C-train. It’s a flipping zoo.
I think that’s about it. I’m commenting more on Calgary, because I lived there much longer than the town I currently live in.
I no longer live there, but I did spend 16 years living there, and I’m only 17, so I feel qualified. I lived in Michigan’s little known Upper Peninsula, the wild, untamed patch of land that could easily be compared to Alaska, just without the months of darkness. The U.P.’s main business comes in the summer months, and it comes from tourism. Tourists can be spotted doing and saying many things Yoopers (rear round residents of the Upper Peninsula) find annoying, such as:
1. “I can’t believe how beautiful it is here!” Most if not all Yoopers fully acknowledge how beautiful the U.P. is, we simply never discuss it. Only a tourist would talk about the U.P.’s beauty.
2. “I can’t wait to swim in Lake Superior” HAHA, yes you can. You just don’t know it yet. Lake Superior is the coldest lake I’ve ever swam in, and most northerners can’t even suffer through it. There’s still icebergs floating around in June. A Yooper would know this, a tourist would not.
3. “Can you point me towards (incoherent babbling)” The U.P. has many, many names that are nearly unpronounceable, however, Yoopers are very used to words like “Kitchitikipi” and “Epoufette”, and can say them with ease.
4. Taking pictures of…well..everything. Living up there for so long, I saw tourists take pictures of nearly everything. I suppose I can understand the wonder of the Mighty Mackinac Bridge, and other views such as Cut River Valley, but I’ve also watched tourists take pictures of things like trees and birds. No Yooper would take pictures of a seagull, as seagulls are the bane of our very existence.
I could ramble for days about tourists, but I feel this answer gives a good enough idea of how the residents can tell apart other residents and tourists.
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