30 People Are Sharing ‘Unwritten’ Rules In Their Countries That Foreigners Might Not Know About
Going abroad and exploring a new country is an enriching experience. You open your eyes to new cultures and try to see everything as a local would. On the other hand, behavior that you consider normal in your homeland could be seen as a faux-pas somewhere else.
To get an idea on how to avoid such situations, Reddit user u/Alexandervz asked what tourists should know before visiting certain countries—the unwritten, unspoken rules if you will. The internet has delivered once again and people from all over the world gave their answers.
From small nuances that might seem unfamiliar at first, to things that will help you avoid getting arrested, there’s a wealth of insights from a range of countries and cultures. Bored Panda has collected the cream of the crop, so vote for your favorites and try to remember them for your next trip!
In Cuba it often looks like there's no line, but there is. It's called "el ultimo". When you arrive somewhere you ask "el ultimo?" and whoever is last in line raises their hand. You are now "el ultimo" and you just know who is in front of you. In the meantime you can sit down in some shade.
As the world has become a more connected place, finding out about somewhere has become easier than ever. A quick online search for a country will inundate you with photos of the land, its people, outfits, food, and much more. This is all just a few clicks away, not a plane ride and a couple of thousand miles away.
However, nothing compares to visiting a place for yourself. Photos and videos can only replicate the sights and sounds of being somewhere else. Living and feeling it for yourself is an awesome sensory experience, and a personal one too.
Scandinavia - You don't talk about religion. Got one? Good for you, but that's nothing to bring up/discuss.
It’s incredibly refreshing to see everything from a new perspective and educate yourself on the wider world around us. With so many different cultures spanning the five continents, you could spend your whole life just seeing how others live their own lives.
Many people feel the same way and have committed themselves to do exactly that. Whether it’s for bringing a wider focus to small stories or simply for their own growth, sharing experiences through travel is a deeply rewarding experience.
We are not trying to be rude, we just don't do small talk. - Finland
Mainland China: Do not buy traditional Chinese silk clothes and from a shop also sells wreath. (no matter how beautiful they are) Those clothes are for dead people, and that shop is a shroud shop. You have no idea how horrifying to se a foreigner wearing them and walking down the street.
But to get the most out of it, you need to open yourself up to new possibilities and shake off your unconscious biases. Your notions about life could be vastly different from how others in your chosen destination see the world.
Ireland: Seriously, no one cares if you have an Irish great aunt twice removed, that absolutely does not make you Irish, and it's pretty insulting to claim otherwise.
Don't talk to people on the tube. Got that? The tube is as sacred to us as the shower; it is where we reminisce about our pasts in complete silence. It is a memorial to fallen dreams, a cemetery of missed opportunities, but most of all it is a sanctuary of regret. And you will treat it like a library; Sit down, shut the f**k up, read a f**king book and ignore the tears rolling down the face of the person next to you.
Don't tell anybody born north of Birmingham that Thatcher "wasn't all that bad".
We can complain about how s**te our country is all we want, but you're not allowed to. We won't protest too loudly about it and probably won't even say anything, but inside we're consulting our in-brain thesaurus for things to put in the strongly-worded letter we're going to write, expressing our discontent at your behaviour.
So, when you’re a guest in another country, it’s important to remember that you’re exactly that—a guest. And this means being respectful to your hosts. Understanding the local customs will help you go a long way, so to speak, and your respect will be reciprocated. Eventually, you’ll adjust and be able to see a country just as the locals do.
On this, Dr. Asim Shah, a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, said, “By learning about people of different cultural backgrounds, you can increase your horizons. If you put aside any prejudices or biases you might have and you are open to other people, it can help prepare you to listen, talk and learn about other people and their cultures.”
Finland: Do not go too near anyone. Our personal space is huge.
USA...we are going to talk to you. We like to make small talk with strangers because it sometimes leads to friendships or even just perks of having acquaintances. Once we hear your accent, oh SNAP! We will have a million questions about your country. Some will seem ignorant, some will just be downright funny. Humor us.
USA: do not pick up babies. Anywhere. I went to costco with a few Korean foreign exchange student friends and one of them picked up a baby from the cart. The mother was looking away and when she turned back I saw the instant fear in her eyes. I told my friend to put the baby down and explained to the mom that they were foreign and its okay to touch babies in Korea.
Otherwise, you might stick out like a sore thumb and instantly identify yourself as an ignorant tourist. Unfortunately, this stereotype is often applied to people of the good ol’ US of A when taking their vacations outside of the country.
Perhaps it’s their headstrong and confident nature that can be jarring to more introverted or reserved cultures. Or their animated behaviors and loud voices, previously only seen from a distance through movies and TV.
Either way, we’ve written a couple of articles specifically on it before, so be sure to check them out here and here once you’re done. Like we said though, it is just a stereotype so not every American is automatically lacking self-awareness and being disrespectful—we don’t want to be hypocrites here!
If someone is doing it, you can do it too.
Whatever you need, most people would love to help you, but usually have no clue on how to communicate with you. Make sure you appreciate the effort, no matter how clumsy.
Both guys and girls say hi with a kiss on each cheek.
No such thing as personal space.
If you're driving, be extremely careful. Everything is supposed to be an advice, not actual laws. (I mean everything is supposed to be laws, is just taken as an advice).
If you happen to have some friend's mother or grandmother cook for you, make sure you compliment her thoroughly and clearly state that you never had such an amazing meal wherever you're from (there's a reasonable chance that could actually be true).
If you're clubbing, don't randomly approach girls, unless you really know what you're doing. Guys tend to be overprotective with the girls that "belong" to their group.
If you're a girl, you're gonna get hit on no matter what. Try not to be too rude and just dismiss the guy laughing about it.
We wear shoes in the house. Unless you're hanging out with a younger crowd (then it's completely fine to get your shoes off) keep your shoes on.
You can drink wherever you please
Don't wear white socks with sandals, you're gonna be laughed at. Either wear shoes or sandals with no socks.
If you show any sort of effort of speaking Italian, you're gonna be loved for it.
I'm pretty sure this covers most of the basics, if anyone is curious we could get into more detail.
Denmark: DO NOT STAND OR WALK IN THE BIKELANE! You will get yelled at and/or run over.
I live in Sweden.
Don't get too close to me, our personal space is rather big.
If you're taking the bus, do not ever sit down next to another person if there's other free seats.
You take your goddamn shoes off when you're inside your house or someone elses.
It does raise an important point for those traveling, however. How can we learn to be respectful of other cultures? It requires some retraining of our thoughts and some self-assessment.
For example, Susan Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic, addressed the history of the long-running magazine and faced the accusations that their reporting in the past was feeding into clichés and stereotypes of the time. A sort of tourism of other cultures, viewed from an outsider perspective without the respect given accordingly.
So, acknowledging your own differences and seeing others with an open mind from home is a starting point. And it’s recognizing what makes us similar, not different that brings us together.
I live in Korea. Off the top of my head:
people are going to touch / gently push / bump into you in public places, without saying anything like "excuse me" or the Korean equivalent - this is a crowded place, get used to it
small talk with clerks or whatever in public places is not expected and is downright strange
you should always be extra deferential to elders, especially if you're young (say under 30) (giving them your seat on the subway, letting them cut the line, things like that)
people will ask you your age not because they're rude, but because in Korea it's important for establishing how they should address you when they speak
lotsa complicated rules for eating and drinking which I don't have time to go into here but would if someone was interested
PDAs are frowned upon, even minor things like a long kiss
same-gender touching/hugging/holding hands is common, without there being any sort of homosexual connotation
men should avoid going shirtless in public, even when exercising or running or something like that (some guys even keep their shirts on at the beach, and not because they're overweight or something)
Don't pick up or touch insects - or any other kind of animal that you're not familiar with. You might end up not needing your ticket back.
DO try to put on an Australian accent. Seriously, it's hilarious for us.
This is Australia; you can do whatever the hell you like.
Stick to the marked walking tracks, don't drive your car places it's not designed to go, and if you DO want to see some really wild, memorable places off the beaten track- make sure you have an experienced friend with you, with all the gear you need. If you do have a capable 4wd, make sure you've at least used it off-road too before you try something too difficult. Your soccer mum Audi Q7 is not a capable car, leave that s**t parked beside the hair dresser where it belongs.
Vietnam - commit to crossing the road. I know it looks scary due to the endless scooter stampede but if you just cross at a steady pace, they'll avoid you. Do not try to dodge or make sudden movements, you will get your ass hit and there will be no sympathy.
Also lived in Japan. This is what I have to say. Bow to people who bow to you. Bow to people in general when they give you a service. It's a sign of respect and it goes a long way.
Also, take off your shoes and respect the culture
Small town USA:
When we ask questions, we're looking for ways in which we're similar. We want to know how you fit in, which is more or less a question of how we fit in, where we can help each other, what it is that brings us together.
Example: "I am from Sweden."
"You're from Sweden? That's so cool, I had a cousin that went to Sweden before, he said it was really awesome. I've visited France before, is Sweden anything like France?"
"Oh okay, that's understandable, but at least you're both European, right?"
"Well I've had Swedish fish before, is Swedish fish actually Swedish?"
"Cool so do you guys eat it all the time!"
"Not really, not more than you guys eat candy I suppose."
"Right, that's true, yeah, we both like candy!"
(Note: this does not imply ignorance. It's an effusiveness of our desire to want to belong in a community. The local community knows and cares for each other and so an opportunity to bring someone else who fits in is an exciting way of expanding your proximal agency.)
Big city USA:
When we ask questions, we're looking for ways in which we're different from each other. This is so that we can distinguish ourselves amongst the giant crowd of people we're surrounded by every day. We want to know what unique, idiosyncratic new perspective you can bring on board, because for the most part we've already heard of and dealt with all the rest.
"I'm from Sweden."
"Yeah I know a few people from Sweden, which part of Sweden?"
"Yeah it seems most the people I meet from Sweden are from around there, what neighborhood do you live in?"
"Yeah I had a buddy that lived there, what did you do while you lived there?"
"I was a banker."
"Well so was he but which bank? "
(Note: this is not to imply arrogance. It's an effusiveness of our desire to extend our network and our reach into further corners of global map so that we can increase a larger and more competitive social safety net, or in short, to find community within a mass of people).
England here. If someone asks 'you alright?' Or 'alright mate?', this is not an invitation to explain how you are doing in any sort of detail. The only acceptable answers are 'yeh mate, you?' And 'not bad, yourself?' Anything else is just weird.
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn't take off your clothes in public in Brazil. Yes, at least a few tourists are arrested every year for this.
Try not to bribe too many officials.
We are going to touch you. This is the tropics, it isn't f**king Scandinavia. Give us a hug. And three kisses in our cheeks. This is how I greet strangers.
SPEAK UP. I CAN'T HEAR YOU. Brazil is loud.
If a woman touch you, it doesn't mean she wants to have sex. Be respectful, dammit.
Contrary to popular belief, we're not "easy". Maybe you'll think that it's easier to kiss someone here than in Europe, but people won't have sex to you just because they kissed you. It might mean nothing.
Contrary to popular belief, Brazil is actually quite a conservative place. Don't judge what is acceptable or not to do based on what people do in carnival or what 18 year olds do in wild nights out.
Top less is not allowed in 99.99999% of public places. We are very conservative. Even walking around in bathing suits can get you in trouble if you're not by the pool or in a beach.
There are people who don't like football. They exist.
Southerners, USA: Be really mindful if someone says "bless your heart," because that could mean you earned high favor or just stepped in a big pile of trouble.
been hearing a lot of northern Europeans talking about bike lanes, so: In America, if you rent a bike, you should be aware that even if the bike lane is painted onto the street in a rainbow pattern with flashing neon lights, nobody gives a s**t. You are not safe in the bike lane.
There's lots of little cultural taboos. But one thing I can remember right now is, never refer to someone older than you by their name. If you are young (below 20-ish), you can refer to middle-aged and older people as 'Aunty' and 'Uncle', or 'Sir' and 'Ma'am'. It gets slightly confusing when you are around 20 (like I am) and the person is in their late twenties or early thirties. But yeah. Never call someone older by their name.
DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER.
When going to a friend's house and the family offers you have dinner with them, it is impolite to say no.
Also, they would insist that you stay over in case you've had too much a lambanog and will give you the next best mattress they have.
Before you leave, accept the leftover they give should you be hungry on your way back home.
Filipino hospitality at its essence.
Speak in spanish with us and you will get punched in the throat
our waiters usually earn above minimum wage, so you never tip more than 15%, normally 10% for small amounts and a bit less for larger bills.
on the escalator, if you want to stand, stand on the right side and let others pass left.
if you rent a bike, don't drive like your own granny, drive fast and if you want to pause, get off the bike lane. Also, don't walk on our f**king bike lanes, they are clearly marked (blue signs with a white bike and mostly red paint on the bike lane). If you approach a tram or bus stop, brake and let people get on and off the train.
queue from the right at things like a burger joint so that passer-byes are not blocked. At museums, trains or the airport, queue frontally.
yes, it is common to encounter nude people of all ages in the sauna or at some lakes or even at some few parks in the city. Don't stare and for god's sake don't comment on this.
not everyone here is from Bavaria or thinks Bavaria is great. Likewise, not everyone loves beer and sausages.
and don't mention the war, k?
Don't drive offroad. Because the tracks will stay for long time in the land.
When you meet someone you have not seen for a while , they will make a comment about your weight .. Heavier or Skinner .. they're not trying to be offensive .. it's just how they are ..
We're pretty much the least homophobic place on earth , two dude who are stright like to make gay lover jokes to each other..
You can pay the policemen to get out of minor traffic stuff.
Feet are consider very dirty .. and head is very important .. dont mix them up , ie : dont put your shoes on any shelve that taller than your head.
You dont have to tip a lot when dine out ,
If you're a tourist .. expect to pay way more than local when buying something .. a lot of business charges 3x the amount of service for tourist especially westerners. Bring a local with you to haggle!
Mexico. When eating in a taquería, you'll find that the tacos are small but cheap (and also that they don't resemble anything you gringos would name a taco). You don't immediately order all the tacos you plan to eat. You order the tacos you'll eat in ten minutes. That way you get them right out of the fire. You need to put lime and onion, and several sauces on them to make them live to their full potential. Then you order again. Don't worry about counting; your waiter will keep track. When you pay and leave, just leave the tip on the table. Tipping is completely up to you, depends on the quality of the service and the usual amount is 10% because we don't let our servers starve.
Also, and this is very important: three things are sacred here: the Flag, the Virgin and the Football Selection. Even if you are talking with a malinchista, atheist, obese man who doesn't care about the three, you are not allowed to insult them. EVER. We can, we're Mexican and we can s**t on anything Mexican if we want. If you do it, you're on your own. What Miley Cyrus did to our flag, done anywhere else by anyone else is enough to get you brutally murdered and the records missing. Do not touch our three sacred things. EXCEPTION: if your Selection is playing against ours you can s**t on it up to six hours after the match started, and only of you win. The exception does not apply if you're talking to an angry drunk man.
I live in Singapore. Where I'm at, such as fast food restaurants and food courts, there's a common practice known as "chopeing", where one can "chope", or reserve a table by placing a packet of tissues on the table. Tourists who have no idea of this usually take the table obliviously and gets dirty looks from the local who "choped" the table.
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