So you’ve got your suitcase packed, travel insurance sorted out and your flights booked - you’re all ready to set out on that once in a lifetime holiday.
But being immersed in a new culture can be tricky in more ways than one, and Aussie travellers who forget to do a little bit of research into the cultural customs of their destination can find themselves in hot water.
“When travelling overseas, a little bit of research about cultural norms and practices can help you avoid red faced moments and ensure you build rapport with the people you meet on your adventures. After all, travel is all about expanding horizons and trying things outside the norm,” says Kirsty Lamont, Mozo Director.
With that in mind, the Mozo team has compiled a list of some of the travel faux pas unwitting travellers might be committing, from flashing an unexpectedly rude hand gesture, to being naked in your own hotel room.
Take a look at these destination specific “DON'Ts” before you jet off.
Keep your hands to yourself
A thumbs up is a universal signal for something being good, right? Well, not so much in Iran. Here, this gesture could land you in hot water, as it’s actually the equivalent of giving the middle finger.
Similarly to Iran, Brazilians might not be happy if you flash them the classic ‘OK’ hand signal, which is also akin to a middle finger.
United Arab Emirates
Some residents of the UAE won’t shake hands with members of the opposite sex for religious reasons. To avoid causing offence, only shake hands with locals if they initiate the contact. Otherwise, you can greet people by placing your right hand over your heart.
Indonesia, India and Nepal
You might not think much of picking up your lunch or accepting a gift with our left hand, but when you’re travelling in South Asian countries like Indonesia, India and Nepal, think twice. In these countries, the left hand is traditionally used to clean yourself when you go to the toilet, so your hosts might think it's a bit gross if you eat with it too!
What’s better than a fresh croissant on the banks of the Seine in Paris? Well, you may raise a few French eyebrows by asking for butter to go with your freshly baked good - they’ll tell you the butter is IN the croissant. Plus, if you go out to eat in France, split bills are considered unsophisticated, so you may want to pay all together and work it out later back at the hotel.
Adding salt to your meal before tucking in might be perfectly acceptable in Australia, but if you’re eating in an Egyptian home or restaurant, it’s time to break the habit. By reaching for the salt, you’re suggesting the meal isn’t prepared properly and that it lacks flavour. Which is pretty insulting for any cook!
Chopsticks can be tricky for those of us more used to wielding a knife and fork, and there are a few etiquette rules you may not know. Stabbing your chopsticks into food upright or passing food directly to another person’s chopsticks is likely to cause huge offence in Japan, because it mimics sacred funeral rights.
Flowers getting lost in translation
Impressing your date, their parents or any of your other new Russian friends with a bouquet of blooms? Make sure you double check how many stems you offer, because is Russia, giving an even amount of flowers is reserved for the deceased.
You might think Marigolds are a lovely, bright bloom to gift to your newfound friends - but in Mexico, these flowers symbolise death. So if you’re trying to impress, opt for a different bunch!
Nude, rude and royalty
Check the blinds before you strip off for a shower on your trip to Singapore. If your Singaporean neighbours see you in the nude, they can call the police - even when you’re inside your own apartment.
How late is late? Some countries have a more relaxed idea of time - for example, you may have heard of ‘Island time’. In Hong Kong however, if you’re more than 59 seconds late, it’s considered very rude, and people will question your professionalism. So make sure your watch is right!
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the monarchy, it’s better to keep it to yourself when travelling in Thailand. Insulting the Thai monarchy can land you with a hefty jail sentence - in fact, a man was recently sentenced to 35 years behind bars for insulting the royal family on Facebook.
Cover yourself with a travel insurance policy
While a little bit of cultural sensitivity might save you from embarrassing situations, it's also important to make sure you’re covered by a top quality travel insurance policy. That way your wallet will be protected from unexpected hiccups like missing luggage, cancelled flights or a bad case of Delhi belly.
Head over to our travel insurance comparison tool to find a policy that will fit your trip and your budget.