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ETIQUETTE IN OTHER COUNTRIES OR HOW TO BE A GOOD TOURIST
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.“ James Michener
At lunch, I ask for a cappuccino. After all, I am in Italy. The waiter scrunches his nose, says he’ll bring it and walks away shaking his head. “What’s up with that?” I ask a friend when you return home. In Italy, it is considered rude to drink a cappuccino after 11 in the morning. Who knew?
When we finish our meal and are ready to go, we must ask for the check (il conto). The waiter will not put a bill on the table unless it is past closing time, it would be considered rude. When meeting a new person for the first time, a handshake is fine, although Italians who are friends usually greet each other with a kiss – the left cheek, first, then the right.
My search into etiquette rules for other countries started with a simple question to my favourite Mexican forum. “When travelling in Mexico are there any “rules” of etiquette that we should be aware of in order to make us more welcomed?” This question sparked a lot of online discussion, and led to some very interesting and unexpected observations.
In particular, Canadian tourists tend to bring their country’s flag with them when crossing the border. While most observe the proper placement of the Mexican flag above their flag, some do not. All said and done, the majority on the forum, and some who live there year round, agree that we should not flaunt our flag in another country.
The other point that was made, and this would apply to any country you are visiting, would be to try to speak a few words in that country’s language. The locals appreciate it. I had an experience at a store, where I was trying to purchase a dress for a three-year-old. I used the wrong word for “year” and the store clerk giggled, pointed to her behind, and corrected my pronunciation. We all had a good laugh and I never forgot how to say year – and now know the Spanish word for “rear”!
In Chile, you should not put your hands under the table when eating in company. When smoking, offer a cigarette to everyone. There is a Chilean saying for those who do not offer to share: “Did you learn to smoke in jail?” Women in Chile may be bombarded with catcalls. It is a harmless gesture, and meant to flatter.
When invited to someone’s home, what to bring as a gift in good taste varies from country to country. In most places, it would be acceptable to bring flowers, wine or chocolate; just be careful of the type and colour of flower you bring. For example, in Italy, chrysanthemums are for funerals only. In Mexico, marigolds symbolize death and red flowers have a negative connotation. The Chinese associate all flowers with funerals.
When sightseeing at churches in different countries, dress appropriately. Shorts, sleeveless tops, low-rise jeans, or anything that reveals a lot of skin is not acceptable. Also, to be safe, skirts should cover the knees. Bring a sweater or shawl to cover your arms. The shawl can also be used to cover your head, if necessary.
A little bit of research on the country you are visiting will give insight to their customs and rules of etiquette. A fun website to search is www.fekids.com, also known as “Don’t Gross Out the World.” This site teaches you different cultural customs using a question-and-answer method. Here is an example:
Q: In a Spanish snack bar, what should you do with your crumbs, old napkins, food wrappers and other debris?
1) Pile everything up on an empty plate
2) Just throw everything on the floor
3) Use the trash bags provided on every table.
A: In snack bars in Spain, they sweep everything up at the end of the evening – you are expected to dump stuff on the floor!
Learn a couple of simple phrases such as please, thank you and you are welcome. A phrase book, along with expressive gestures will go a long way.
Finally, remember the golden rule. Treat people like you want to be treated and you will have a fantastic holiday.