By Latifah Al-Hazza
Traveling is an integral part of most Gulf Arabs’ lives. In fact, the Middle East Consumer Travel Report 2018 suggests that 34 per cent of Gulf Corporation Council Nationals travel internationally five or more times per year. While traveling and exploring cultures certainly enriches our lives, it can be filled with misunderstanding if we, as tourists, are not aware of the cultural mores or taboos in the country we’re visiting. To make your next trip as smooth as possible, here are seven things you should avoid doing when you visit these popular destinations.
1. Don’t keep your hands under the dining table in Spain
Food is one of the sensory delights of travel, especially for Gulf Arabs. But to save you from embarrassment and nasty looks while dining in Spain (and countries such as France and Russia), always keep both hands visible while eating. It is considered rude and suspicious when you let your hand (s) slide under the table. This habit comes from the medieval times, to display that you weren’t armed, and it’s stuck ever since. So, keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table when not in use.
2. Don’t touch heads in Thailand
This is a unique one, and may be difficult for most Arabs, as it is natural in the Arab world to touch children’s heads as a sign of adorement, but avoid touching the head of a Thai. This also includes adults. In Thai culture, the head of a person (and even a statue) is considered the most important part of the body. Therefore, it is considered incredibly rude to touch a stranger’s head.
Speaking of statues, never turn your back on a Buddha statue to snap a selfie. It’s tempting to say to yourself, “I must take a photo with Buddha or else did I even see Buddha?” but refrain from doing so. Buddha is regarded with very high respect and turning your back to a Buddha statue is considered offensive and is one of the most common mistakes that travelers make. Even when leaving a temple, back away from Buddha while looking at the statue before turning your back to leave.
3. Don’t greet by kissing in the United Kingdom
In the U.K., people do not normally greet each other with a kiss, as is common in the Arab world, and in much of Europe, but rather with a simple handshake. Brits reserve greeting with a kiss for close friends and relatives. So, stick to being more formal when meeting people for the first time.
4. Don’t litter in Georgia (or anywhere else, for that matter)
This should really be a habit that is practiced everywhere in the world, but the ‘no littering’ rule is heavily enforced in Georgia, with a fine that can range from 29 to 373 USD. Keep Georgia clean and always seek out a waste bin.
5. Don’t be impatient at the dining table in the USA
You may sit down for a meal in the United States and be absolutely famished. Your meal may arrive before others in your party. That doesn’t mean you should start eating your food before every person at the table has received theirs. It’s rude to show impatience towards the other diners while dining in the United States.
6. Don’t grab a coffee to-go in Croatia
Croatians take pride in their coffee culture. Truly taking the time to enjoy a cup of coffee is taken very seriously. Therefore, asking for a coffee to-go just for a caffeine high is not customary in Croatia.
7. Don’t do the ‘ok sign’ in Germany
You may be used to using the OK sign, where your index finger and thumb form a circle, but avoid that gesture at all costs while in Deutschland. This gesture is basically calling a German an offensive term. Yikes!
In the end, keep in mind that taboos are behaviors or things that are banned in certain countries because of religious or cultural reasons. No single ban is enforced worldwide. Therefore, make sure that you are cognizant about the culture of the destination you’re traveling to and aware of how you should carry yourself when you’re there.
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Latifah Al-Hazza is a travel writer from Kuwait who writes for CNN. She is also the co-founder of Femscape Sojourns.