Etiquette for travelling like a local

While travelling to many countries around the world, I have noticed that different actions means different thing in different countries.

As always, when traveling, be respectful and observe local customs, including manners of dress and public behavior but it is also good to know local etiquette.

Did you know it was rude to blow your nose into a handkerchief in Japan or pat someone’s head in Thailand?

Here is some guide to etiquette for travelling like a local.


In Switerzland, if you’re meeting someone for the first time, stretch out your hand and say grüezi (hello). If you meet a friend, then you kiss them three times: offering first your right cheek, then left, then right again. The latter exchange is for women greeting women and men greeting women. The boys stick with a handshake or maybe a man hug. Remember to not actually plant a big smacker on someone’s cheeks: think air kiss instead.

When you go into a store say grüezi to the sales people, and when you leave say adieu (goodbye). People may also greet strangers with a grüezi when passing in the street, and always on hiking trails. Bitte (please) and merci or danke (thank you) are also appreciated here.


In China, a round dining table is more popular than a rectangular or square one. As many people who can be seated comfortably around it conveniently face one another. The guest of honour is always seated to the right of the host; the next in line will sit on his left. Guests should be seated after the host’s invitation, and it is discourteous to seat guests at the place where the dishes are served.


In Nepal,Nepalese address each other using didi (“older sister”), bahini (“younger sister”), daai (“older brother”), bhaai (“younger brother”), buwa (“father”) and aamaa (“mother”) with everyone even though they are not related. To be more formal or respectful, they add ji to the end of someone’s name, as in “namaste, John-ji”.

Body language

Every nation has its inappropriate gestures, such as giving a thumbs up in Italy, which is the equivalent to raising the middle finger in America. In the UK, giving a peace sign with the palm faced inward is also considered vulgar.

Many countries have customary body language signals that may seem odd to some, such as nose-touching (hongi) in New Zealand or sticking out the tongue in India.

Shaking hands in Russia is considered extremely unlucky, while in much of the South Pacific, locals will clasp hands for minutes at a time as a sign of respect. Additionally, in Morocco and Tunisia, greetings sometimes last up to 10 minutes, tallying up lengthy handshakes along with numerous kisses on the cheek.


It’s rude to ask people in Argentina what they do for a living. Wait until they want to bring it up in conversation.


In Japan, never blow your nose into a handkerchief. The Japanese word for snot is hanakuso, which translates to “nose sh-t”, so they don’t like the idea of anyone carrying it around with them.


Watch out Carnations are used at funerals in Germany, Poland and Sweden. Chrysanthemums are used at funerals in Belgium, Italy, France, Spain and Turkey. It’s unlucky to give odd numbers of flowers in China and Indonesia, but odd numbers of flowers are lucky in Germany, India, Russia and Turkey.

Gloves off

In Europe, you’ll be considered rude if you don’t take your gloves off before shaking hands. (Even if it’s freezing outside.)

The bill

In restaurants in Spain, always request the bill at the end of a meal. Waiters think it’s rude to bring it to you before you have asked for it.

Eye level

In Scandinavia and Germany, you should look your fellow travellers in the eye when you are toasting. In Russia, the custom is to drink the vodka in one gulp.

Head matters

At holy places in Thailand and other Buddhist countries, never pat anyone on the head. The head is sacred.


The thumbs-up sign is a rude gesture in Egypt and Iran.

No thanks

As much as you might have enjoyed a meal in India, don’t thank the host because saying “thank you” is seen as a form of payment, and may be taken as an insult.

Foot blunder

In most of Asia, feet are thought of as being dirty, so it’s disrespectful to point your feet or show the bottom of your shoes to anyone. Don’t do it.

Right is right

The left hand is considered the dirty hand in Africa and Sia, so use only your right hand when you eat.

Reading the cards

If you are on business in Japan, the business card exchange is a ritual you need to know about. Receive the card with both hands and a slight bow, then read it carefully. Never put it into your pocket or write on it.


When getting a taxi in Greece, don’t raise your hand as you would to signal stop. Greeks consider the forward-facing palm to be offensive, so turn your hand so that the palm is towards you (and keep the fingers together).

 I didn’t mean that

In the Philippines, never refer to someone who has invited you to an event as your “hostess”; it means “prostitute”.

Wink, wink

Never wink at anyone in India, unless you know it has sexual connotations.

Public transport

When using public transport in Australia, it is rude to board before letting other passengers disembark. It is polite to move from the aisle to the window seat if it is vacant, to allow others passengers to sit down easily. This is also true when entering a lift or elevator. A person who enters an elevator before all the occupants have vacated will most probably be met with a noticeable scowl of disapproval.

Please share the unique etiquette from your country and any experience you have while travelling.

You may also like:

*Mustang in Lonely Planets Best in Travel 2013 List *Itchy feet *Zoo visit in Nepal

16 responses to “Etiquette for travelling like a local

  1. Pingback: Etiquette for travelling like a local | mollypowderly

  2. Pingback: A Proper Handshake…Just say no to the limp fish! | atkokosplace

  3. In France and Spain, it is also proper etiquette to look into each others eyes when toasting.

  4. These are great tips to know. Thank you for sharing!

  5. It’s informative. Thanks for sharing. I think, I will be visiting your blog whenever I will have problem and want to go through these before visiting any country.

  6. It’s always a good thing to learn local customs and etiquette before travelling anywhere.

  7. This is informational and I can’t help to laugh with your post about Philippines. It’s very true, so if someone invited you for an event you can refer them as “host” or “celebrant” 🙂

  8. These are great things to know! One form of etiquette that really bothers me is the “weak” hand shake. Nothing like shaking hands with what I refer to as a limp fish. The webbing of your hand (the part between the thumb and index finger) should meet up with the webbing of the person whom you are shaking hands with. A firm clasp of the hand and one pump or two. Now that my friends is how you shake hands! Keep this up…people all over should know etiquette. You gave me an idea dear! Awesome post. 😀

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