Matt Derrick

Permanent Wanderer
Staff member
Aug 4, 2006
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Austin, TX
I thought a lot of the things on this list were pretty interesting and worth sharing here for anyone interested in traveling in countries outside the USA.

We sell all kinds of other stuff in our Etsy store!


Wise Sage
Aug 9, 2020
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I think OK sign in some cultures is considered a symbol for an anus. I found the best place to get a reasonable description of hand gestures you are unsure about is Wikipedia, since it's usually fairly balanced and doesn't hype too much. Bear in mind that in most countries people still consume media from the US, UK and so on, so it's not like they have no idea at all that these things can mean something very different to people from a different background.

In my experience as a foreigner, people in most countries (especially countries where you are a visible minority) will overlook most cultural faux pas, or they will just quietly tut-tut and use it to reinforce their already-existing xenophobic sentiment. You'd have to be a special kind of asshole to jump down a foreigner's throat for unwittingly doing the wrong thing. Of course it's different if the foreigner is willfully ignorant or deliberately offensive.

On the topic of don't eat with your hands... This is/was also true in China - one of the reasons to have chopsticks is specifically so you can eat food without touching it in your hands. I always thought it was weird to see people eating chicken wings or drumsticks, where folks picked it up with chopsticks, put it in their mouths and spat out the bones - that's considered more polite than getting your hands dirty. With a steamed bun or a pastry, people hold it by the paper wrapper and eat it out of that, they don't put their bare skin on the food. In smaller towns you will still see disposable plastic gloves that people use to eat burgers, fries, ribs and so on. Then in bigger towns you get this weird reverse classism where wealthier people try to show off how cosmopolitan they are by eating something "the western way", i.e. touching it with their bare hands and cleaning off with a wet wipe afterwards. It's almost like performative barbarianism, because they only seem to do it when eating in public at a western fast food restaurant or a place that serves food from one of China's remote provinces like Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia etc. All that said, after living in China for several years i also found it uncomfortable to touch food with my hands when i came back to the west. There is definitely something nice about going to a restaurant and leaving without feeling like you got any crap on your hands.

Speaking of disposable plastic gloves, that was a culture shock for me in Italy too. You go to a fruit shop, you better put on gloves to handle the fruit. I think in some places you are just expected to bark out to the vendor exactly what you want and let them pick it out for you. It's kinda awkward when you don't speak the language very well. But, you know, you figure out what the local custom is pretty quickly. Just watch what other people do and try to humbly emulate it. Pretty good advice for traveling anywhere.

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