Global Etiquette Rules Every Frequent Traveller Must Know
You have just landed in new country and are perplexed about what you can do and what you should not do. Before committing some social faux pas, it would help to know how you should behave at a dinner party or carry off everyday interactions and negotiations, without a helping hand. Must you take off your shoes at the door, or dress up casually while visiting? Three cheek kisses, two or just that one, you have to make instant decisions. Just smile, bow or shake hands?
With the help of experts, etiquette and protocol coaches, we need to find out the correct etiquette when someone invites you home and conduct yourself with aplomb.
JAPAN (Land of the Rising Sun)
If invited to pay a visit to a private residence in Japan, you must first invest in fresh, clean, hole-free socks, as all guests remove their shoes before entering. Tracking dust and dirt into the home is a sure sign of disrespect. Cleanliness matters as people sit down on the floor on tatami mats and eat near the floor and also guards against Japan’s high humidity and rain, which, if unchecked, could damage floors.
Even in new, Western-style homes, you will be handed a pair of hallway slippers, to be put on quickly, and without fuss. Do bring a gift for the host or hostess, preferably store-bought baked goods or sake and remember to bow frequently with the junior person always bowing first; the deeper the bow, greater the respect shown.
CHINA (The Red Dragon)
The Chinese prefer not to entertain at home and so do not expect an invite. Most hospitality is conducted in restaurants and to really impress, in private dining rooms where the hosts choose dishes for their guests. Regional delicacies like Nanjing’s duck blood and vermicelli soup may be ordered so be polite and try it, eat as much as possible. Business cards are exchanged before a meeting, even before handshakes, and must be offered and received with both hands. The fruits are circulated to signify the end of the meal which is elaborate and take over two hours.
If you visit a traditional home or a temple for a religious ceremony, you may be anointed with a tilak, on the forehead made from sandalwood, vermilion, or clay, as part of your welcome. Do not confuse it with a bindi, as the tilak is used for both men and women, as an expression of honor rather than indicating marital status. Some hotels offer to wash their guests’ feet as they arrive, and see guests off with flower garlands.
If visiting a home, don’t go empty-handed, and ask if there is a no-shoes policy. Elders have prior seating before you do, and expect a second, third, or fourth helping. Most eat with the right hand only but spoons may be requested.
If invited to a German home, do be on time as tardiness is tops for rude behavior here, second only to arriving in casuals. Germans make concerted efforts to dress well for all guests, even for a casual meal among friends. So don that venerable dinner jacket even though you may be asked to lose the shoes. Once seated, keep your hands on the table where the hosts can see them as placing them on the lap, and not maintaining eye contact is taboo while saying prost.
ARGENTINA (La Albiceleste)
Most people who say they’ll “be there in five” when it’s actually more like 20, will like Argentina. It’s socially acceptable to be fashionably late in this vast South American country; you are rude to be on time! Personal space, along with time, is a very fluid concept for the Argentines who are an intimate yet affectionate people.
You have to get accustomed to close conversations, and ensure enough mints to last the night. Leaning in is the norm here, lean out of any conversation and you are considered standoffish. Be prepared for a long evening at the host’s house, as dinner might stretch over several hours.
BRAZIL (The Pindorama)
Brazilians are known for being brash and voluble, and you must expect loud, passionate, conversation, with a freely flowing opinions with your meal. Heading out for food? You might have to grab a light snack, as dinner will not start on time with people typically about 20 minutes late, whether for a family meal or a formal dinner. Never gesture the ‘OK’ sign (pointer finger to thumb) as in Brazil, it is a vulgar gesture.
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