If you’re planning on traveling around Asia at any point in the near future, you’ll want to ensure you don’t cause a stir for the wrong reasons with the locals.
Today we’ve thrown together a list of six different forms of etiquette breaches you’ll want to avoid when making the trip to the eastern corners of the globe.
photo credit: japanexpertena.se | CC 2.0
Come Here a Minute
Kicking off our list is a gesture which even in the western world can at times have relatively rude connotations. Beckoning someone over with your index finger and palm is something which needs to be approached passively in this corner of the world, but in places like Japan and China it’s totally out of the question altogether.
These nations both see it as a derogatory way to call animals – not humans – making it akin to disrespecting someone’s entire existence. In Singapore things are worse, where the gesture signifies death. Spooky.
Crossing your fingers for good luck has become a superstitious tradition for some people, but in Asia as a whole it’s frowned upon – primarily because it has also been known to signify deceitfulness through the telling of a lie.
In Vietnam they have a totally different reason for disliking the gesture, with it said to bear a close resemblance to female genitals. I suppose if you look hard enough you can find something obscene in practically anything.
What could be more amicable than the standard raised thumb of approval? While we’ve come to associate this symbolic gesture with positivity and even friendship, it has a totally different connotation in countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Thailand.
The hand signal means the same thing as a raised middle finger does in Western countries and should be avoided in these countries at all costs – unless, of course, your intention is to actually offend the person you’re talking to.
Showing the soles of your feet in Japan is considered the height of rudeness, primarily because they’re associated so closely with being dirty and walking on the floor. Sitting with your legs crossed in such a way that it exposes the soles is also frowned upon.
Such is the strict nature when it comes to this rule that shoes which have been used in the outside world must be taken off when entering a building and replaced with a special set of slippers, which are designed for inside use.
Eating with chopsticks is hard enough in and of itself without making yourself look a little silly – but, if you can master the wooden wonders, your best bet is to never stick them directly into a bowl of rice pointing up into the air.
This vertical rest is associated strongly with funeral services only – with the chopsticks acting as a symbolic offering to ancestors who have long passed. Only place your instruments lying at your side otherwise, much as you would with a knife or fork.
Knowing when to bow
You’ve probably become accustomed to seeing people bowing to one and other in the media over the years – but it’s important to note this is something which only applies to Japanese culture and no other parts of Asia.
If you find yourself bowing in somewhere like South Korea or China, you run the risk of highlighting a real cultural faux pas on your part. Ignorance of something like this could even make you come across as a touch xenophobic.
Hopefully these tips on etiquette will prevent you from landing in hot water when it comes to awkward encounters in Asia. If you’re planning a trip to the Orient or Middle East, remember to pay heed to what we’ve covered here.