Etiquette in Asia
Travelling nice when you cross the Pacific
Good manners are a dooropener no matter where you travel. Better-behaved vacationers get better service in restaurants, hotels, nightspots and tourist attractions. But sometimes even well-intentioned wanderers accidentally offend. This is especially true in Asia, where the customs tend to be quite different than they are here in the West. Here are a few common goofs: (1) Losing your cool: When travelling in Thailand, you should try to be as even-tempered as the Thai people themselves, even when something goes wrong. That’s because, unlike in the West, outbursts do not elicit quicker action. If a traveller’s luggage is lost, reservation disappears or meal has a bug in it, he is expected to deal with the problem with equanimity. If the traveller melts down, the person he is dealing with often will simply walk away, as this type of reaction is seen as embarrassing, and the Thai person assumes that you wouldn’t want someone to witness your loss of control. (2) Leaving chopsticks upright in rice: In Japan and many parts of China, it is the custom to leave an offering for the dead of a bowl of rice with chopsticks stuck into it vertically. If, in the course of a meal, a living diner places his chopsticks into the bowl of rice in that fashion, it’s consider a grave insult to the chef (pun intended). (3) Foot pointing, head patting: The bottoms of the feet are considered the most unclean part of the body in many parts of Asia, so if you point the sole of your foot at someone, it’s the equivalent of raising your middle finger to them in the West. Conversely, the head is thought to be the most sacred part of the body, so touching someone on the head, or ruffling a child’s hair, is a big no-no. (4) Public displays of affection: While people of the same gender will often walk around holding hands as a sign of friendship, other acts of public affection, between straight and gay couples, are considered offensive in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and other Asian nations. There are, of course, other etiquette breaches, but these are the crucial ones. The lowdown? If you’re uncertain as to whether a behaviour will be acceptable, grab a good guidebook — either a print version or one of the online sites. All will have complete information on manners and mores for countries around the globe. Pauline Frommer is the Editorial Director for the Frommer Travel Guides and Frommers.com. She co-hosts the radio program The Travel Show with her father, Arthur Frommer and is the author of the best-selling Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City.
The rules of etiquette are different in Asia. MARC FISCHER/FLICKR