A hotel in Bulgaria is located on a hill. Having guests’ comfort in mind, the owners decided to build a cableway to connect the beach at the sea level with the hotel above. The idea was brilliant and the technical execution of cableway was not that important after you had two cocktails.
The choice between an hour-long climb from the beach to the hotel or taking a short ride there was easy, too. One beautiful evening, when returning from a day-long, exhausting trip, all I dreamt of was to get to my hotel bed as quickly as possible. I was approaching the bottom station when I noticed the cableway was out of use. Horror, shock and disbelief. I asked the serviceman if he could turn it on. He shook his head. I was about to start lamentation when I noticed the cable cars started to move. In a second, it hit me that Bulgarians’ head-communication gestures are backwards, so if they nodded, which means NO, and if they shake their heads, it means YES. Well, obviously they think it is the rest of the world to do it backwards. The moral of this story is that cultural differences affect not only the matters of great importance. Differences can be found even in the smallest actions that we do not even pay attention to in everyday life.
Before your holidays, it is far more important to get to know the culture and customs of the country you are going to visit than to pack four swimsuits. You will thank yourself for doing the research when found in a difficult situation. A lot of shame, tons of misunderstandings and embarrassments would be avoided if you learned about given country’s culture first.
In India, mainly in the North of the country, it is considered rude to express your feelings in public. Not only passionate kisses are socially forbidden (the kissers will be doomed especially when they are not married); you will notice hostile glances even if you are just holding hands with your beloved. Indians view those actions as demoralizing; so, to respect the customs of the locals, you need to hold off from ostentation in expressing emotions towards your partner.
The life of women in the Arabic countries is not easy, comparing it to the European standards. When visiting those lands, you need to adapt to their customs to avoid serious cultural fault. Being a woman, you need to carefully choose your clothing and try not to travel alone. Under any circumstances do not interrupt Muslims during their prayers and always sightsee mosques with a guide. Islam forbids alcohol beverages and has strict rules on consuming meals. You should never eat using your left hand as it is meant for personal hygiene and is considered impure. While shooting photos, mind not to snap Muslim women in the frame; it requires her evident consent to take such a photo.
All the enthusiasts of burping and slurping will be knocking on heavens’ door in China. This Far East country welcomes those peculiar sounds as they indicate appreciation for the chef. At the same time, you need to be extra careful with the way you eat; for example, you must not ever stick the chopsticks into a bowl of rice as the gesture resembles funeral ceremony. The table etiquette and chopsticks skills are a must when visiting the Far East. Another thing, in Singapore, it is forbidden to use chewing gum and to bring it to the country. Not that long ago, you would be severely punished for this offence; now you would probably be just reprimanded, but there is no need to tease the lion. Budda’s cult is common especially in Thailand. There are fines provided for those who turn backwards and are not facing his statues in his shrines. People in Thailand are obliged to worship their king, too. This also applies to the royal family and even to the royal dog.
Countries of the Middle and Far East represent cultures completely different than the European one, but many differences appear also within our cultural circle. Italians may be offended when we order ketchup with the pizza. It is almost unforgivable to order cappuccino after the midday – this kind of coffee is typical for breakfasts or brunches. The restaurants open around 6-7 PM and it is considered quirky to eat the main meal of a day early. In Spain, most shops close for the afternoon siesta. Do not knock on closed door as you may wake the owners up from their nap. Wine is a holy thing for the Frenchmen so never desecrate it by mixing it with some carbonated sodas. They also are offended when you do not use their language, so even if you want to switch to English, it is better to ask “Parlez-vous anglais?” than “Do you speak English?” It is true that the Earth is a global village today, but the tribes that live there are still diverse. It is good to respect that diversity as it makes the world a more beautiful place.
In Poland, we do not usually think about our own habits in terms of how they are perceived by the foreigners. A true case study of Polish behaviour, a bit larger than life, though, can be found in Marek Koterski’s movie “Dzień Świra” [“A day of a weirdo”]. What should you know about the customs of Polish the people? Well, as drivers, we do not take other road users into account, but if something kind happens, we would “blink” with emergency lights. When paying someone a visit, we would certainly take our shoes off in the hall and probably would bring a salad or a bottle of alcohol to share. We are the worst in the world at queuing – impatience and jerky behaviour is a must while standing in line in shops or at a doctor’s waiting room. More joyful customs are giving a pilot a huge applause after landing safely or drinking coffee from a glass.
When going on vacation, everybody has to remember that every country has its own customs and it is good to get to know them. If we did not have time to learn them, it is good to behave decently and treat others in a way we wanted to be treated.
SOWA TRANSLATIONS HOUSE wishes you all happy holidays!