We’ll also be bringing you an ongoing series of international travel tips, taking a look at cultural nuances, practical advice, and tips for doing business in countries around the world. And of course, we’d love to hear from you with your personal experiences and recommendations for other travelers—free to share them in the comments below.
You’ve just taken the last bite of a delicious meal in lovely Rio de Janeiro. Your waiter asks you how your food tasted. In an attempt to avoid talking while chewing, you flash him the A-okay sign, and to your surprise the waiter’s eyes widen in shock. He collects your plate and walks away. You’re confused—what could you have done? Unfortunately, you just gave your waiter an extremely offensive gesture. Placing your index finger and your thumb equates to a rather vulgar expression in this culture.
When traveling in Korea, you officially have permission to leave behind your mother’s age-old admonition to “clean your plate or you can’t get up from the table”. Finishing every morsel of food on your plate while a guest in someone’s home in Korea — regardless of how simply divine the food tastes — indicates that your host did not provide you with enough food. Doing so can indicate that since you were easily able to finish it all, you must have been served insufficiently, thus shaming your hosts.
In the United States, we are accustomed to a fairly spacious personal bubble. According to Discovery.com, our personal bubbles range in size starting with at least 1.5 feet, to as large as 4 feet. Anything closer begins to make us feel uncomfortable. When in Latin America, you’ll have to get used to it, as personal bubbles are much smaller. Instinctively backing away from the person with whom you’re speaking to could send the wrong message about your desire to continue the conversation.
In the United States, the gesture of putting your hand up, palm out and fingers spread is used to communicate a few things: to indicate the need for space, to tell someone to stop, or to show that you want “five” of something. In Greece, this is known as moutza. Flashing this sign is essentially the Grecian version of “flipping the bird,” and unless you’d like to avoid making friends in Greece, keep your hands down and learn the Greek word for “five.” In case you’re wondering, it’s πέντε, pronounced “Pente,” as in “Pentagon.”