Back home, your amicable gestures may win you new friends. But not when traveling to these foreign lands.
We Filipinos take pride in rich customs and colorful traditions that can be traced from both our Asian and Hispanic cultural influences. Globally, we are known to be hospitable people and warm especially to guests.
And while we have our own set of etiquettes and standard practices, do know that some of these may be deemed rude in some countries. Here are some totally “normal” Filipino customs and gestures that are absolute no-no’s when you’re traveling abroad.
1. Smiling at strangers
When in Russia, you should you keep a straight face because smiling is deemed an intimate gesture. “Smiling for no obvious reason makes Russians suspect you’re being false,” says Gideon Lichfield, a news editor for Quartz who covered Russia and the CIS for the Economist in 2002 to 2004, on Q&A website Quora. Russian people, he adds, are historically distrustful of anyone they don’t know, but form strong bonds and friendships with people they’re familiar with.
Numerous cultures practice tipping to express satisfaction for a certain service. But in Japan and South Korea, leaving bills and coins in the tab is highly discouraged. The reason is that Japanese and Korean servers take pride in doing their job well and therefore do not need an incentive to do so. “If you are a tourist/traveler, you only have to remember: No Tipping. Resist the urge,” says Quora user Makiko Itoh, a Japanese native. “Customer service in Japan is all about making the guest feel good. Even fancy hotels do not expect you to tip. So, don’t. You save money!”
3. Showing the soles of your feetJust like in other Asian countries, it is a tradition in the Philippines to remove one’s footwear before entering the house. But in Arab, Muslim, and other similar cultures, showing the soles of your feet is disrespectful. It’s because in Arabic culture, “the feet are often perceived as unclean, especially the soles,” explains Ali Al Saloom of UAE news outfit The National. “If you show them to Arabs, they would generally get offended.”
4. Emptying your plate
Emptying your plate after meals is encouraged here and in countries like Kenya and Germany. However, in China, a clean plate is considered offensive as it implies that the host didn’t serve a meal that’s filling enough. In fact, if one wants to compliment the cook, burping out loud is highly recommended in this country.
5. Altering your food
When traveling to France, Italy, and Japan, leave your Knorr Liquid Seasoning at home. Pouring condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce, and vinegar—even a bowl full of gravy—onto your food is considered an insult to signature cuisines in these countries.
Going for a bargain or haggling prices of goods will get you in trouble in Norway.
To them, there’s a reason the price is stated on the tag, and negotiating it will only get you odd looks from vendors, according to travel review site Trip Advisor.
7. Loud, open-mouthed laughing
In Japan, exposing one’s teeth while laughing is considered impolite, owing to a Buddhist belief that exposing one’s bone is a filthy act. You can of course laugh and yawn while dining at your newly discovered sushi restaurant; just don’t forget to cover your mouth with your hands.
8. Opening a gift in the presence of the giver
Filipinos are eager to say “Buksan mo na!” whenever they give a present to someone. But Indian and Chinese cultures are averse to this gesture; they want to avoid awkward moments in which one person out-gifts the other. The act doesn’t only take away the element of surprise, it is also deemed greedy.
9. Bringing home leftovers
We are accustomed to handing out or packing leftovers after big gatherings. However, in some Western countries, taking away leftovers is an unsophisticated gesture, especially at hotels and restaurants.
10. Putting your hand on someone’s head
FL Morris / StarBulletin
“Mano po” just won’t cut it with Buddhist elders. In countries like China, Thailand, Japan, and Myanmar, touching someone’s head is highly invasive as it is believed that it is where one’s spirit is.
11. Giving complimentsWhile we are inclined to say nice things about each other’s possessions, such as shirts, shoes, and accessories, people in some parts of the Middle East and African countries see compliments as having a wistful desire for the said item. As part of their culture, they will also feel obligated to give the item to the guest.
However . . .
12. Filipino time is much more preferred in these countriesBeing perennially late may seem disrespectful and unprofessional (but we do it anyway). But in Tanzania, arriving on time is so much more disrespectful due to the fact that many citizens do not have private cars. Also in Mexico, showing on time is considered rude because you’re not giving the host enough time to prepare. –Diana Lyn Balbalosa
We’re all for free sharing! If you have first-hand experiences related to information written above, or have more to add to the list, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section below.