Having lived, travelled and volunteered in over 30 countries, I have encountered many different cultures and had to adjust to various customs. Along the way I have made a few faux pas! Here, I am going to show you some of the main ones so you don’t go through the same awkward situations as I did!
(The words/phrases in bold are translated at the bottom of the page!)
When in South Korea…
On my first day teaching in South Korea, I wrote all the students’ names on the board using a red pen. Big mistake! Writing someone’s name in red in South Korea means that you want them dead!
In South Korea, you should take your shoes off when you go inside someone’s house. This is because traditionally people sleep on the floor rather than a bed, so shoes are always removed in order to keep the floor clean. This includes restaurants and schools! I wore slippers at my school!
When giving things to people in Korea, you should always place your other hand on the arm you are using to give something. This is to show that you are not hiding a weapon in your other hand and going to hurt them!
Another cultural difference I found strange was when going out with work colleagues and our boss, it was considered untrustworthy if you didn’t get drunk! They believe you have something to hide if you don’t drink with them.
South Koreans also never sleep in a room at night with the fan on. They believe leaving the fan on while you sleep will kill you!
When in Ghana…
When I was teaching in Ghana, when you greet someone it is common to shake their hand… and shake… and shake! The first time this happened I wondered if they were ever going to let go of my hand!
Something else in Ghana that took me a while to get used to was “African time”. Meetings would take place an hour after they were supposed to start. When waiting for a bus, there was no specific time that it would leave, it would leave when it was full. One day I waited for three hours for a bus to fill up, and even then it wasn’t full but the driver had got bored!
I also had to be careful taking photos of people. Taking photos without permission is considered stealing their soul.
When in Brazil…
My first time in Brazil, I was surprised at how tactile people were and how most of the time you greet people, even people you don’t know, students, colleagues etc., by kissing them. Being a reserved British girl, this was quite a culture shock!
Additionally, Brazilians share everything, including drinks like caipirinhas. I didn’t understand why I didn’t get my own drink at first, but after a few sips, I realised!
Now, some more cultural faux pas to be aware of in other countries are:
Russia – Refusing vodka in Russia is the same as refusing to shake hands!
Thailand – Avoid touching someone’s head as it is seen as disrespectful. The head is considered the most holy part of the body.
China – In China, you should not leave your chopsticks in your rice bowl. Leaving them in your rice bowl is an omen of death!
Iran – A thumbs-up is normally a positive gesture, but in Iran and several other Middle-Eastern countries, it translates as a bad gesture!
India – Never pass anything – money or gifts – with your left hand, as the left hand is known for being used for wiping after you’ve been to the toilet.
USA – In the States employers are allowed to pay wages as low as $2.13 an hour where tipping is routine. So don’t forget to tip otherwise they’ll be running down the street after you!
UK – Never do a “V” with the back of your hand facing out! It’s equivalent to showing the middle finger!
So remember, before travelling to another country, it is always a good idea to read about the culture before you go, so you don’t commit any faux pas and offend the locals!
– Teacher Joss
encounter – deparar-se com
custom – costume
faux pas – gafe/ato falho
go through – passar por
awkward – constrangedor
traditionally – tradicionalmente
slippers – pantufas
untrustworthy – não confiável
fan – ventilador
let go – soltar
take place – acontecer
steal – roubar
soul – alma
how tactile people were – como as pessoas gostam de tocar nas outras
share – compartilhar
sip – gole
to be aware of – para se prestar atenção
refuse – recusar
avoid – evitar
holy – sagrado
chopsticks – hashi/”pauzinhos”
omen – presságio
thumbs-up – sinal de “joinha”
gesture – gesto
wipe – limpar
wage – salário
tip – dar gorjeta
face out – virado para fora