Travel etiquette 101: Body language
Thumbs up! – the customary greeting in Belize. (Andrew Marshall & Leanne Walker/LPI)
You step over someone’s legs in Nepal and you might not even realize that you committed a grave social taboo! Read below for a list of etiquette tips, complied from Lonely Planet guidebooks and staffers, to help you navigate different parts of the world.
1. In Asia, never touch any part of someone else's body with your foot, which is considered the "lowest" part of the body. If you accidentally do this, apologize by touching your hand to the person's arm and then touching your own head. Do not point at objects or people with your feet, do not prop your feet on chairs or tables while sitting. (From the Thailand travel guide and other Asia books.)
2. Also in Asia, refrain from touching people on the head or ruffling their hair. The head is spiritually the "highest" part of the body. Don't sit on pillows meant as headrests, as it is a variant on this taboo. (From the China travel guide.)
3. Shaking hands was introduced to Fiji in the 19th Century by way of Tonga, and quickly became the established custom. An affectionate handshake can be very long, and may even last throughout an entire conversation. (From the South Pacific phrasebook.)
4. In Nepal, it is bad manners to step over someone's outstretched legs, so avoid doing that, and move your own legs when someone wants to pass. Also do not step over or sit on a monk's cushions in or near a temple, even if no one is sitting on them. Always walk around stupas and chortens (Tibetan-style stupas) in a clockwise direction. (From the Nepal travel guide.)
5. In Japanese baths, called onsen, always wash first before entering the water. The water is considered fouled if someone does not do this, kind of like the American equivalent of peeing in a pool. Also, use a wash cloth to cover your private bits. (From the Japan travel guide.)
6. The people of Italy are emotionally demonstrative, so expect to see lots of cheek kissing among acquaintances, embraces between men who are good friends and lingering handshakes. Italian men and women may walk arm-in-arm. Pushing and shoving in busy places is not considered rude, so do not be offended by it. Try to hold your ground. (From the Italy travel guide.)
7. Shaking hands across a threshold is considered unlucky in Russia, thus some pizza delivery guys will refuse to conduct a transaction across a threshold. You either have to go out to the hall or invite them just inside the door. (From the Russia travel guide.)
8. In India it is possible to pay a tremendous compliment with body language alone. When somebody approaches a person with their tongue between their teeth and gathers the air around the person's head with their hands to draw it into their own personal space, it means they find the person either unbearably beautiful or extraordinarily intelligent. (From the Indian English Language and Culture book.)
9. Do not stick your index finger and middle finger up with the palm of your hand facing towards you in the United Kingdom; it is the equivalent of giving someone the finger. Tip: Do not order two beers in this fashion in UK bars. Doing it palm facing out - the peace sign - is OK. (From a Lonely Planet staffer in the UK).
10. Moroccan greetings can last up to 10 minutes. Shake with your right hand then touch your hand to your heart, to indicate that you are taking the meeting to heart. Good friends may tack on up to four air kisses, accompanied by a stream of well wishes: "How are you? Everything's good with you? I hope your parents are well? Baraka (blessings) upon them!" (From Alison Bing, Lonely Planet Morocco author.)