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June 07, 2009

You Put Your Foot Where?

When traveling to a different country, it’s important to know and follow the local cultural rules. But, what are they? Here are some crucial cultural tips if you want to be seen as one of them instead of as a continual foreigner...

...so for a smooth transition overseas, here are some tips to avoid offending the locals and making yourself look foolish;

If you are in Central Europe...
Go ahead and blow your nose – but don’t sniffle! Sniffling is considered very rude, and generally gross. Take a pack of tissues if you’re heading to the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary. The locals will appreciate it!

In Russia...
Russians are famous for superstitious beliefs. For example, if a single woman sits at a corner of a table, this means that she will never get married. So, be careful when you choose your seat, or you may get a scolding from a well-meaning babushka. And be sure to only use the word "babushka" in the correct situation.

In Central Asia...
Bread is sacred in Central Asia and should never be thrown away. This region has been through many famines over the years. So finish that last bite of bread, or to save it for a snack. Just don’t toss it in the trash.

In China...
If someone pays you a compliment in China, you should deflect. For example, if someone says, “You’re a good teacher.” You should say, “Oh, it’s because you are a good student.” To agree with a compliment is considered a lack of proper humility.

Also, if someone hands you something (like a business card or document) accept it with a slight bow and use both hands. And use both hands to pass something to someone.

In North Africa...
Be careful when you use hand gestures in any foreign country. In North Africa, the sign for “OK” means “zero.” To be a “zero” is to be considered worthless or nothing. This gesture is very insulting and should be avoided at all costs.

In Vietnam...
Not everyone wants to see your teeth. It’s okay to use a toothpick, but be sure to use your hand to cover the front of your mouth.

In Cambodia...
In Cambodia, the foot is considered the dirtiest part of the body. This makes sense as you walk through Cambodian streets full of potholes and puddles. So don’t let the bottom of your foot point toward anyone. Take small steps and keep both feet on the floor when sitting.

And in the Middle East...

Showing someone the bottom of your shoe (or throwing your shoe at them) is the ultimate insult. Keep your feet on the ground in public.

What have you learned that might save someone from an embarrassing situation? Send your notes here and we'll share them with the world.

Later this summer I'll be hosting some contests where I'll be giving away books and CDs. Stay tuned here - and send me some of your suggestions for great books, music or professional gatherings that help with language learning!

My best to you,


Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

I want to welcome readers to present thoughts on the ideal job. What do you most want to do? Where would you like to be? Who would you want to work with? Does anyone have an ideal work schedule?

About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf currently teaches English and writing for a local technical/vocational college with many international students. Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else likes and riding his bicycle in unlikely and ridiculous situations.

Posted by mmorf at June 7, 2009 04:39 PM

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