What You Absolutely Shouldn't Do When Visiting A Foreign Country

When in Russia, "do not give an even numbers of flowers as a gift."

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Common sense goes a long way when it comes to learning a country's proper etiquette. But even the savviest, most observant travellers can make the occasional cultural stumble if they are not careful. To discover these unexpected missteps, Quora respondents weighed in with some of the worst mistakes to make abroad.

Sam Bruce, a co-founder of the travel site 'Much Better Adventures', grew up in Hong Kong, yet he did not realise until he was much older that in Hong Kong's corporate culture you should always hand over business cards with two hands.

"I had a rather awkward moment where I casually slid my name card face-down across the table to someone at the end of a meeting, when at the very same moment they delivered theirs, bowing, with both hands," he explained to BBC.

"What I had done was a big no-no and highly disrespectful."

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Many Quora respondents from southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Thailand, reminded readers to be careful where they touch another person

As tempting as it is, try not to tousle that hair

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“Never touch anyone’s head or pass anything from above the head,” said Neha Kariyaniya, a resident of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “It is considered to be the most sacred body part.” Such touch is inappropriate even in informal situations – and also applies to small children, as tempting as rubbing their hair might be for visitors from other cultures.

“This is also very true in Thailand where the head is considered the seat of the soul,” said Morrison. The belief stems primarily from Buddhism, the religion that informs the everyday life of many Thai.

In Russia, giving the wrong amount of an item can be worse than no present at all

Giving flowers as a gift? Make sure to count them up first

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“Do not give an even numbers of flowers as a gift. That’s for dead folks,” said Muscovite Katherine Makhalova. “A proper bouquet will have one, three, five or seven flowers.” Odd numbers of flowers are given for happy occasions in Russia, while bouquets of two, four, six, 12 or 24 stems are often brought to funerals.

Even outside of Russia, knowing which digits are lucky – or unlucky – may be important

“Numbers matter more than you might think,” explained Terri Morrison, speaker and author of the Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands series of etiquette books. “In China, the word for ‘four’ sounds very similar to the word for ‘death’, so it is a good idea to avoid giving anything in fours.”

Similarly, in Japan, the traditional wedding gift of cash should not be given in bills divisible by two: that signifies the marriage could end in divorce. A gift of 20,000 yen, for example, should be given with one 10,000 yen and two 5,000 yen notes – but not two bills of 10,000 yen.

Xu Beixi from Singapore put out an executive summary of what not to do in the country:

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While in Singapore: Don't feed birds. They'll fine you. Don't spit. They'll fine you. Don't urinate in public. They'll fine you. Don't bring durians into enclosed areas. They'll fine you. Don't smoke in public. They'll fine you. Don't bring pets into public. They'll fine you. Don't eat or drink on public transport. They'll fine you. Don't litter. They'll fine you. Don't vandalize. They'll fine you. Then force you to go home to Switzerland. Don't bring flammable goods. They'll fine you. Don't take drugs. They'll fine you. Don't walk around naked in public. They'll review or even take away your prestigious scholarship. Then they'll fine you. Don't bring more than 15g of heroin here. They'll kill you. Same thing with making meth. Walter White won't last a week here.

Quora users from across Western Europe pleaded for visitors to avoid striking up conversations with strangers

The London Tube is for commuting, not conversing with strangers

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“Don’t talk to a stranger, except about how bad something is or about the weather,” said Londoner Thomas Goodwin.

“Someone made eye contact with me on the Underground once,” joked fellow Londoner Paul Johnson. “Now they don’t have eyes.”

No talking on the Tube

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Other British users also commented on this one, saying that while talking to strangers is not always a negative, it should absolutely be avoided when using the Underground, London’s metro. “Avoiding eye contact is the only way to preserve your sense of personal space,” said Londoner Shefaly Yogendra.

When it comes to humour, people in some countries warned visitors to roll with the punches

Yucatan resident Alejandro Suarez said Mexico is a place where visitors should feel accepted – not offended – if they are being insulted. “We'll mock, ridicule, insult, pick on and put down just for the fun of it, on a regular basis!” Suarez said. “The best and most warm family dinners are the ones where everyone is laughing their heads off at making fun of someone at the table.”

This kind of humour is fairly common across Latin American cultures, Morrison said. Still, she warned visitors to tread lightly when returning the jabs. “Jokes just do not translate well,” she said. “It’s best to avoid them.” One man she interviewed for her books bombed a business meeting when he told a joke in an elevator in Germany. Instead of coming across as funny, he came across as not being serious in a formal situation.

Woon Wei Kian, another Quora user from Malaysia, writes about dress code in Malaysia

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In general you are free to wear anything, just make sure you wear something! Be decently dressed if you are visiting places of worship e.g. mosques. The above image was taken from a website illustrating what to and not to wear when visiting a mosque in Turkey, but it applies equally to mosques in Malaysia.

Elsewhere, try not to wear something too indecent - too short a skirt or too low a dress will earn you an eyeful and quite possibly some unsolicited comments/verbal abuse. This does not apply in night clubs/spots.

Most Thai people are conservative. You should be extremely careful with everything concerned with the king and the religion, writes Pachara Yoosawat

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Dress appropriately when visiting temples. Do not wear shorts, short skirt, bikini, tank top, tube top, or any other inappropriate clothes. Do not say anything negative about the king of Thailand and the royal family. Most people love the king. If you say something bad about the king, people will hate you. You can also go to jail.

Do not assume that all women walking on streets are prostitutes. I got called once, totally NOT cool. Do not touch Thai women's bodies, or stay too close to them. Do not get into a taxi if the driver doesn't use the meter. Also, be careful when you catch a taxi, and always make sure that you know the direction.

Terri Morrison, speaker and author of the Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands series of etiquette books, said she was surprised that Quora users didn’t advise against speaking in elevated tones

Even lively conversations can be on the quieter side in restaurants in France

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“A loud tone of voice, particularly in a one-on-one conversation, can be tactless in many cultures,” she said. “In France, it’s truly gauche.” She mentioned that the French use different volumes for different situations. “In a café, you cannot overhear a discussion at the nearest table, even if it is only two or three feet away,” she said. She recommended always mimicking your conversation partner’s volume and adjusting upwards only when needed.

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