In this post we’ll cover some of the do’s and don’ts on how to be polite when traveling in Asia. Customs do sometimes cross over to other countries and some do overlap, but in general it’s usually safe to practice these guidelines in any Southeast Asia country. If your traveling to Vietnam we have some great traveling trips discussed in another post.
This is a very important item on the list as to dressing disrespectfully is one of the easiest ways to be offensive. But how then? Basically dress modestly. Save the bikinis, short shorts and even sleeveless tops for the beach. If you wear these items anywhere else it will be conceded offensive. Cover your knees and shoulders when you go into places of worship. Shoes and hats also need to be removed before going into places of worship and even into someone’s home.
Your head and feet
These countries are all predominantly Buddhist. One belief in the religion is that the head is considered sacred and the feet are considered unholy. It’s rude to touch someone on the head and never touch any part of someone else with your feet.
This is a common practice so the best rule here is to keep smiling when you are trying to bargain with traders. In many countries in Asia, “maintaining” your face is important to the outcome of the bargain. The result for both parties is that pride and dignity stay intact, this is the goal for the final makings of the deal.
In western countries, tipping is expected in some service type jobs. But in these Asian areas there is little tipping, though sometimes appreciated and getting a little more common. Usually no tips are required when riding a taxi or eating in a restaurant, but some people working in the tourist industry do accept tips to supplement their income.
When eating food in Vietnam (1), use chopsticks to eat your meal and do not stand them up in the bowl. This is a big no-no as it represents incense used at funerals and considered to be a bad omen. If you dine with an Asian family, you need to wait till you are told where to sit and also the oldest person needs to start eating before you do. It’s also okay to pass bowls with both hands.
Sexual displays and attitudes
These countries are conservative and public displays of holding hands and kissing are considered to be in bad taste. So just remember not do it in the open.
The people here greet each other by placing palms together and bowing. When calling someone over, point your finger downwards, as upwards is considered to be offensive.
Learning some of the basics of the language in order to communicate, no matter how small, will be well received. Even if you only learn the basics of saying hello and other simple phrases, it will show that you put in time and some effort in to understanding their culture and language.
Have you traveled to any Asian countries and experienced any difficulties in being polite?