Following the popularity of my last post about cultural cock-ups and blogger blunders here’s a few more tales of a similar ilk.
Whether your preferred style of travel is back-packing around the world, luxury spa breaks or cheap package holidays, I believe that everyone should take each chance they can to soak up the local culture. However, it is always useful to have a heads-up on local customs and traditions as even the most seasoned traveller can sometimes make a mistake.
Big mistake in the Big Apple
When Suzanne from The Travel Bunny, decided to visit an old friend in America, little did she now that she’d be following in Patty Hearst’s footsteps!
“It was September and I was in New York for a week staying with an old school friend who lived near Central Park. I was really excited to get out and hit the streets for our first day of sightseeing. It was sunny and warm and I was wearing a t-shirt, pumps and white shorts. Just as we were leaving the apartment my friend said ‘Are you sure you want to wear white? – In New York no-one wears white after Labor Day’ (first Monday in September). I laughed and said,’ No, it’s fine. It’s like summer out there.’ And thought, how ridiculous. Big mistake.
We got the subway downtown and everything was fine until we stepped out onto the busy street. As we walked along people were actually stopping in their tracks and watching me walk by. People in their dark burgundy trousers, grey jackets and black suits just blatantly stared at me. I’d have got less attention if I’d been dressed as a storm-trooper. After about ten minutes I felt so uncomfortable I went and bought a pair of jeans!
A point to note that, as punishment for breaking this ‘rule’ in the 1994 film Serial Mom, Patty Hearst’s character was murdered!
Just thinking back on this makes me cringe it was so embarrassing!” Suzanne
When I first read Suzanne’s story I was really perplexed. I’d certainly never heard of this before, mind you I’ve never been to New York, or anywhere in the Americas for that matter. For anyone like me who finds this all rather curious, this article in TIME U.S. doesn’t really help much either! Are you from the US and do you know the meaning behind this rule of etiquette?
Easily made misunderstandings…
Keith Kellet, otherwise known as the Travel Rat, remembers almost coming to a nasty end, quite literally, this time in Greece.
“I was driving along a road in Crete, congratulating myself on the fact that, although I haven’t driven on the right-hand side of the road for some time, I had, so far, managed to stay on the correct side. Then, I came upon road works, which restricted the passage. Coming the other way was a large truck, which flashed its lights at me, so I started moving. It was nearly the last thing I ever did! I was told later that the flashing of the lights meant not ‘Go Ahead!’ as it does in England, and most other places I’ve driven in but ‘Get out of my way! I’m coming through!’
I remember on another occasion when I found out again that what may mean one thing to me may mean something else to others and again this was in Greece.
On a visit to the St. John monastery, on Patmos, I saw a robed, magnificently black-bearded priest sitting in the shade reading a newspaper. An excellent photo opportunity, I thought, and I asked if I could take his picture… or rather, since he didn’t speak English, produced my camera, and smiled, with an interrogatively-raised eyebrow.
He shook his head, and said something that sounded like ‘Nay’, so I put my camera away, and walked away.
And, it was only later I learned that ‘nei’ is Greek for ‘yes’ and it’s usually accompanied by a shaking of the head, rather than a nod!” Keith
Following on from Keith’s experience, apparently in Bulgaria shaking the head from left to right also means “yes” and nodding, for which most of us means “yes“, in Bulgaria means “no“. In parts of India I’ve also noticed that “yes” is often accompanied by a shaking of the head from left to right with a bit of a twisting nod?! Still with me?
Hand gestures can also be confusing. A thumbs up sign is a good thing in most parts of the world but NOT in Brazil where it is a very rude insult.
In the US I’m told the peace sign (holding up the first two fingers with them held apart to form a ‘V’) can be done with your palm facing towards you or away. Is that true? It certainly would not do in England. Here in the UK if your palm is facing away from you that means ‘peace’ but if the palm is facing towards you that means something entirely different! Basically, if you did that to me you’d be telling me to ‘get lost’ in the very strongest and rudest of terms!
I’m sure there are many more similar examples. Please do leave a comment if you know of any, whether in your own culture or someone else’s.
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