How to Avoid Making Rude Faux Pas in 2019’s Top Holiday Spots

According to new research from tailor-made holiday specialists, British travellers are unintentionally committing cultural gaffes because they haven’t done their research before heading off on their travels

In a recent survey conducted by Travelbag, nearly 90% of respondents claimed that they do no research on local etiquette before they travel, with particular blind spots in some of 2019’s most-lauded holiday hotspots including Japan, Argentina, Australia, Thailand and China.

From a thank you ‘burp’ in China to Japanese chopstick etiquette and tipping faux pas in Australia, this lack of research is causing some tourists to unintentionally offend locals and miss out on cultural experiences that make a holiday unforgettable.

To tip or not to tip?
Tipping the right amount on holiday can be confusing, with the survey revealing that respondents are largely unsure about what to do when the bill arrives.

  • Two thirds were oblivious to the fact that it can be considered rude to tip in Japan
  • Nearly 80% of respondents didn’t know it’s insulting to tip in China, where it can be seen to imply the employee is not valued by their employer
  • Despite Australia having similar customs to the UK, half of respondents didn’t know if it was an insult to tip down under

Can I get a thumbs up?
Innocent hand gestures that are common in the West could get holidaymakers more than they bargained for…

  • Nearly two thirds were oblivious to the fact the OK sign is offensive in Argentina and parts of South America
  • The OK sign translates as ‘money’ in Japan, potentially leading to confusing conversations about the bill
  • Over half would use a ‘thumbs up’ with locals abroad – unaware that it could cause bemusement in Thailand, be confused for the number five in Japan or cause offense in Argentina and parts of the Middle East.
What's rude in Japan? Travelbag's easy guide to travel etiquette in Japan

Travelbag’s handy guide to travel etiquette in Japan

No burping, right?
It’s an obvious dinner table faux pas in the UK and most of Europe, but many are unsure when it comes to burping in more far flung destinations.

  • Far from being rude, only 1 in 5 respondents knew that a burp at the table conveys satisfaction in India and can even be taken as a compliment to the chef in China
  • Less than a third realised that it’s bad manners to burp in Japan

The chopstick challenge
Eating with chopsticks can seem a tricky business, and few respondents knew how their eating habits would be received when on holiday in Asia.

  • 4 out of 5 respondents would leave chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice, unaware that this is offensive and a symbol of the deathbed in Japan
  • Less than 10% would eat rice with their chopsticks directly from a bowl, despite it being acceptable to do so in China, Japan and most of Asia

‘4 out of 5 respondents would leave chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice, unaware that this is offensive and a symbol of the deathbed in Japan’

Crossed legs = crossed wires
Crossed legs can send the wrong message in parts of the world, but few respondents were aware of how their hosts might perceive them.

  • Over 71% did not know that it can be considered too informal in Japan and Dubai
  • Only 1 in 10 said that crossed legs are rude in Argentina, despite it being a faux pas when the ankle goes above the knee
  • 3 in 4 had no idea that crossed legs are offensive in China if the soles of the feet are on display

Using the knowledge and unrivalled experience of its travel advisors, Travelbag has created a set of travel etiquette guides to give holidaymakers a helping hand, full of dos and don’ts for key destinations.

‘We think people should pack in as much to their holidays as possible,’ said Paul Hopkinson, Marketing Director at Travelbag. ‘By taking a bit of time to learn about the traditions and customs of the places they’re visiting, they’ll get more out of the experience when they’re there – and avoid potential offence and embarrassment in the process.’

Download the travel etiquette guides from

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