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Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Navigating the treacherous waters of international customs, beliefs, and morals has never been easy. Most of us spring a leak at some point in our travels - whether from our own ethnocentrism and cultural blindness or by a run-in with bad luck or a nimble pickpocket.


Meeting and Greeting
In HongKong, a greeting will either be an English handshake or the Chinese bow or nod. Bowing deeper than another person is a mark of respect for that person's superior status. Men and women may shake hands. Greet the most senior person in a group first.

Punctuality is very improtant, especially in business. An exception, is dinner engagements at someone's house, for which you should show up 30 minutes late. If you are with a group, arrive together.

Offer a business card with both hands, with the text facing away from you. When you received the business card, it is polite to scrutinize it closer and then keep holding the card, rather than stuffing it into your pocket (which is rude and also signifies the end of the meeting).

A common Chinese greeting is "Have you eaten?" which is the equivalent of "How are you?" Always answer YES even if it is not true.

If someone doesn't understand soemthing you may be met with a silent smile or even a yes, even though he or she does'nt have a clue what you are talking about.

Keep gestures to a minimum. The Chinese use very few gestures when speaking and may find such gestures distracting and irritating.

Saying NO is hard for a Chinese person, who will prefer to say something like "perhaps" or "I'll think about it" in order to be polite. Expect to be let down very gently, since the Chinese are very diplomatic and will go out of their way to save face. If you need to discuss a sensitive subject, do so in private so you don't show someone up in public. Causing someone to lose face would be a disaster not only for your relationship, but for the persons whole family.

Use the thick end of your chopsticks when taking food from a communal dish. Refusing foor or drink is empolite, but don't dig around in a bowl looking for the best bits of food. Leave a small amount of food untouched to indicae that you are satisfied.

Eat rice by holding the bowl close to your face and scooping the rice into your mouth with your chopsticks. Leaving the bowl or the table is a sign you are unhappy with the food. Never leave your chopsticks stuck in your rice, this is associated with death.

It is polite to offer to pay, but your host will always settle up. Never suggest splitting the bill because this implies that your host cannot afford it. Instead, offer to return the hospitality in the future.

When a waiter serves you, tapping your index and middle fingers on the table twice means "Thank You" If you want more tea, turn to the lid of the empty teapot upside down or hang it from the spout,and the waiter will give you a refill.

Ask for the bill by making circles with your index finger while pointing down on the table.Burping and slurping are acceptable ways of expressing your enjoyment of the food.

Jaywalking will result in a fine if you get caught. Cars have the right-of-way, so be alert.

Don't be upset if someone bumps into you and doesn't apologize. HongKong is busy and populous,a nd there is little respect for personal boundaries.

If you show a lot of interest in an item while shopping, you will be expected to buy it. So don't mislead the market sellers, but rather exercise discretion.

Chinese people don't smile much - not because they are miserable, but because they like to keep their emotions under control. Avoid public display of emotions.

Donot wear blue or white at social events, these colors are associated with death and mourning.

If you are invited to a private home, bring whiskey, candy or cookies.


Japanese culture is dominated by etiquette, but don't worry about causing an international incident if you make a mistake. You won't go far wrong as long as you get into the habit of considering others (and the group) befor yourself.

Punctuality is essential. Show up on time and you will rarely, if ever, be kept waiting.

Japanese people often shake hands, knowing that it is what you are used to, but it is polite to adopt their custom of bowing, which expresses both respect and humility. When bowing to someone of higher status, you should bow slightly lower than that person. In shops, a nod is sufficient. A bow is also used for apologies (which are frequent) and to say goodbye.

Donot use first names until invited, and don't embarrass others by asking them to call you by your first name until you have met a few times.

Present your business card with both hands. When someone give you theirs, spend a moment reading it carefully before placing it in a card case or on the table. Don't just stuff it into your pocket unread, and don't write on it.

Age equates to high status, so show respect to the elderly.

Talk politely at all times, and keep your facial expression to a minimum. Never show your anger or even irritation.

Japanese people are so polite that they apologize frequently, even when an apology seems unnecessary. You should do the same, say "Sumimasen" which means "I'm sorry" The Japanese also have the great diffuclty saying no, so be sensitive to replies that might indicate a gentle negative, such as "I'll consider it". Don't put others on the spot by asking questions that are difficult to answer. Remember, you can never be too polite in Japan.

A long pause in the conversation is not a sign of discomfort, but a moment that allows for thought. Also, if someone crosses his arms or closes his eyes while you are talking, it is a sign that he is considering your words carefully.

After being seated in a restaurant, you'll be presented with a wet towel called an oshibori (hot in the winter or refreshing cool in the summer) for wiping your hands.

In a restaurant, your host will usually pay. The person with the higherst status sits at the center of the table, and the guest of honor sits to the right of the host. If you find yourself sitting next to the door, then you are the least important person in the group.

Use the thick end of your chopsticks to help yourself from the many communal dishes on the table. It is polite to try a little of everything or else make an excuse like food allergy. At the end of the meal, leave a little food to show that you are satisfied. Never pass food to someone else with your chopsticks or stand your chopsticks up in your rice; bit gestures are associated with funerals.

Don't gesticulate with yoru chopsticks or point them at anyone. When you aren't using them, place them on the chopsticks rest.

Slurping is an acceptable way of tasting food and cooling noodles, soup or tea.

Don't pour your own drink. Wait for others to give you a refill, and return the gesture. If you've had enough to drink, elae the cup half full or turn it upside down. To make a toast, say "Kampai" before drinking. Tea is served at the end of the meal.

Don't eat food on the move. If you buy take-out food, stand or sit down to eat.

Japanese women cover thoir mouths when laughing. When talking about yourself, point to your nose, not your chest.

Lingin up is extremely successful here. Wait your turn and don't push.

Remove your shoes and wear the slippers provided when entering a Japanese home. Change in and out of bathroom slippers when going to the bathroom.

Smiling is often used to disguise negative emotions, such as embarassment or disapproval; it is not always a sign of amusement. Head scratching is often used in the same way.

It is impolite to blow your nose in public, and using a handkerchief rather than a disposable tissue is considered unsanitary.


The Taiwanese bow or nod their heads, often without smiling because greeting is a solemn respecftful affair. Keep eye contact brief. If you do shake hands, the shake will be limp and longer than in the West; this does not imply a lack of assertiveness. Rather, a firm handshake maybe interpreted as pushy and aggressive. Women rarely shake hands, introductions are by a third person.

Resist the urge to ask everyone to use your first name immediately; trust and respect are built slowly, so rushing the relationship will result in embarrassment and confusion.

Offer a business card with both hands, with the text facing away from you. When receiving a business card, it is polite to scrutinize it closely and then place it on the table, rather than stuffing it into your pocket (which is rude and also signifies the end of the meeting.)

In China, you should avoid talking about Taiwan (and don't refer to it as a sepatate country). Here, you should refer to the "Taiwan Province" or just "Taiwan". Although the 25 percent of inhabitants who came over from China after World War II may still consider themselves politically Chinese, the remainder very much consider themselves Taiwanese (even though culturally they are Chinese).

Always deny a compliment graciously (don't say "Thank You"); it is important to show modesty. Expect to be asked very personal questions, even by complete strangers, such as "How much do you earn?" or "Are you married?" that should be deflected tactfully, if you wish to keep these things private.

In the West, it is customary to discuss a wide range of subjects while eating in Taiwan, the conversation revolves around the food, almost obsessively, with endless compliments to the host.

When eating, sample a little of everything and leave a little food on your plate at the end of the meal; otherwise, your host will think you are still hungry. If someone puts food on your plate, accept this offer of hospitality and eat at least some of it. Be sure you compliment the food several times.

Expect frequest toasting. The host utters the first toast with the words "Gan Bei", or "Dry the glass" after which everyone should drain their glasses.

Use the thick end of your chopsticks (0r the larger serving chopsticks) when taking food from a communal dish. Take the food closest to you and don't dig around in a bowl looking for the best morsels.

Eat rice by holding the bowl close to your face and scooping the rice into your mouth with your chopsticks. Leaving the bowl on the table is a sign that you are unhappy with the food. Never leave your chopsticks stuck in your rice, this is associated with death.

When the bill arrives, it is customary for everyone to fight to pay it. If you are hosting you should pay, so the best way to avoid a battle at the end of the meal is to settle the bill discreetly in private.

Driving in Taiwan is chaotic. There are lots of scooters, and many driver on the wrong side of the road. (Be careful when thurning a corner) Also, some people drive with their headlights off to save gas! It is not unusual to see five people crammed onto one scooter. If you are involved in an acccident, the other party may try to offer you money to avoid involving the police.

When the Taiwanese aren't eating, they love shooting off fireworks, no matter what the occasion. Expect to hear loud bangs every day. Earthquake and tremors occur very frequently here, too (every week); It is a fact of life and people are used to it.

Just because people don't smile or acknowledge others on the street, it does'nt mean that they are miserable or rude. As a foreigner, you will attract a lot of friendly curiosity and lots of stares; don't get annoyed, or you'll soon draw a large crowd with your innappropriate behavior!Remain calm at all times.

Saying NO is hard for a Taiwanese person, who will prefer to say something as "perhaps" or "I'll think about it" in order to be polite. Try to understand the subtext of any exchange, since the Taiwanese are very diplomatic and will go out of their way to save face. If you need to discuss sensitive subject do so in private so you don't embarass someone in public. Causing someone to lose face would be a disaster not only for your relationship, but for their whole family.

Taiwanese people will decline a gift three times before accepting it. They will not open it infront of you, nor should you. Accept a gift with two hands, with your palms facing upward.

Foreign cigarettes, wine and spirits make good presents, but don't bring food to a dinner party because it implies that the hospitality is insufficient. Wrap gifts in paper with lucky colors, such as red, yellow or pink - not black or white, which is associated with death.


Thais do not shake hands; they greet each other with a Wai. Place your hands together as if in prayer and raise them to your face while bowing slightly. The height of your hands depends on the status of the other person. When you Wai an equal, the hands are placed on the chest; for monks and elders they are raised to nose or forehead-level; Buddha should be Waied with your hands above the head. Don't Wai children or people who are serving you, such as waiters, hotel staff and taxi drivers, just nod slightly. Foreigners should not initiate a Wai.

Patience, tolerance, and calmness are highly prized virtues. Losing your temper, raising your voice, or attmepting to dominate others physically or verbally is totally inappropriate - it will lose you all respect and is totally counter productive. Always stay cool and polite, regardless of the circumstances.

Tahi people are very sensitive, so even a misjudged joke could damage your relationship or cause embarassment. If you feel that you might have committed a breach of etiquette, no matter how minor, always aplologize by offering a Wai.

Thais eat with fork and spoon. Food is bite sized, so a knife is unnessary. Only the spoon should enter your mouth, while the fork is used to push food onto the spoon. When picking up food (such as sticky rice), always use your right hand. Do not use your fingers.

Groups of Buddhist monks walks throughout the streets each morning carrying bowls to receive offers of food. It is an honor to give food to monks,so you should thank them, not vice versa.

Never criticize, members of the Thai royal family, even in jest. Any disrespect shown toward them 9and the currecny upon which their faces appear) can attract a charge of l'ese majeste', which carries severe punishment. When the national anthem is played daily at 8am and 6pm, you should stand in respectful silence. Take your lead from those around you.

It is also offense to insult or disrespect any religion (not just Buddhism); this includes behaving inappropirately toward religious images or when visiting temples.

All images of Buddha are considered sacred. Donot touch, point your feet toward, stand higher than, turn your back on, or pose for photographs infront of a Buddha. Remove your shoes before entering a room that contains the Buddha.

Monks are not allowed to touch or be touched by women. If a woman wants to pass something to a monk, she should place it on a piece of cloth and step away.

Never touch a Thai person on the head, even a chld. Symbolically (and literally), it is the highest part of the body. If you touch a person's head, even by accident, apologize immediately. The feet as the lowest part, should never touch or be pointed towards anybody. When sitting on a chair, keep the soles of your feet on the floor; when sitting on the floor cross your legs, tucking your feet underneath and to the side so they don't point at anyone. Never sit with your legs straight out in front of you.

Public displays of affection should not go beyond holding hands. Hugging a Thai person or kissing in public, even as a gesture of friendship, is unwelcome.

Smiling is often used to disguise negative emotions such as anger, embarrassment, or disapproval; it is not always a sign of amusement.

Buddhists beleive that all life is sacred, so accidentally stepping on a spider or an insect is regrettable, deliberately swatting or squashing one will cause great offense.

Even on the beach, Thai people donot stip down to bikinis and shorts. They are prepared to tolerate tourists wearing them on the beach, but elsewhere you should cover up your legs and arms (especially in temples, where men should wear hats and womens hould wear scarves and collars are buttoned to the neck). Going topless or nude anywhere is disrespectful (and illegal) Clothes should be clean and dry. Showering regularly is importnat; nobody will criticize you for doing it four times a day.

Remove your shoes before entering a Thai home, even some offices and shops will expect you toleave your shoes at the door. Shoes are allowed in a temple compound, but not in themain Chapel. Donot step onthe threshold as you enter a room.

When you are hanging lower body clothing to dry (such as ants, underwear, sockj, etc), they be hung lower and well away from clothes worn on the upper body.


Singaporean culture combines vibrant Western consumerism with uniquely Asian cultures and etiquette. The population of nearly four million is made up of three-quarters Chinese, 14 percent Malays, and nearly eight percent Indians.

Puncutality is very impotant in business, but it is rude to arrive on time for social events(It is perceived as greedy). The guest of honor arrives last.

Third party introductions are th norm, so wait to be intorduced. Greet with a light handshake which is usually softer and longer than a handshake in the West.(Thehandshake should be up to 10 seconds).

Offier a business car with both hands, with the text facing away from you. When receiving a business card, it is polite to scrutinize it closely and then keep hold of it, rather than stuff it into your pocket (which is rude and also signifies the end of the meeting.)

Saing NO is hard for a Singaporean, who will prefer to say something like "perhaps" or "I'll think about it" in order to be polite. Expect to be let down very gently.

Saving face is paramount in this culture, so you should never do or say anything likely to cause embarrassment - for example, expressing negative emotions, such as anger or irritations, or raising your voice. Western-style assertiveness and directness are rude. You should be understated and diplomatic at all times. Try to be understated and diplomatic at all times, especially about your achievements. Try to be accomodating and flexible, if you express disagreement with someone who does'nt know you well, you will be viewed as pushy, or even hostile and agressive.

If someone puts food on your plate, accept it as a sign of hospitality, it is rude to refuse, and you must sample a little of everything you are offered. However, since there is a greater range of food restrictions here than in the West (no pork for Muslim Malays, no mat for Hindi Indians), do not reciprocate, since the other person might feel obliged to eat it out of politeness.

Use the thick end of the chopsticks when taking foo from a communal dish. Don't dig around in a bowl looking for the best bits of food.

Always make a point of complimenting the host on the enjoyable food (even if it was not to your taste.) Singaporeans go to ridiculous legnths to ensure that their hospitality runs smoothly, so you should acknowledge their attention to detail.

In hawker centers (similar to an American food court), the food is rated A, B and C, or D, which is the Ministry of Health and Enviromment grade of quality. Avoid labeled with a D.

Smoking is banned in public areas, lines and public transportation, although you are allowed to smoke in air-conditioned karaoke bars, pubs, and discos. Fines are steep ($1,000SGD for a first offense).


Singapore has the lowest crime rates in the world, and penalties are charged for a wide range of misdemeanors. For example, jaywalking, failure to flush a toilet, spitting, or lettering will cost you $1,000SGD for a first offense.

Donot use your left hand when interacting socially with Indians or Malays; it is reserved for unclean uses such as going to the bathroom. Use your right hand to eat, pass foor, gesture and handle gifts.

When pointing, use your knuckles rather than an extended finger.

Don't kick, move, point at, or touch anything with your feet - they are unclean.

Avoid standing with your hands on your hips, this is an aggressive gesture.

Although lining up is not popular in China, it is very important in Singapore, cutting in line is considered very rude.



In India, the customary greeting is called a namostem, and it involves bowing slightly or nodding while holding your palms together below your chin. Handshakes are also used in business, but the namaste is the sagest choice because you can use ti in situation when you are unsure whether physical contact is appropriate.

Indians are very friendly and gregarious and will start a conversation anywhere and ask all sorts of personal questions, it is okey for you to reciprocate and ask you host similar questions. Discussing your family is paerfectly acceptable and will help to build trust.

Try to be accomodating and flexible all times; if you express disagreement with someone who doen't know you well, you will be viewed as pushy or even hostile and aggressive. Avoid standing with your hands on your hips; this is an aggressive gesture. In conversation, an appeal to emotions and beliefe will produce better results than cool logic.

If you're stuck for conversations, talk about cricket, politics (except Pakistan), or movies. Do a little homework on all these subjects before visiting India; a bit of small talk will really brak down cultural barriers. Avoid discussing poverty or religion unless you are showing a genuine interest in some aspect of religious observance. Do not insult anyone by confusing or comparing Indians with Pakistanis.

Indians are very polite so they have great difficulty saying NO. Be sensitive to replies that might indicate a gentle negative, such as "We'll see", This apparent inability to commit to a negative decision is based on politeness, not deception.

When someone offers you food or a drink, it is polite to refuse it at least once before accepting. After this, don't refuse an offer of food or drink because any rejection of hospitality is viewed as an insult. After eating, thanking your hosts is considered an abuse of hospitality because it implies, that the food was not offered willingly. Instead, offer a genuine invitation to dine with you in the near future. Don't be surprised if your guests arrive late and bring uninvited guests. In the West this could be seen as taking liberties, but in India it is a sign that your friends like you enough to encourage others to enjoy your company and hospitality.

Always wash your hands before and after a meal. Hindus also rinse out their mouths before eating. Eat food with your right hand; the left hand is reserved for unclean uses such as going to the bathroom.

Don't offer anyone else, even a close friend or partner, food from your plate. The Western romantic image of offering a forkful of food to your lover would be viewed with disgust.

After a meal in a restaurant, you will be served a plate of seeds (usually anise or toasted fennel). Chew them to freshen your breath.

Avoid public displays of affection with members of the opposite sex, including hugging someone to say hello. Many Hindus and Sikhs avoid all physical contact between the sexes, including handshakes. Muslim men must ritually clease before prayer if they touch a woman, so women should observe the practice of namaste when in doubt. You never see people kissing and hugging on the streets, although you may spot a little clandestine intimacy at some of the popular tourists sites.

Always arrive a few minute late to a social function (unless it's an official function). Arrive about 15minutes late to a dinner party.

When visting someone's home, take special care to respect the customs and beliefs of others, your behaviour will never be criticized while you are the honored guest.

The following are rude and should be avoided winking, whistling, pointing or beckoning with yoru figners, touching someone's ears or pointing your feet at someone. If your feet make contact with anybody else, you shpild apologized because feet are considered unclean.


You will usually be greeted with a handshake and the words "Assalaam-u-Alaikum" ("May peace be upon you"), to which you should reply "Waalaikum assalaam" ("And peace also upon you").Close friends of the same sex may embrace. Women greet each other with ahandshake or hug. Men should not shake hands with women.

Be punctual to meetings with Pakistanis, but don't expect them to be on time.

Asking about the family is acdeptable and polite but donot show too much interest in the women. If you learn and use a few words of Urdu, it will be much appreciated.

Don't make a big deal about poverty. Pakistanis know their country is poor; it is very rude to keep reminding them of it.

Pakistanis are very friendly and generous and will often invited you home for a meal, where you will be treatred as an honored guest. A refusal is impolite although you should not overstay your welcome-leave soon after you have finised eating.

When someone offers you anything, it is polite to refues it before acceting. A Pakistani may offer you soemthing that he does not have or cannot afford to give, so be senstivie to all offers by declining several times. (IN the case of of food, the item may be trhust unto your hands). Don't accept drinks from people on buses or trains, there have been cases of mugging and drugging.

Eat food with your right hand; the left hand is reserved for unclean uses such as going to the bathroom.

Pakistan is largely Muslim, while India is largely Hindu, so the Pakistani diet is dominated by meat (especially beef) and alcohol and pork are forbidden, while Indian food is often vegetarian. Donot insult someone by confusing or comparing Indians to Pakistanis.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit mosques, but should dress apprpriately (covering arms, legs and hair and removing shoes) and avoid the five daily prayer times. You can even use a camera as long as you don't use a flash-also don't take pictures of the women.

Lone female travelers will be frown upon and shunned because only loose women travel unaccompanied.

Avoid public dispalys of affection with memebrs of the opposite sex, including hugging someone to say hello. Muslim men must ritually cleanse before prayer if they touch a woman.

The following are rude and should be avoided, winking, whistling, pointing or beckonign with your fingers, or showing the soles of your feet. If your feet make contact with anybody else, you should apologize, feet are considered unclean.

Women always take precedence in lines and seating.

(Source: Abstracted from the book:BEHAVE YOURSELF! The Essential Guide to International Etiquette by:Michael Powell)
posted by infraternam meam @ 1:10 AM  
  • At 11:00 PM, Blogger Sidney said…

    Interesting facts! What about the Philippines?

  • At 12:58 PM, Blogger infraternam meam said…

    sorry Sid...i was not able to find any Etiquette entry about the Phils. i can create such entry on my own..but i am not qualified to do so. sorry!

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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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