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New study shows holidaymakers are making cultural gaffes abroad due to a lack of local research

Travelbag research underlines the value of knowledge and cultural insight to avoid offence and embarrassment – and to get the most from a holiday.

According to new research from tailor-made holiday specialists,, British travellers are unintentionally committing cultural gaffes because they haven’t looked up the customs of the countries they’re visiting.

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’ and chopstick etiquette, to tipping faux pas and rude hand gestures, this lack of local etiquette research is causing some tourists to unintentionally offend locals and miss out on cultural experiences that make a holiday unforgettable. 

Tricky tipping etiquette is baffling Britons
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

Hand gestures – ‘OK’ sign not always getting a thumbs up
Depending on the destination, 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 sign also 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.

To burp, or not to burp?
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

Holidaymakers’ getting their chopsticks in a muddle
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 in 5 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 and most of Asia

Crossed legs – travellers getting their wires crossed
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 – Travelbag Tips – to give holidaymakers a helping hand. They contain dos and don’ts for key destinations and are designed to give customers a quick overview, to read beforehand or even en-route on the plane.

Paul Hopkinson, Marketing Director at Travelbag comments, “We think people should pack in as much to their holidays as possible. 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. We’re really pleased to pull on the knowledge of our well-travelled team to help our customers get clued up before they go – and come home with a lifetime of great memories.”

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.