We’ve all been there. I’ve been there more than once—and who knows how many times I’ve offended someone without knowing because I am from another culture and unaware of differences. I try and do a little bit of research before I go, but as a traveler, you often end up making some faux pas. Part of it is a learning experience, another is being human. Here are some of my top three cultural mistakes that I have made (that I know of).
I was in the Turkish airport waiting for my flight to Tokyo when I decided to order a coffee. I was with a lovely new friend I had made on the flight, and we went up to the coffee stand to grab our drinks. One of the baristas asked if I wanted whole milk in my coffee and I gave him the “okay” sign—my index finger and my thumb pressed together. Immediately, I regretted it. I knew that I had accidentally called him an asshole. On top of that, he had to find money to exchange my euros. Needless to say, he was not happy when he handed me my drink.
2. Too stuffed
I was in Greece with a friend and one of her local acquaintances who took us to some of the best food stops in Thessaloniki. The seafood was highly recommended, so I ordered the squid, not realizing it was the entire thing. It was about a foot long, and I could only get through about three-quarters of it before feeling like I was going to explode. It was absolutely amazing, but way too much for me. As we were leaving the restaurant, an eighty-year old woman barged out of the kitchen. Apparently I had greatly offended her by not finishing my meal. Thankfully, I had Helen to translate that I was a tourist, but the older woman continued shaking her hand at me until I was out the door.
3. Do as the Lucchese do
I went out with my roommate and met so locals at a bar not that far away from my apartment. I had a wonderful night chatting with some local artists and writers until three in the morning. It didn’t like they were going to stop, so I politely asked for the bill for my drink alone. One of the men leaned over and asked me why I was not paying for the whole table, as was accustomed in Italy. Even after living there for almost a year and a half, I was shocked that he would expect me to pay the entire thing—amounting to hundreds of dollars. Politely, I declined and mentioned that it was not how we did it in America. I’m sure he wasn’t too happy, but that was one custom I was not about to participate in.
Have you ever made a cultural faux pas? How did you fix it?