Top tips to get to grips with local etiquette
- ‘Hello!’ may well be the first thing you learn in your new language, but there’s probably a handful of other ways to say it. You’ll pick them up quickly if you keep your ears open, and it’ll give you a range of options rather than just the one translation you first learned. The same goes for other everyday phrases such as ‘goodbye’ and ‘how are you?’
This is because many languages differentiate between male and female, and whether it’s a formal or informal situation. So, you’d get away with greeting a male friend in a bar with ‘Ciao, come stai, ragazzo?’ in Italy, but it wouldn’t be acceptable if you were meeting an elderly woman, for example, where you would more likely say ‘buongiorno, signora, come va?’. This can be a bit of a tricky topic for English speakers to get their head around at first, but it’s often a key part of communicating appropriately so bear it in mind.
- Punctuality is the ultimate rule to abide by in countries like Switzerland and Sweden, where it’s considered impolite to keep someone waiting, especially in a professional context. There are exceptions when it comes to friends and family, but it’s wise to arrive five minutes earlier than what was agreed, just to be on the safe side. You can be a bit more liberal with time in Latin countries, where turning up five, 10 or sometimes even 15 minutes late is rarely a problem.
- Not abiding by local dress codes is often seen as disrespectful or poor taste, particularly at religious sites or at special events. It’s common sense to check these things out before travelling, but make mental notes of what locals are wearing for your next visit, too. Are the people around here casually or smartly dressed? Are body parts exposed or covered up? Does code change for the day and night time? Considering these things before packing your suitcase and picturing yourself in the scene will go a long way in helping you feel more comfortable when you’re there.
- Most languages are far more direct that English, in all kinds of scenarios: questions, requests and commands. This often comes as a surprise to an English speaker and can often be perceived as rude. The important thing is not to see it through British eyes; it is simply how the other language works. Think of it as a way of saving time and being an ‘efficient’ speaker. Don’t be afraid just to ask for ‘a cappuccino, please’ and not ‘I would like a cappuccino, please’ in a cafe, and resist the urge to apologise if you accidentally nudge someone in a busy street. In most places – unless you physically cause them harm – it’s not worth bothering.
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