The British have a reputation for good manners the world over, but when it comes to eating out on their travels do British travellers live up to high standards expected of them? According to new research, Brits abroad may well be unintentionally committing cultural gaffes in restaurants – all 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 dine in a foreign country, according to a new survey, 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 Brits

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 to the waiter – ‘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 when eating out.

  • 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

Chopsticks in a muddle

Eating with chopsticks can seem a tricky business, and few respondents knew how their eating habits would be received when eating out 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 – foodies 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 when eating out abroad.

  • 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 

Travelbag has created a set of etiquette guides – containing 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.

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