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Etiquette advice: What to know before traveling to another country

Karen Hickman
Karen Hickman
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Before leaving, make an effort to learn its customs, etiquette.

Friday, July 12, 2013 12:01 am
Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing.

Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.

Q: Karen, our family is planning a trip out of the country and wondered what all we need to know about the countries we are visiting before we go. Any suggestions?

A: Americans are often accused of being ethnocentric, meaning we expect everyone to do things our way and that we are superior to other groups. And I think that label is often deserved.

So, whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, to an international country, I recommend doing your homework before you leave.

When any of us travel to another country, we are really guests of the country we are in. We are also making a statement about Americans, good or bad, as we travel in those countries. So, I think it's important to put on your best manners and be respectful of the differences in other countries and cultures.

General information for any country will help educate you, which is one of the many reasons to travel. So consider knowing some of things below to broaden your experience and make a good impression. Just making the effort goes a long way.

Before you go, here is a list of things to consider knowing before getting on the plane:

General information: Population, land size, type of government, agriculture, natural resources, industries, climate and currency.

About the people: Name, ethnic makeup, value system, family, religion, athletics, and holidays and festivals

Here are other specifics to know:

•Language/phrases (Just learning a few words and phrases will show that you are making an effort. Translation phone apps are very easy to download and use.)

•Body language/gestures ( Many American gestures do not translate well in another culture. In fact, some of the gestures we use are considered offensive in another country.)

•Handshaking (Be aware that some cultures have a much lighter handshake than Americans.)

•Social space/proxemics (Social space varies from culture to culture. Americans stand about an arm's length from each other to converse.)

•Eye contact (Direct eye contact may not be appropriate everywhere.)

•Forms of address (International people are often more formal than Americans. Address people formally until invited to do otherwise.)

•Dining manners (Many cultures don't talk business at meals, and they often dine more formally than we do. Brush up on your table manners.)

•Food preferences and/or restrictions (If you are a guest, be prepared for more exotic food offerings.)

•Alcohol (Pace yourself.)

•Toasting (Know the rules.)

•Home guidelines (Know what is expected if you are entertained in someone's home.)

•Religious and church etiquette


•Dress (Many places will not allow shorts, short skirts, jeans and even sleeveless tops to be worn in their cathedrals and other tourist attractions. Err on the side of being overdressed, or you may be refused admission.)


•Entertaining (If you travel for business, there may be certain expectations of who and how you entertain.)

•Gifts ... what, when and where

•Strategic do's and don'ts (Get country specific.)

•Time value, punctuality (Other countries may value time differently than Americans. We are monochronic timekeepers, valuing punctuality and appointments. Polychronic time is much more fluid. An 8 o'clock appointment may not happen until 8:45.)

•High-context vs. low-context culture ( Many cultures are more subtle in their communication style than Americans.)

•Corporate culture (If traveling for business, knowing the structure of the companies and their pecking order is vital.)

•Business cards (Have business cards printed with English on one side and the language of the country you are visiting on the other side.)

•Gender specifics ( In some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, men would not offer to shake hands with women or even address them.)

•Health and safety

•Emergency numbers

•U. S. Embassy location, registration ( Register with the American Embassy of the country you are visiting before you go so they know your dates for arrival and departure.)

•State Department warnings and information.

•CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations.

•Medical travel kit information. (medical travel kit info is on the CDC website, www.cdc.gov.)•The U.S. Department of State website, www.state.gov, is full of valuable and important information that everyone should check before leaving America. The web site offers country specific information and alerts.

•The Department of State suggests a minimum of 30 hours of study on any target country to be successful in doing business internationally. Research tells us that only one third of American companies are successful in doing business globally, often due to the lack of study and understanding of other cultures.

•Be sure to check with your local public health department's travel clinic to get information on suggested immunizations and other valuable health-related information. You may be surprised at what is suggested in certain countries. Give yourself plenty of time in case you need to start some medications weeks before traveling.

•Make copies of passports and visas and leave a copy with family members at home and carry copies with you in a separate place from your passport, during your trip. If your passport is stolen, the copies will make it easier to obtain another passport while out of the country.

Happy travels!

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email features@news-sentinel.com, and we’ll forward it to her.


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