When in Rome… (or France, or Russia, or Italy)

Do’s and Don’ts when travelling abroad

When in Rome
The Sarf Effikens were here already.

Before you hop on your flight to any of the following exotic destinations, we at Trivia SA want to make sure you don’t get arrested simply because you took a photo of a cool looking building.

Did you just give someone thirteen flowers, instead of twelve? Uh oh. Had a cappuccino with lunch and then tipped the waiter? Not cool, dude.

Here are some do’s and don’ts when visiting different parts of the world. First though, let’s have a look at the three things which will either embarrass you, or worse – land you in very hot water almost anywhere in the world.

#1 Don’t speak louder because you speak Sarf Effriken (or a version thereof) – and they don’t

We Sarf Effrikens are quite proud of the fact that we have eleven official languages. Most of us can only speak two of them though, so chances are that you won’t be able to speak the weird Lingua franca (lingo, dude) of the foreign country you’re visiting either. Don’t try. Puh-lease.


Just because someone speaks a different language, does not mean they are deaf. Quit speaking louder and slower Eengleesh to the locals – they’re not retarded either.

#2 Don’t take pictures of security-related buildings

If it’s a government building, cool looking police quarters, or even inside an airport – ask first!

Awkward arrest
That awkward moment – when you’re the only one who didn’t know

In many countries you can be detained for photographing these places (which will put a huge damper on your holiday, but at least provide you with a great topic of conversation back in South Africa).

#3 Don’t drive off the main roads

If you are going to drive, know the rules of the road for that country and don’t forget your International Driving Permit. DO try and remember which side of the road to drive on.

Driving animated

All set? Away we go!

#4 Don’t tip in Japan; but do wash your private parts – frequently

Tipping is just not part of the culture, and it’s considered to be degrading. Don’t even leave small change. People will come running after you with it. Seriously.

Tipping in Japan
Photo: Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

You will encounter ‘washlets’ or toilets with attachments for washing and drying your private parts everywhere. Don’t get too freaked out by them… and if you can’t figure them out, you can always use toilet paper.

#5 DO tip in America, and don’t get out of your car when pulled over

In stark contrast to Japan, you MUST tip your waiter/bartender in America. If you don’t tip, they might revoke your visa. 20% of your bill is good. 18% is okay. Anything below 15%? Congratulations: the entire waitstaff now hates your country.

Tipping in America
Photo: thrillist.com

Don’t get out of your car when a cop pulls you over – unless you enjoy the refreshing jolt of a Taser.

#6 Don’t smile at strangers in Russia; do give them an odd number of flowers as a gift

Russians sees smiling as an intimate gesture, indicating a genuine affinity toward another person. If you don’t know them, they might consider you insincere. Rather frown all the time, it’s a lot safer.

Traditionally, an even number of flowers is given only at funerals in Russia, whereas an odd number is given for celebrations. That’s why you can often find a man throwing out a flower when he buys a large bouquet.

Thirteen flowers? Da! Twelve flowers? Nyet!

Don’t criticize their government either.

#7 Don’t use your left hand in India, and don’t kiss in public

The left hand is thought of as unclean in Indian (and Muslim) culture, so always use your right hand to greet someone, exchange money, or pick up merchandise. The same rule applies in Indonesia.


In some jurisdictions, kissing in public can land you in jail for public obscenity.

If you stomp on a book, the national flag or the image of a deity, you can get into trouble. While stomping a book is frowned upon (people will think you’re an idiot), deliberately stomping an image of a god of any religion or India’s national symbols (such as the flag and the emblem) might get you arrested.

#8 Don’t eat everything on your plate in China; do burp after a meal

If you eat everything on your plate, it shows your host didn’t provide enough food or a filling meal. Along with leaving a little, it’s fine to burp after eating, as a compliment to the chef.

Do not visit any place in any part of China at any Chinese festival or holiday, especially on Chinese National Day (October 1st).

Wall of China
It’s a bit crowded

Chinese people really care about homophones. Some, like the number 8, are considered good luck. The word “umbrella” sounds a lot like “separation,” and “clock” sounds like “paying last respects,” so those are bad.

#9 Don’t honk in Norway, or get overenthusiastic about nudity

Don’t go all Sarf Effriken taxi driver on the roads in Norway. Honking is used only in an emergency – so your unnecessary beeping could cause drivers to panic.

Honking horn
Honking the horn again? You dog.

People are pretty relaxed about nudity, and both men and women will for example change on public beaches without any attempt at covering themselves up. You are however expected to look away. Sidelong glances are fine, we suppose.

#10 Don’t forget to say hello in France; don’t French kiss strangers

“Bonjour Madame, Monsieur” should be the first words out of your mouth, otherwise you’re subtly showing you feel the person is beneath you. “Howzit” would also suffice, but this greeting might confuse the French somewhat.

France shopkeeper
Photo: Ryan Lane/Getty Images

And even though you’re in France, it doesn’t provide you with a license to start french kissing total strangers (or mimes).

Mimes in France
Non Monsieur, S’il vous plaît ne pas! (Please Sir, no kiss!)

#11 Don’t talk with your hands in your pockets in Germany, and don’t be a Nazi

Talking to someone with your hands in your pockets is considered rude. Even in Sarf Effrica, but more so in Germany.

Hands in pockets
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

It’s also customary to keep your hands on the table while eating, rather than resting them in your lap.

Definitely don’t do the Nazi salute. Not even in jest. It’s a crime and every year there are tourists arrested for it. Also don’t carry any Nazi symbols on you.

Don’t wish someone a happy birthday before the day. Same for anything. The origin is a superstition that something bad will happen to them (for example, they might die) before their birthday if you do. The same rule applies in Russia.

Happy birthday

#12 Don’t laugh at the dialect in New Zealand, and no Hobbit jokes please

Never disrespect the dialects, the Queen (of England), or The Lord of the Rings. Don’t confuse New Zealanders with Australians. The Kiwi accent is funny, we know, but don’t point it out. Do not make fun of the culture or language. The Queen of England is still a big deal in New Zealand, so it’s not a good idea to make fun of her.

Hobbiton is a real place, and the Kiwis are very proud of Lord Of the Rings. No Hobbit or LOTR jokes, please.

Hobbiton - New Zealand
Short people and elderly hobbits live here. You’ve got to hand it to them, ’cause they can’t reach.

#13 Don’t point at things in Malaysia, and don’t touch the monks

Never touch anyone’s head or pass anything from above the head. It is considered to be the most sacred body part.

Do not point your forefinger at things. Instead point a thumb. Pointing a forefinger at anything is considered rude.

Pointing with thumb
This building gets a thumbs-up

Do not touch or give anything to a monk if you’re a woman, they have to fast and do ritual cleansing.

#14 Don’t go all Spanish in Brazil

Don’t assume Brazilians speak Spanish. Brazil was colonized by Portugal, so the official language is Portuguese. After the Soccer World Cup in 2014 you should already know this, right?

Not one of the eleven SA official languages

#15 Dress appropriately when visiting temples in Thailand; don’t make fun of Buddha

Dress appropriately when visiting temples. Do not wear shorts, short skirt, bikini, tank top, tube top, or any other inappropriate clothes. This holds true for most of Europe and Asia.

Dress code
How (not) to dress up

Don’t do any kind of inappropriate posture near images of Buddha. Do not say anything negative about the king of Thailand and the royal family.

#16 NEVER walk in the bicycle lane in The Netherlands

Pedestrians should not walk in the bicycle lane – at all. Although the Dutch are renowned for their permissiveness (drugs, prostitution, and so forth), their collective pent-up intolerance is reserved for those unlucky visitors that dare to walk where they are not supposed to.

The Netherlands
A crazy pavement, also known as “a cycle path”

#17 Don’t turn down food in Italy; do drink coffee the right way

Refusing food in Italy is considered impolite.

Open wide

Expect the ‘tourists, pfh!’ gaze when you order cappuccino during lunch or dinner. Cappuccino is for breakfast, and Italians can’t understand how it is that we keep ingesting milk together with tomato sauce and haven’t died of an ulcer yet.

#18 You don’t have to talk much in Australia

The land down under is very similar to Sarf Effrica in many ways, and you don’t need to talk much either.

Make no mistakes, Bruce

Aussies will provide the answers to many of the questions they ask you, all by themselves. For example: “What’s your name, Bruce?” or, when addressing your wife/girlfriend: “What’s your name, Sheila?” and “What’s your favorite pastime, Sport?”

What a wonderful country.

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