Understanding different cultures around the world before you travel

An esteemed American, following a visit to the Netherlands some years back, was back at home and regaling his co-worker with tales of different cultures around the world that he had encountered. His summary was simple, “it’s the little things.” Recently, a few Tour Directors in Europe were asked to come up with a few highlights from different cultures around the world, which might help travelers to know before they travel. The idea being that people heading over might be better informed about those quirks which Europeans seem to enjoy. Here is a small selection.

Southern Europe
1.  It is considered rude to eat while wearing a hat/cap. The tradition in Spain is that gentlemen should take off their hats as soon as they are inside a place. This is why you are requested to take off hats when entering a cathedral.

2.  It is impolite to be seen in public wearing your pajamas. Locals can find this very disconcerting.

3.  Physical contact in a conversation is a typical aspect of communication for Spaniards, therefore it should not be considered an intrusion of personal space!

4.  Locals do not consider it rude to stare at visitors, in Italy people stare at each other; it is part of the culture.

5.  In Italy, Pepperoni is a vegetable, not a type of salami. It’s the Italian word for a bell pepper, so ordering a pepperoni pizza can be a bit of a surprise for an American visitor!

understanding different cultures around the world could have you trying various bell peppers

Austin Kirk/ via Flickr

6.  It is very uncommon to find ‘to go’ cups in cafés in Italy. Life is more relaxed so you should find the time to enjoy your cappuccino before rushing off. However, Cappuccino is a breakfast drink, and in Italy is never drunk after a meal.

7.  Getting the bill (check). Germans would think the restaurant wants to get them out as quickly as possible if they get the bill on their table without having asked for it. So, when in Germany and you are ready to pay your bill, just ask the waiter for it and you will get it. Otherwise, you will be sitting there for ages as we consider it bad service putting the bill in front of you before you ask for it.


understanding different cultures around the world like Santorini

Maggie Meng/ via Flickr

8.  It’s perfectly fine for Greeks to find fault with their own country, but for visitors to do so is frowned upon.

9.  Namesdays – The overwhelming majority of Greeks are Christian Orthodox and thus place a great deal of importance in namesdays, much more so than birthdays in fact. If you have a Greek friend, check your calendar for his namesday and say ‘xronia polla’, but don’t worry too much about birthday reminders.

10.  An open palm directed at someone is considered an insult in Greece, something like the middle finger although perhaps not as grave an offence. Take care not to accidentally perform this gesture for example by pointing the number five with your hand (high fives are probably not a good idea either and remember to wave with the back of the hand).

11.  Greeks are a loud lot and the rule in Greece is ‘the louder the better’. Don’t be alarmed therefore when hearing Greeks discuss things by yelling rather than speaking, making intense gestures, and perhaps even using insulting language. More often than not, this is just what friendly conversation looks like in Greece.

12.  It is very unusual for people to talk while commuting England’s public transport (unless the train breaks down in which case conversation rapidly spreads about how awful the service is). Most people would rather limit the often uncomfortable journey by at least having a quiet environment.

13.  Often people from the UK will not wish to appear to be pushy and being too forward in talking to a stranger but will probably enjoy a conversation if initiated by a stranger or visitor. Good ice-breakers include the weather, William and Kate, why can’t the England soccer team take penalties and tea.

14.  Never ask an English person how much they earn – it’s alarmingly personal to divulge this sort of private information!

15.  People in the Netherlands greet each other in a unique way in a social setting, with three alternating kisses on the cheek. Two men won’t greet each other this way, however, but instead shake hands. Teenagers might just be cool and say, “Hoi, lekker ding!” which means, “Hey, hot stuff!”

16.  Dutch people don’t take a compliment easily. They blush, fidget, and even deny or make an excuse for what you complimented them about. This is the case especially for personal compliments about beauty, style, personality, etc. But a compliment is well received if it is aimed at their craft: a job well done, a delicious homemade apple tart, or good grades.

17.  Children start to learn English from the moment they hear television, since English-language programming is never dubbed into Dutch but merely subtitled. English in the classroom begins at eight, or often younger.

What tips can you share with us?

(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Tour Director Paul Mattesini, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)

Hundreds of destinations.
Endless possibilities.

Contact us Browse tours