WANDERLUST WEEK--Ask Elle: Traveling Etiquette

Maybe it's because I'm a Libra and can see both sides to everything, but for some reason, I'm always the go-to-girl for advice. Instead of just providing my services to my friends and family, I've decided to help you as well. Every month I take readers' questions on any and every topic--see past topics here. Email, Tweet, or comment me and I'll give my advice, via blog or confidentially. 

Sometimes the best conversations happen in the car--does this happen to you as well? Over the weekend, a friend and I started discussing different cultures. She recalled the old cliche that the French dislike Americans. I told her I had never encountered this and proceeded to give her some of my traveling etiquette tips. While I'm proud of my country, I really try hard to blend in when traveling, and am usually successful at doing so. Listed below are just a few tips, as this is not a complete list. My desire here is to inform and not overwhelm. Have fun and enjoy! 
  • Dress the part: Thanks to Applied Glamour, I was reminded about putting forth an effort to look nice when traveling, so not as to stick out as a traveler. This, of course, is personal preference and depends on the activity (while hiking through Costa Rica, style was the last thing on my mind).
  • Personal Space: In America, we like to have a bit of personal space. I've found in other countries this isn't always the case. People aren't trying to intimidate; it's just the norm. Pushing & shoving can be common place too.
  • Greetings: Also, in America, tend to shake hands when meeting someone (unless in the South, where we seem to hug when greeting just about anyone). In Europe, generally speaking, there's usually double-kissing (this depends on the country). I wait for the other person to make the first move though, just in case they start off with a handshake. And while visiting Switzerland, I found they kiss THREE times (unless I was totally duped). 
  • Affections: It's very normal to see lots of embracing, kissing, hand-holding, walking arm-in-arm between friends, even those of the same gender.
  • Shopping: In other countries, the "mom & pop" store phenomenon is still actively present. Instead of just walking in and browsing, be sure to make contact and greet the owner. 
  • Language: Even if you aren't a linguistics nerd like me, learning some very basic phrases of the native language is so helpful. A simple greeting is respectful and appreciated. Make sure you do this with those you encounter, like store owners, store workers, and waitstaff. Once the greetings have been exchanged, then you can ask for, "English, please."
  • English: Don't assume everyone knows English. Many, many do, but don't assume.
  • Conversation etiquette: In America, we tend to ask the person we are speaking to about his/her occupation. Many countries consider this crass--the same thing goes for money-talk.
  • Volume: For some reason, when we don't know the language, we tend to speak louder when talking to each other. This makes it even more obvious you're a visitor.
  • Gestures: Watch your hand gestures! Say you're in a bar and you gesture that you want two beers (peace sign). I bet your palm is facing outward, right? That's considered offensive in some countries, so your palm should face you. Here is a list of more gestures.
  • Humor & insults: I tend to have a very dry sense of humor that doesn't always translate to other cultures, so I watch what I say, so as to not offend. I've also found that some people in some countries are very honest and opinions are given whether wanted or not (if I had a dollar for every time I heard for fat Americans are...). Just let it roll off.
  • Dining & customer service: Use your utensils! Don't rip food (minus bread in many cases) with your hands. Customer service, particularly the wait staff, isn't like in America. In many countries there is no tipping (see chart below & click to enlarge). Take your time and enjoy your meal.


  1. Great tips! I always find myself at a loss when it come to the greeting thing (for non-Americans). Like you, I usually wait and see what the other person does, and then just do the same.


  2. I think it's always smart to read up on the etiquette of a culture before venturing out. A savvy traveler always does so!

  3. I agree -- great conversations do happen in the car! And nothing beats the adventure of travel!

  4. All great tips! Thank you!

  5. This is great advice! I always find the personal space issue to be interesting. We definitely like our space here, don't we?!

  6. all great tips! love the advice :)

  7. Great traveling tips! When I lived overseas, I would always cringe when American tourists would make a scene, usually by being really loud!

  8. That is so true, French people do not dislike Americans, there is snobbery with food but that's in every proud culture I think. OMG who in the hell said you were fat, you are far from it, but yes OMG if I have to hear the "super size" critique ... again. It is true though, food portions are HUGE in the us when dinning out, it didn't used to be like that.

    I kiss and hug, and then if you mix that in with my French background, we double kiss, but in Japan it's so weird for me to hold back the affection.

    Love the tips.

  9. These are such great and useful tips! I think, like you mentioned, that it is very important to learn some basic phrases in the language of the country your travelling to. I just came back from a trip to Italy and was very surprised to realize how little English they actually speak...good thing I took an Italian course there :P


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