One of the most important lessons anyone can learn before they travel abroad is to understand local customs and rules of conduct that are common for the region they are visiting. Learning to say your pleases and thank yous, your hellos and good byes, how to greet a shop keeper when you enter their place of business, or whether to say entschuldigung or es tut mir leid if you bump into someone in Germany will get you far with the locals.
Did you know that in many countries it is considered rude to pick up and inspect a piece of produce before you buy it? I didn’t until I grabbed an apple in a market in Normandy. The woman I was with, an American who was living and studying in France, just about swallowed her tongue when she saw me do it. I finished my transaction, which by the way, did not include the purchase of said apple, and we left. She was silent for a bit when she said in a hushed voice, “I can’t believe you did that.”
“You don’t touch the fruit.”
A little confused by what she said, I responded, “Huh?”
“Well, it’s customary to let the shop keeper select the produce for you. You see, they don’t want everyone handling their goods in case of damage, and the common understanding is that the farmer, or the purveyor knows their goods better than the customer. They know which are the freshest and can help you to get just what you’re looking for.”
Needless to say, I learned that lesson and kept my hands to myself the next time I visited that particular fruit stand.
We’ve all stumbled into a handful of cultural lessons through our travels. What about you? What was a custom that you learned the hard way? Was it a laughing matter or did it land you in the clink?
Share in the comments below and the funniest/scariest/most helpful will get reposted here in a couple of weeks.
Happy travels… and pay attention!