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OOPS! How Not to Embarrass Yourself in a Foreign Country

Some of these local customs may strike outsiders as downright weird. But learning a bit of cultural etiquette, important phrases, and the absolute no-no's of any country you visit can save you not only embarrassment but also time and money!

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF BODY LANGUAGE

I haven't been to Switzerland yet, but there's one habit I'll have to break before I go: Turns out keeping your hands in your pockets during a conversation is considered rude there. Sound a bit uptight? Head to Turkey, where it's always been refreshingly acceptable for friends of the same sex to hold hands. In some countries, including Peru, it's a no-no to cross your legs at the ankle. In others, like Saudi Arabia, crossing legs at the knee is taboo. You already know that it's common to take off your shoes when entering homes in east Asia, but I'll bet you didn't know that in some cultures, including much of the Arab world, showing the bottoms of your feet or pointing with your feet is rude.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS

Unless you're headed for Australia or Canada, it's a good idea to dress a bit conservatively whenever you leave the U.S. Cover your legs and arms, and avoid T-shirts with slogans or graphics that could offend strangers. (Traveling with a teen? You may have a difficult time getting him to leave his "Epic Fail" T-shirt at home, but it's worth a try!)

DON'T MENTION THE WAR

They may be the only wise words ever uttered by Basil Fawlty, the world's worst innkeeper, portrayed by John Cleese of Monty Python fame in the British sit-com Fawlty Towers: When tourists from the continent visit his inn, Fawlty implores the staff, "Don't mention the war!" Indeed, when representing the U.S. overseas, you can't go wrong by completely avoiding topics such as: wars, scandals, royals, politics, religion, and diplomatic relations with the U.S. Of course, once you've gotten to know a local or fellow traveler, there's nothing like a late-into-the-night, heart-to-heart cultural exchange—go for it! But among casual acquaintances and strangers, zip it!

LEARN THE MAGIC WORDS

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Learning a foreign language's basic phrases such as "Hello," "Goodbye," "Please," "Thank you," "Excuse me," "Where is the bathroom?" and "Do you speak English?" will endear you to the residents of any locale you may visit. It takes only a few minutes to master the magic words that can turn strangers to friends anywhere on earth.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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