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Journeys with Joe


Whilst Traveling!

Specific ones for a country will be found in that countries information.

General Guidelines


Cover them!
Many Asian cultures tend to be conservative; so it’s important to respect that in everything from how you interact with others to how you dress. Create a warmer welcome by making the effort to dress conservatively.

Head and Feet
Touching a person’s head is considered VERY rude and invasive in most parts of Asia.
Countries such as China, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia who have large Buddhist populations.
In Buddhist culture the head is the highest part of the body and thought of as sacred.
The feet, being on the lowest part of the body, are considered dirty.
So, pointing with your feet, or showing the bottoms of your feet to anyone is also offensive.

Don’t blow it! Literally.
Refrain from blowing your nose at the table in Japan, Korea or China.
Try to be discreet or get up and leave the table first.

Hands and Fingers
Crossing your fingers in Vietnam means the same as giving someone the finger; or the “V” for victory sign.
In Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries, pointing with one finger is rude; gesture with your full hand, palm up.
In Korea, Japan, and Thailand giving or receiving with one hand is a big no-no; always use two hands.

Chopstick Etiquette
It is OK to ask for a fork or a spoon.
Never stick your chopsticks upright in your rice!
In China and Japan, this is considered very bad luck.
Upright chopsticks resemble funeral incense and therefore symbolizes death.
Traditionally, in a part of the funeral services; rice is offered to the dead with his or her chopsticks stuck upright.

In China and Korea it’s considered presumptuous to keep your hands in your lap or to ask someone to pass food. Instead, reach for the food you want and don’t feel shy about putting food on others’ plates.
In the same spirit; if someone in Beijing or Seoul offers or gives you food, it’s considered rude to reject the offer.

In Nepal, India, and Muslim countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia, it’s polite to eat with your RIGHT hand. NEVER use the left hand.
In those countries, food is eaten with the right hand and the left hand is reserved for certain sanitary activities.

Just as it’s rude to reject offered food, it’s rude to refuse to join in a toast.
In Korea, when someone offers you a shot of soju or Korean beer, it’s a symbol of friendship and turning it down would be an affront.
Beware that if you can’t drink someone under the table in China, you’re a sitting duck as a business person; no one will take you seriously.
Everyone drinks or no one drinks.
And it’s always considered polite to always pour tea or alcohol for everyone else before pouring for yourself.

It’s actually insulting to leave a tip in Japan. Japanese workers feel they are getting paid to do their job and take pride in doing it well. Tipping comes off rather patronizing and embarrassing.

Respect is an important basic cultural tenant in Asia and is taken very seriously.
In Thailand, making someone “lose face” is very serious.
Thailand is called the “Land of a Thousand Smiles”; so err on the safe side never question someone’s authority, or do anything that could potentially embarrass another.

In Korea, even more so than in surrounding countries, it is important to respect elders.
It’s rude to even pick up your chopsticks at the start of a meal or get up from the table at the end of it before the oldest people do so. When in doubt, always defer to elders.

Don’t chew it!
While not technically offensive; chewing gum is actually illegal in Singapore and has been since 1992, and is strictly enforced with a $500 fine for spitting out gum on public streets.

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