Travel Etiquette, Part 2: What Your Body Language Is Saying 

by John Miller

When you travel to a new place, you usually have some concern over making sure you adhere to local customs and etiquette practices (assuming you have some level of self-awareness). What’s the proper greeting? How do I cross my legs without offending someone? Is my go-to hand gesture considered obscene?

Smart travelers pay attention to travel etiquette, and we’re here to help. This is the second installment of our series of posts on travel etiquette; in Part 1, we looked at etiquette while in transit.

So here are some tips for making sure your body language doesn't cross a line while you’re traveling abroad so that you don’t ruin your family vacation or cause that business deal to go south:

Foot stuff

  • In the Middle East, do not cross your legs so that the sole of your shoe is facing another person. The bottom of the foot is considered the dirtiest part of the body and it is highly offensive.
  • In Asia, never touch any part of someone else’s body with your foot. If you accidentally do this, apologize by touching your hand to the person’s arm and then touching your own head. Also, don’t point at objects or people with your feet and don’t prop your feet on chairs or tables while sitting. Basically, don’t use your feet.
  • In Nepal, it’s impolite to step over someone’s outstretched legs.


  • In Asia, don’t touch people on the head or ruffle their hair. The head is considered the ‘highest’ part of the body.
  • Shaking hands across a threshold is considered unlucky in Russia. So when the delivery man brings dinner, either invite him in or go out to meet him.
  • It Italy, you can touch, hug and kiss. You can even push and shove in busy public places without being considered rude (you don’t need to initiate this… but be ready for it!).

Hand Gestures

  • In the U.K., don’t stick your index finger and middle finger up with the palm of your hand facing towards you. It’s the equivalent of flipping someone the bird.
  • Ditto, a thumbs up in Russia and the “okay sign” in Brazil.
  • And by the way, raising your middle finger in any country is a bad idea. It means the same thing everywhere. Don’t do it.
  • To become a true aficionado on hand gestures around the globe, you can buy this book.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg; there are many more country-specific nuances that you should be aware of. For country-specific etiquette tips, be sure to check out the website Travel Etiquette.

Travel Etiquette: 

Quick Thoughts on How to Not Be a Jerk

July 19th, 2012 by John Miller

We love to travel, but getting there can be hell. Air travel in 2012 is typically inconvenient, but as wise folks often say, it is what it is.

But compounding the inconvenient reality of flying to an exciting new destination is a seeming explosion of rudeness that plagues much of our travel these days. Many people are just less considerate of their fellow travelers.

The Travel Leaders Group recently conducted a survey on how travelers interact with their fellow passengers, and most of the responses fall in line with what you can see on just about any flight. The bulk of the questions regarded “defending your turf”– if a child was kicking your seat on the airplane, would you turn around and say something to the tyke’s parents? (62.8 percent said they would).

Navigating social interactions with the person next to you can be difficult – even for presidential candidates. But not impossible! Here are some tips and considerations:

  • Wait your turn. Whether the pre-boarding announcement has just been made, or you’ve arrived at the gate and it’s time to deplane, wait your turn. Jumping to the front of the line – or trying to – really just slows things down. And even though it seems like forever when you’re half-standing on the plane waiting for the people in front of you to deplane, it’s just a couple of minutes. If you have a tightc connection to make, let the flight attendant know when you’re in flight, and they’ll usually give you special consideration.
  • Be gentle in the overhead bin. We’ve all been here… the overhead bins are stuffed and there’s nowhere nearby to put your bag. The answer is not to just jam it in there. The answer is to seek out the flight attendant for assistance. He or she will help you find a solution.
  • The middle seat gets the elbow rests. Period. Yes, both of them.
  • Understand conversation signals. Nose buried in a magazine? Headphones in and iPad on? That person isn’t up for an in-depth conversation. Most people are friendly enough and will engage in some light banter. Just don’t force it; people tend to have their guard up on a flight because there’s obviously no way for them to walk away.
  • Be courteous with all social interactions. Just because you’re on a plane or in an airport, doesn’t mean you are suddenly empowered to be an inconsiderate lout. Just being polite to people and minding your manners can make a difference. And that extends to your children – if your little Billy is kicking the seat in front of him, it’s on you to make him stop; don’t put the “kickee” in the awkward position of having to turn around and say something.
  • Navigating the airport’s moving walkway. This is simple. They’re designed to be walked on. If you don’t want to walk, move to the right. The left side of the conveyer is most definitely for walkers.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll also take a look at etiquette when dining in different countries, as well as body language and other social interactions.

Photo by NewbieRunner.

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