cultural differences

When “See You Later” Doesn’t Mean See You Later

I recently stumbled across the article Don’t Drink the Water on YahooNews by Christy Karras about what foreign travel guide books say about people in the United States.

Some of the tips I could have guessed, like one from Japan talking about how American food is not subtle. Americans like bold flavors from all around the world, especially if our over-indulgence in salt is any indicator.

Others I found slightly ironic, such as a tip from Latin America telling its travelers to not drink the water and instead buy bottled water.

A few more made me pause and think about the stark differences in some countries. Another Japanese manuel tells of how it is not impolite to laugh with your mouth open, in fact many Americans laugh often with mouths wide open and teeth showing. In Japan, showing one’s teeth is deemed offensive, men typically don’t laugh and women cover their mouths with their hands when they smile. Imagine how shocked someone from Japan would be without those words of advice. Likewise, imagine how many people an American, with no knowledge of this rule, would offend.

Similarly, a few Russian tips advise against gifts that could be seen as bribery (which is shockingly illegal in the US), that American women want to be treated as equals and that Americans are really as cheerful as we are portrayed.

I honestly hadn’t thought about it beforehand, but the idea that bribery wasn’t illegal in the modern world was a bit unexpected.

Similarly, that women wouldn’t be treated as equals in business ventures is offensive to me. In 2014 I figured this would be a nonissue in major countries and that it has to be put as a travelers tip is astounding.

One tip that was reverberated in a few countries tip list is “See you later,” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually see them later. I can see how this would be confusing, sometimes in new friendships the phrase is confusing to myself and I’ve had years of experience using the phrase over the phone and as a good-bye.

So, should you be traveling, it’s definitely a good idea to get a traveler’s guide of social etiquitte and things that might be health issues to avoid being the typical rude and overbearing American in a Hawaiin t-shirt with a fanny pack who demands English be spoken wherever they go.