The latest on travel, languages and culture by EF Education First

Like a local: Don’t make these mistakes on your next trip

You know that feeling you get when you have just insulted someone without understanding what happened? Well, it can happen to the best of us, especially when traveling abroad and trying to navigate the do’s and don’ts of a new culture. But don’t despair! Browse the tips below, share them with your travel buddies and see if you can avoid ending up in that awkward moment altogether.

And remember: Regardless of the where you come from and the culture that you are visiting, a genuine smile and some well-chosen body language will go a long way even if you end up making a mistake!

In Italy…

Mind your coffee | Don’t order a cappuccino after lunch. Cappuccino’s are meant to be enjoyed in the morning and espressos after dinner.

Know the food rules | Refrain from ordering extra toppings on your pizza (those combinations on that pizza menu are carefully thought out!). And remember not to put Parmesan cheese on pasta that contains seafood – it’s considered a “no-no” in this culinary paradise.

In Germany…

Play by the rules | Wait for the light to turn green when crossing the street. If not, you risk attracting lots of disapproving glances as well as a fine.

Grab a spot | Feel free to sit down at empty tables in restaurants without waiting to be seated and be ready to share table with people that you don’t know (Germans are communal eaters!)

Be polite | If you’re speaking German, make sure to use the polite “Sie” instead of the less polite “Du” when referring to people you don’t know.

In France…

Try some French | Try not to start up a conversation in English right away, and if you have to resort to English, make the effort to ask whether the person you want to speak with speaks English by asking “Parlez-vous anglais?”

Forget “well done” | Think twice before ordering your meat “well done”. In the worst case you can ask for “à point” (medium-rare) but otherwise consider eating your steak “bleu” (blue) or “saignant” (bloody) – this is the French way!

Know your titles | Keep track of the titles when conversing with French people. Try to use “Madame”, “Mademoiselle” or “Monsieur” as often as possible and for the right person, of course!

In the United Kingdom…

Queue right | Queue up right or not at all. English people take their queues very seriously and not abiding by the strict rules of the queue will be… well, frowned upon.

Talk small | “How are you?” is a form of greeting and not always a question that requires an answer. “Fine thanks, and you?” would, however, be a suitable and polite response.

In Spain…

Eat late | Lunchtime is not before 2 in the afternoon and dinner doesn’t start until late in the evening, often past 10. Also, remember that there’s no going clubbing before 2 in the morning, so prepare to eat & stay up late!

Sleep in | Shops are often closed between 2 and 5 in the afternoon in order for shopkeepers (and everyone else!) to take their afternoon nap, also known as a ‘siesta’. There’s another, perhaps even more important and relevant reason for this break: it’s just too hot in the middle of the afternoon, so no customers are roaming the streets! Planning on shopping in a big city or the North? Not to worry; siesta breaks aren’t as common there and big shops like Zara are basically always open!

Plan your summer adventureLearn more

Share this article

Latest articles from Travel