Travel Etiquette, Part 2: What Your Body Language Is Saying
July 31, 2012
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.

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