What do manners really mean? There are so many different cultures out there, one culture’s polite could be another culture’s rude. When I travel, I try to (or accidentally) adopt some of the cultural norms, and a few of them have followed me back home! Where they don’t necessarily make sense and are seen as abnormal! So here are some random things I do that I picked up from other countries (or from a few people I encountered in those countries):
Standing on the right side of escalators
London is such a massive city, and life is so fast paced! People who live there have places to go and people to see, and I learned very quickly if you’re in their way, they will move you out of the way.
On the escalators for example, there was an unspoken rule that walking happens on the left, and standing happens on the right. If you try to stand on the left, you will be pushed to the right. Even though I haven’t stayed in London for a significant part of my life (maybe three times for at most four days each time), this rule is so ingrained in me that I do it all over the world and move my friends who are standing in the ‘wrong’ lane in places that don’t follow it.
Telling the truth politely
When I lived in the East Coast, I was super direct- which is normal there. When I moved to the West Coast, everyone thought I was super mean and offensive, so I toned it down and eventually adopted the passive aggressive method of internalizing everything but pretending to not care. When I was in France, I learned how I could balance saying what’s on my mind without hurting more gentle people’s feelings: just say it indirectly.
For example, I was at my friend’s house and accidentally burped loudly (I channel 10 year old American boys). A few hours later, his mom told me a story about how once the neighbors burped loudly in front of her, and although it was the most disgusting and impolite thing ever, they probably didn’t know any better since it was their first time in France. (Hint: she told me this story so that I’d know burping is rude and try not to do it again).
Chewing with my mouth open
Growing up, I was taught that chewing with your mouth open is rude- but this isn’t the case in every culture. In Vietnam for example, everyone was doing it so it seemed to be accepted. One day, over a bowl of miến gà (think of the Vietnamese version of sotanghon soup), I said “screw it” to my third grade teachers and chewed with my mouth open… And I felt true liberation! Especially with thick, chewy noodles in your soup, this is so satisfying. So much so, in fact, that I do this at home now- even though the friends who grew up similarly to me think I’m crazy.
Cutting people in lines
In Eastern Asia and Western society, people tend to form lines when there are a lot of them trying to go to the same place- bathroom stalls, airport ticket stands, bus stops, etc. In Southeast Asia, people go where they want to go, when they want to go there. You can try forming a line, but if someone is more determined to go to the bathroom or get that airline ticket, they’ll go in front of you before you get a chance to move.
Transitioning from this free for all mindset to the lines mindset is hard for me, so it usually takes me a few weeks to adjust to either scenario. I distinctly remember the first time I got back from Thailand/Vietnam and was running to catch a bus that just had arrived in Seattle, past a line of people, thinking “why tf are these 20 people standing here,” and cut through them all to be the first one on since I was late and didn’t want to wait for the next bus if this filled up. Lots of passive aggressive stares that day. Oops.
Smiling at people on buses
I took the bus a lot in Hawaii because I didn’t have enough money to rent a car and didn’t want to stay in the same area the whole trip. One cool thing is that their bus drivers stopped whenever they needed to use the bathroom! I have never seen that before. Way to go, Hawaii.
But another interesting thing was a lot of the locals would sit next to people/me on the bus rather than by themselves, then smile at people/me. The tourists usually avoided people and glared. And when I take the bus to work, for example, people tend to stand rather than sit in a seat that’s next to a person.
Sometimes I do this too, and I totally understand not wanting human contact. Other times, I really appreciate the friendly/community mindset I experienced in Hawaii, so I find myself smiling and being friendly to the people on the bus… Even though half the time people give me a weird look, then quickly move away to a seat that isn’t around a person.
Have you experienced any of these in your travels? What other weird customs have you picked up? I would love to know 😂