Traveling to a different country can be the thrill of a lifetime. Being out of your element in a new country and being pushed to try new things is a fantastic way to learn about yourself and the world around you.
You might be able to navigate your temporary surroundings with the help of friendly locals (and your smartphone’s map application) but local customs and etiquette might not be as easy to navigate. In extreme cases, not being prepared can lead to some pretty awkward and even dangerous situations.
A little preparation can go a long way in ensuring that you respect the local culture and stay out of trouble. But these stories are about people who did the exact opposite. Here are twenty-five stories from locals around the world about tourists who made some horrible mistakes in their home country.
50. Don’t Take Australia Lightly
Tourists to Australia make three mistakes.
They over estimate their knowledge of and capacity to swim in the ocean.
They ignore crocodile warning signs.
They drive off into the outback without telling anyone where they are going, without a reliable 4×4, recovery gear, spares or even rudimentary bush skills. They don’t carry a 2 way radio, satellite phone, extra fuel or water.
All of these things result in death many times each year, often of entire families and it’s nearly always tourists that perish.
After simply swimming in the ocean it’s this inability to fully grasp the heat and distances that causes most accidental tourist related fatalities in Australia.
49. Don’t Touch The Talent
48. You Can’t Spell ‘Taxi’ Without ‘Tax’
47. Let Me Climb This Mountain In My Sandals
46. Angry Kiwis
New Zealanders have a unanimous hatred for people renting juicy campers and doing 20km under the speed limit. We get tourists that have never driven before or have super limited experience who are legitimately dangerous.
45. Party On The Right Day
44. People Are Listening…
Mexican here. We get this a lot with spring breakers; more people in Mexico speak English than most tourists realize. When you go on your Fox News/CNN spiel about the state of affairs in our country, make comments or jokes about the narcs, getting abducted, mugged etc. or poke fun at Mexican stereotypes, more people than you think can understand you, and it makes you look like a jerk. So just don’t, okay?
43. Same Sun, Different Time
Norway. Tourists (especially American tourists) think that the midnight sun is a completely different sun from what we see during the day.
Not so much a mistake as it is stupidity.
Oh, and yes, Northern Norway is cold. It’s cold during the Summer and it’s cold during the Winter. No, you shouldn’t pack just light clothes when visiting Norway. Packing a jacket should be mandatory.
42. Keep It To Yourself
America is a very diverse country, with a diverse culture and people’s political mindset. I would really warn people not from America from just launching into politics and our problems as a country as an open discussion, especially if you don’t know the person. Sure some Americans might love to talk about it, but for many including me it’s just not polite conversation to talk about Trump, Clinton, weapons, and what the Beeb said about the latest school incident when you first meet someone.
Many (not all!) of us know our country has flaws, and we really do know that we aren’t perfect, but it’s quite rude to point this out without provocation and with lots of pontification about your home country. Sure, there are exceptions to this, and yes some love to talk politics, but I think a silent majority in America really doesn’t care about it, and having an outsider bring it up can come off as rude and negative towards them. Trust me, I have been outside my own country for many years, and I don’t think you can get a big picture of what America is by reading sensationalist news items about our culture or what you might think is a lack thereof. Sometimes it’s laughably absurd, but sometimes it’s just plain offensive.
A special note that maybe in your country you love talking politics, and think it’s important to have this conversation, but for many (not all!) Americans you’ll come off as boastful and rude. Also we don’t have the sense of sarcasm and irony you might have in your own country.
41. Share Alike
In Brazil, if you’re going to eat, it is considered very impolite if you don’t offer some of your food to the person you are talking to. If you go to a restaurant, everybody at the table asks if people want a bite before they start eating. Even if you just have one piece of chewing gum, and it’s the first time you met that person — you must offer it, unless you want to come off rude.
To be fair, everyone understands that this is a social nicety, so most people just say “no thanks” because the other person may not want to really split their food. But sometimes people may see you as impolite if you do not accept the food. It is complicated because sometimes you don’t know if you should accept or decline. It is very common to eat a whole meal while you’re not hungry just to please your hosts. Sometimes you just offer food to the person standing next to you, even though you’ve never met them and probably never will.
On the other hand, curse words and calling names is pretty common and no one will be insulted by this. You can call your teacher something inappropriate and he will laugh it off.
40. Respect The Doors
Costa Rica: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT slam people’s car doors — especially taxis. Try to be gentle when getting in and out.
I wouldn’t call it EXTREMELY offensive but people will definitely give you the stink eye for that. Some rude taxi drivers could even give you a hard time.
39. Iceland’s Special Drink
Iceland: not much is considered extremely offensive, but blowing your nose will get you some side-eye. Be like the locals and just hork it back down to where it came from.
38. Words Matter
Canadian here. Calling the Inuit, Inuvialuit (or any of the other far north aboriginal nations) Eskimos is seen as pretty ignorant and offensive, if not downright racist. It means “eater of raw meat” and was a name given to them by non-Inuit people.
37. Thots & Prares
In France, saying “I’ll pray for you” after hearing about someone having trouble is pretty much like saying, “I won’t move a finger to help you in any way but it would be rude to say it like that.” We mostly are not a very religious people (clergy were seen as the accomplices of tyranny during the revolution and kept this image afterwards) and most people think that praying is a convenient way to not be helpful while pretending you do something.
36.King Of Kong
I’m a Hong Konger here. Many of us really hate people treating Hong Kong as China. Some of us even loathe being addressed as a Chinese. Though Hong Kong is being ruled (in some eyes, colonized) by China, we have a different lifestyle, local culture, language, political, and legal system than the rest of China.
And for the foreigners who speak or are learning Mandarin, while we appreciate the effort you try to talk to us in one of the spoken Chinese languages, Cantonese is the mother tongue for most of us. Though many of us understand Mandarin, I’d say you’re better off speaking in English instead.
Just to clarify a bit, most of us do not reject being considered a “Chinese” in a cultural sense, and I personally am proud to be Chinese. But “Chinese” here has nothing to do with the People’s Republic of China.
35. You Gonna Eat That?
Dutch here. One of our big no-no’s is taking the last cookie or snack from the plate.
So imagine this. You are at a typical Dutch birthday party and the host has brought a bowl or plate full of delicious snacks. Go ahead and eat away, because that’s the only way we enjoy the party. But beware: if there’s only one snack left, god forbid anyone takes it. Because that would be impolite for the potential other person that would like to have it.
34. Mangia, Mangia
My family is Middle Eastern, but I see this as a trait in Mediterranean people in general as well.
Eat the food we offer you. All of it. Eat the seconds the matriarch of the house is putting on your plate. Eat the fruit they give you, drink the tea, eat more. Eat it all.
If you refuse more food, the matriarch will either assume you are lying because you hate the food, or lying because you’re shy. And if you annoy the matriarch of the household, everyone in the family is obligated to take her side, even if they don’t really care.
So if you are ever visiting an Arab (or Italian, or Greek) family, come as hungry as possible.
33. There Will Be No Negotiation
USA here. Couple things:
Unless you are at a flea market, garage sale, car dealership, or coupon matching, we don’t haggle with prices. What you see is what you get. Indians and people from certain Middle Eastern countries don’t get this and will try and haggle over a purse in Target. It makes the sales associate uncomfortable and no, the manager cannot haggle either.
South Koreans: while we respect our grandparents, they cannot elbow their way to the front of the line, insult our youth, or demand our seat on the bus or in a restaurant. Please tell your grandparents that it is not acceptable to be a bully, even in old age.
Yes, we Americans respect and love our elderly. But I’m talking about the high strung gangs of old Korean people who demand special treatment while treating others like crap.
32. No Respect For Canada’s Wildlife
1) Parking in the middle of the road on a blind corner to take photos of wildlife.
2) Standing five feet away from two grizzly bear cubs to snap a few photos with the mother nowhere in sight.
3) Pitching a tent in the middle of tidal flats on low tide.
4) Stopping in the middle of a one lane care/train tunnel to take photos, and holding up all other traffic.
(Yes. I have seen all four)
31. Ps and Queues
At a pub in the UK, there is a precise queue. It might not look like it, but the barman or lady knows exactly what order to serve people in, based upon when they arrived at the bar. You will not be served quicker by trying to catch their attention or fluttering money; that will actually move you to the back of the unknown queue.
However, they may serve a local before you. That is their prerogative, and you should not kick up a fuss. Maybe old Derek has seen some stuff in his time, or maybe he once saved the bar from robbery. Either way, it’s their choice.
Note that this rule does not apply so much in bars and certainly not in clubs where the traditional ‘girls with cleavage’ rule applies.
30. Funny Money
Canadian here. It’s not offensive, but very annoying when people raise a fuss about not being able to pay in U.S. currency — or if stores do accept it, they accept it at par. Stores are not banks, and you are in another country. You have no idea how often I had to deal with this when I worked at a gas station near a camp ground like 200 miles north of the border.
29. Not Bringing Enough Money
Norway. It’s a tie between:
A) Expecting to see the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights on the same trip (physically impossible unless you’re staying for literal months); or
B) Not bringing enough money.
Actually mostly B. Not bringing enough money.
Thinking the country is about the size of, maybe, Belgium is another. Norway is long and narrow. Like taking a slice of the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., except with more mountains and fewer roads.
28. Inner Space
Swedes have a huge sphere of personal space. If you’re American, and you’re talking to me, you are standing way too close to me. Shields up.
27. The Sun Will Get You
26. Accent Hunting
Boston, MA, USA. People always ask me to say, “I paaaarked my caaa attt thaaa Havvvvvvaaaddd yaaaaaaaaddd”(I parked my car at the Harvard yard). You can’t park your car in the Harvard yard unless you are a freshman moving in or you are at a memorial service and you are disabled. So forget those who ask people from Boston to say that.
25. Protection From The Sun
Australia. Not putting sunscreen on the back of their knees while going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef or just not wearing sunscreen.
24. Thinking Brussels Is Belgium
When going to Brussels, there are too many tourists who think they saw Belgium. Brussels is not at all representative of other Belgian cities.
Go to Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp instead. Or go hiking in the Ardennes or along the coast. A cheaper, nicer, friendlier, and overall better experiences will be had.
23. Better Bring A Helmet
Canada: Skating on the Ottawa Canal (without a helmet) without actually knowing how to skate. You’d be surprised at how many people end up in the ER because of this. Also, the wait in Canada for something like that is going to be at the very least an hour.
22. Tipping In Sweden
Here in Sweden, tips are automatically included in the bill you pay, as a percentage of the total price (I can’t remember the exact number). I think this is kind of funny. It assumes you, as a customer, are pleased. This makes us Swedes really awkward at the whole ritual, and plus our culture doesn’t really promote a “reward” system. If the waiter or the food stinks you suffer in silence and talk about it in the car ride home.
21. Stopping Everywhere In New York
Tourists in New York City have an awful habit of stopping everywhere for pictures and being obnoxious about it. It wouldn’t be that bad but they’re doing it in the middle of the sidewalk. And if you’ve ever been to New York you should be aware of the aggressive walkers during rush/lunch hours.
20. Finding Safety Throughout Japan
The biggest mistake a tourist can make is probably assuming all of Japan is a magical safe place. Also, going to host clubs is another one. Host clubs and those other um… loophole legal places are really dangerous and are usually affiliated with criminal elements.
19. Clueless Walking
I’m from Amsterdam and every tourist walks on the cycling lane or if they have a rental bike they cycle like morons. I do like tourists, though. They’re just playing with their own safety here.
18. A Long Way Down
Arizona. Do not come in the summer. “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat…” So is sticking your head in a pizza oven. Of course, there’s severe dehydration then heat-stroke. People don’t drink enough water, ever.
Don’t jerk around the edge of the Grand Canyon. Dumb people fall in or off hiking trails monthly.
17. Eating At The Same Old Places
This is specific to South Florida, but this applies to most places. It’s annoying when tourists come to a place and then actively avoid anything that makes the local place interesting. Especially with the food, people will go to downtown Fort Lauderdale and eat at the Cheesecake Factory when for a solid mile there are a ton of fantastic restaurants in the same price range. Why would you wait an hour to eat at a place that’s identical to the place by where you live?
16. Not Taking A Siesta
You see every tourist that comes to Spain thinks we are a lazy bunch because everything is closed from 14:00 to 17:00. Then they go to Sevilla in summer and just collapse from heat stroke. Every year more tourists than locals fall victim, like 1/100. Seriously, don’t go sightseeing between those hours. That’s what “siesta” was created for (not that we do that anymore).
15. Hiking Without Gear
In the U.S. I see a lot of East Asian and Indian tourists at national parks. They tend to be dressed in really bad clothes for hiking and not prepared well (compared to Americans). I see girls in high heels and guys in flip flops trying not to slip. The worst one was this Indian guy in the Grand Canyon… he only had one bottle of water and he was on his way back up. The guy was incoherent, stumbling next to a thousand-foot cliff, and refused our help. I hope he made it out alive.
14. Looking For Stars In Hollywood
People who think they can get by on public transportation and do everything in a day or so. It is definitely possible to use the bus and trains, but it’ll take more than a day to see all the big attractions. It’s nearly impossible to get to parts of the Westside by bus, and the buses often run late. It’s not like New York or even San Francisco.
Then the people who think they can see Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Sequoia, San Francisco, San Diego and L.A. all in a weekend. California is a huge state that can take weeks or even months to completely explore. I’ve lived here for fifteen years of my life and I’ve only scraped the surface of the things to do here. I found it much better to just dedicate your trip to one region/city and just come back a few times.
Also, thinking you are going to spot celebrities on Hollywood Blvd. Just don’t. If you want to possibly spot one go to Santa Monica or any of the nicer cities on the Westside.
13. Not Going To A Game
A Welsh rugby game, the bigger the crowd the better. You’ll get to hear a true Welsh choir. They all sing slightly off key and it melds into something really emotional.
See a pantomime. The season usually runs December to January. Childish humor (Oh no it isn’t!) with innuendo and double entendres that the kids laugh at only because the adults are laughing.
12. Not Heeding Dangers Down Under
Australia – the roads.
First: cops and speed cameras are everywhere. I just drove 2,000+ miles in the U.S. and saw three cops checking people’s speed. On the 100+ mile drive home from the airport this morning I saw two cops and passed eight fixed speed cameras. Fines start at around $350 and go up from there. Most cops will give you 5km/h leeway and fixed cameras range from 1-7km/h.
Second: wildlife at night. A kangaroo will jump through your windscreen, kick your skull in, and then bounce away. Just stop and stay the night in a hotel.
11. Swimming In Dangerous Waters
I live in Australia. People who show up to the beach with no clue how to swim properly and they just kind of assume that they’ll be fine because they’re in Australia and everyone else is doing it and go straight into the water a million miles away from the flags. My goodness, they are there for a reason.
10. Going To Tourist Traps
For almost every country it’s the same. People come and visit the big cities, the big landmarks, the same old beaten path. When I go to these places, it doesn’t feel like “my country,” it feels like a tourist trap. Meet the real people, eat the real food, stay in a hotel that doesn’t charge you $300+ a night. But for some, seeing the big buildings, and eating the “traditional” foods, and buying the “I (heart) ____” t-shirt is “experiencing” the culture. It’s not. You just got sold over-priced food, over-priced souvenirs, and over-priced tours. If you actually went to a local store, you could buy some real souvenirs. To each his own, I suppose.
9. Disrespecting The Servers
Coming from a service industry worker in Orlando- not being polite to people. Really, a little kindness can go a long way; that is, tipping or leaving a note for your maid (or even just being half tidy). Giving things you don’t want to an employee when leaving the fitting room or the store (you don’t even have to put it on the hanger). Not giving cast members a hard time for simply doing their job or enforcing policy or complaining about said policies to lower-level workers (we may agree, but we have no say in it!).
8. Forgotten Greetings
Make sure when addressing someone in France to start with a greeting. Not saying “Bonjour” can be considered very rude.
7. Got Your Nose…
Well, in Turkey my suggestion is that tourists should avoid hand gestures in general. Especially the one where you steal somebody’s nose (like with little kids). That very same gesture means something offensive in Turkey, and people will not understand or try to listen to your explanation.
Also, asking if we are Arabs or if we ride camels etc. will offend a lot of people and it’s not the best way to communicate if you require some sort help or advice from them.
6. Mispronouncing Names
Tourists to the U.K. — Americans seem to pronounce every town and city wrong. “Edin BRO” is a good one. I also see people taking pictures of themselves next to what they think is some wonderful old historic building, but it is just a bank or office block that happens to be from Victorian times that no one gives a second glance.
5. Not Expecting A Long Drive
New Zealand. Tourists thinking they can hire a car and drive from Auckland to Queenstown in three to four days. Our roads are very unforgiving and the gorgeous scenery is very distracting. Sometimes it doesn’t end well.
4. Saving Face
I live in Thailand. Don’t touch people on their heads. It is the highest point of the body, so therefore it’s the most respectful part. Also, never point your feet at a Buddha statue, it’s considered very rude.
Also, if you step on money, you’ll be thrown in jail because it has the king’s face on it. Disrespecting the monarchy in any way (like stepping on his image, or saying you hate him) will get you a one-way ticket to a not very nice prison.
3. You Got Troubles
In Ireland, if you’re in a pub or at a bar never order a ‘Black and Tan’ or an ‘Irish Car Bomb.’
The former was the common name for the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve during the Irish war of independence. They’re infamous for their violent and extreme treatment towards the Irish people. Order a ‘half and half’ instead.
The latter is because we don’t want to be associated with criminal elements — and people tend to make a mess drinking them.
There are a few places where it is okay to order these, but they’re more of an exception rather than the rule.
2. I’ll Never Heil Again
German here: doing the Hitler greeting, saying ‘Heil Hitler’, and showing the swastika are illegal here. It’s obviously very inappropriate to visit Germany and pose with your right arm raised for photos, especially when visiting a historically or culturally important place, and yet tourists keep getting into trouble because of this.
We do not censor books, movies, or similar. We are in fact very open with our history. It is, though, prohibited to worship the Nazis.
Germany has free speech, but we draw the line when it comes to hate speech. Our first and most important basic right roughly translates as: “A person’s dignity mustn’t be violated.” This is more important to us than complete free speech, and considering our history, that makes a lot of sense.
Denying the Holocaust is illegal as well. The moustache is not illegal, but you don’t want to be seen with it. I don’t actually know if the swastika is prohibited in a religious context as well. I don’t think it is, though.
1. Ignoring Safety Procedures While Swimming
New Zealand. I can’t stand when people are swimming at beaches without proper swimwear on. Too many tourists drown because they do not follow the safety procedures that our lifeguards put out. Or, they underestimate the currents and riptides our beaches have.