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Travel Etiquette Tips To Be A Good Tourist In Asia

For a better travel experience, acquaint yourself with the culture and social etiquette of the country you are visiting. Each culture has its own unique set of dos and don’ts. 

What is acceptable to one culture may be unacceptable to another. To avoid causing offence due to ignorance, do your homework and find out the right way to show respect and courtesy.

1. South Korea

General etiquette

If you need to beckon someone in South Korea, do so with your palm facing downwards. It is considered impolite to beckon someone with your palm facing upwards.

Accept objects with your right hand or with both hands. Refrain from doing so with only your left hand.

Dining etiquette

Some eateries have low tables and provide cushions for guests to sit on. The floor heating system will be switched on if it is cold. In such dining establishmeents, remember to remove your shoes before taking a seat.

When consuming rice, unlike the Japanese or Chinese, South Koreans do not lift their rice bowls off the table, but eat from their bowls at the table.

A pair of kitchen scissors may be placed on the dining table for cutting meat or noodles into more bite-sized pieces. 

Soups or stews may be served in large communal serving bowls or platters instead of individual servings. You can eat directly from the communal dishes, or place your share into the individual serving bowls provided.

Start your meal by tasting the stew or soups, then your rice and the banchan (side dishes).

Refrain from blowing your nose at the dining table. Leave the table if you need to do so.

2. Japan

Dining etiquette

Hold the rice bowl in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other. Lift the bowl towards your mouth while eating.

To drink your miso soup, lift the soup bowl to your lips like a cup. Reach for the solid bits with a pair of chopsticks.

If you wish to slurp while eating noodle dishes such as soba or udon, go ahead. It is said that one can enjoy more robust flavours of the dish when slurping it.

When eating nigiri sushi, which features a topping draped over rice, you can use your chopsticks or eat using your hands. If the topping is already seasoned, avoid dipping it into the soy sauce. If you do need to, do so only with the tip of the topping touching the soy sauce. Do not dip the rice in the soy sauce as this will cause it to disintegrate.

Place the piece of sushi in your mouth with the topping touching your tongue.

Shrine etiquette

Shrines have a torii gate demarcating its sacred holy premises from the outside world. Bowing once in front of the torii gate before entering is the correct procedure. 

The centre of the pathway leading to the shrine is said to be for deities. Steer clear of this space and use the side of the pathway instead.

Remove your shoes before entering the main shrine’s interior. Avoid chatting loudly so as not to disturb other visitors.

3. Thailand

General etiquette

In Thailand, the general way to greet a local will be with a “wai”. Do this by pressing your palms together in a prayer-like gesture.

The head is considered a sacred area of a Thai’s body. Never touch someone on the head and avoid pointing at people or objects with your feet.

4. China

Dining etiquette

In China, eating around a communal table is a common practice. Avoid gesturing with your chopsticks or tapping your bowl with them. If you are served fish, refrain from turning it over to debone it. Instead, lift the fish’s backbone near the tail and gently tug upwards to dislodge the bone from the meat below.


By Michelle Chin, The Straits Times, 10 March 2016.


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