Etiquette: International Travel
19th June 2022
There are ways to avoid potential meltdowns when your child is older and able to understand, however. An essential rule of travel etiquette is to make sure your child isn’t bothering fellow passengers, as far as possible. When my children were little, I would try to achieve this by preparing a travel backpack for each of them, filled with coloring books, paper, a snack, a few special toys, and a surprise gift to get them through the flight and keep them excited and engaged. Luckily, on most flights today, children can watch a selection of movies and television shows or play games on airplane’s inflight entertainment system. Yet with all of these choices, there are still many challenges when traveling with a small child. Children are used to routines and taking then off their schedule is never an easy task. It’s truly worth the effort, though, because traveling introduces children to a new way of looking both the world and at themselves.
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up abroad, in Hong Kong. It shaped my sense of the world, and I wanted to provide my children with a similar life filled with global experiences. When I was young, my family traveled quite a distance to visit our grandparents who lived in America. This trip wasn’t easy-my parents were traveling with three young children-but those memories of spending time with my family, as well as the memories of visiting new countries and cultures, are some of the best I have.
Don’t worry- you don’t have to jet-set around the globe to benefit from the mindset; you simply need to respect and embrace other cultures. Some cultures have their own rules on etiquette, but before I get into those let me share my house rules for traveling.
Walking etiquette varies from culture to culture, so when you travel abroad, observe how others are walking up and down the stairs and follow their lead. This avoids the potential for accidentally bumping into another person.
I made sure to let my kids know from a young age that they should stay to the right when walking up and down stairs in America, but that in England, it’s the other way around. A friend’s grown child reminded me of what a school in London would tell their students in order to remember this simple rule. They are taught the acronym CALM, which stands for courtesy applies, left movement – meaning always pass on the left. A good way to reinforce this in the UK when walking up and down stairs that have banisters running along both sides is to always hold the handrail with your left hand. When you’re on an escalator and standing still, you stay to the right: stand right, walk left. If someone wants to walk up at a faster pace and pass others, they must do it on the left (Remember: Left movement).
While walking on the street in America, pedestrians are expected to be polite. The rule again is to stay to the right; I doubt most people know this, but if everyone followed this practice, there would be no need to navigate a path through a crowded sidewalk, which, with children, can be a hassle.
Before you travel to another country, it’s a good idea to teach your child to say “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” and a few other useful words and phrase in the local language. It’s really rather sweet to hear a child trying to incorporate a new language into their vocabulary, and it also shows that they are receptive to a new culture. You don’t want to overwhelm them, though, so just focus on a handful of words, and they will hopefully be able to master them. Kids will be heartened to see how excited people are when they hear a child trying to speak in their language, especially if the child is being polite.
DON’T STARE AND POINT:
When a child is taken out of their normal, everyday routine and surroundings, they might be excited about new people they are seeing and forget their manners. This is why it’s so important to teach them to respect other cultures. If a child notices someone dressed in a different style, for example, they need to be aware that it’s impolite to point and stare. Remind them that staring at someone for a long period – under any circumstance – is considered bad manners. A way to help your child to understand this is to ask them how they would feel if someone was staring and pointing at them.
It’s okay to dress comfortably for travel, I would often put my children in sweatpants for overnight flights, but I made sure they always looked presentable and not sloppy. T-shirts are fine, as are shorts when traveling on short flights, but avoid letting your child wear them on overnight flights in case they get cold. (Remember: your child will - hopefully! – be going to sleep at some point and planes can get rather chilly)
When traveling in other countries and visiting local sights, be respectful. This is especially true when visiting churches, temples, shrines, or other places of worship. So that means to short cut-off shorts, tank tops, or flip flops. In some countries, such as Greece and Italy, shoulders should be covered when visiting a church; in other countries, females may be required to wear a headscarf. It’s a good idea to check any rules and regulations ahead of time, so that you can make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing before you set off.
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ETIQUETTE AROUND THE GLOBE:
It helps to be aware of local customs and etiquette before you travel so that you don’t get caught out or – worse still – end up accidentally causing offense! Here are a few examples, to give you an idea of the varying dos and don’ts around the world.
- Late Night Meals: In some Mediterranean and western European countries, like Greece and Spain, dinner can sometimes start as late as 9:00pm or 10:00pm, and it’s often impossible to find restaurants open earlier that 8:00pm. Unlike in America, in these countries, children are welcome to dine at these nighttime means, which are considered family affairs. While children are used to eating earlier may find this change in routine a little hard to adjust to, most will usually look at it as an exciting treat to be allowed to stay up so late for dinner.
- Be Clean: Wherever you go in the world, never, ever litter
- Watch Your Hands: In Greece, it’s considered rude to show the palm of your hand with your fingers spread out. (It actually means something quite offensive)
- Don’t Point: In Asia, never, ever point your chopsticks at anyone.
- Signs of Bad Luck: In Japan don’t ever leave your chopsticks sticking upright in the rice; this is considered bad luck.
- Eat with Your Hands: In parts of India and Malaysia, it’s considered normal for people to eat with their hands, which can be quite fun- especially for kids.
- How to Eat a Weisswurst: In Germany, the traditional wat to eat a weisswurst is to peel it first and then cut and eat it.
- Use You Utensils: In Chile, you eat everything with a knife and fork – even food that you would consider finger food.
- Cover Your Hair: Most swimming pools in China require you to wear a bathing cap.
- Shoes Off: In Japan, it’s polite to remove your shoes immediately upon entering a home.
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