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DISCUSSION > Cultural gaffes

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message 1: by Hilda (new)

Hilda Reilly | 48 comments Mod
Here's the place to confess to any cultural gaffes you've made while travelling.
I'll start off with one of mine. When in Addis Ababa I passed a church with masses of people crowded outside. I stopped, wondering if something was going on. A woman offered me some bread. Normally I wouldn't buy something that I hadn't asked for or even wanted but the poverty I'd seen all around in the short time I'd been in Ethiopia made me happy to offer money in exchange for anything. I got my purse out and opened it. The woman and her friends started laughing and shaking their heads. It turned out that they weren't selling bread. They were participating in the service and the church was so full that the congregation had spilled over to the outside. They were offering me communion.

message 2: by Anne (new)

Anne Talvaz | 5 comments Mine was in Japan. I was staying in a hotel with a shuttle service to Shinjuku. First day, I just board the minibus. The next day, I notice this queue all round the lobby. They were waiting to board the minibus... and it was then that I remembered they had also been there the day before. No one had so much as hinted at the ghastliness of my performance, not a look, not a word. Even now the memory of their politeness makes me blush.

message 3: by Hilda (new)

Hilda Reilly | 48 comments Mod
The embarrassing memories are beginning to flood back now.
When I was living in Nablus in the West Bank I was invited to a Palestinian wedding.
'What should I wear?' I asked my friend Rasmiya, imagining that everyone would be dressed up to the nines. I didn't think I had anything suitable.
'Wear that Palestinian dress I gave you,' she said.
I did. It was a traditional black robe, loose-fitting and floor-length, incorporating panels of intricate red embroidery.
When I turned up at the wedding in a local hotel I found that I was not only overdressed but ridiculously dressed. All the other women, apart from the bride, wore ordinary everyday clothes, even jeans and jumpers, as if they had just walked in off the street.
Hardly any women wear traditional dress nowadays in Palestine. Anyone seeing me from a distance must have assumed that I was some elderly peasant relative.
I was as incongruous as a Palestinian attending a Scottish wedding in full Highland regalia. Goodness knows why Rasmiya suggested it.

message 4: by Pauline (new)

Pauline Conolly | 11 comments Well, I'm afraid mine was in London, when I first arrived on a working holiday from Tasmania many years ago.

I was terrified of about getting on tube trains as I thought the doors would close on me. One day I bolted onto the train like a frightened rabbit before waiting until everyone got off. To my horror I collided with a women who was carrying lots of shopping and it all fell down into the famous gap.

I had to sit in the carriage until it left the station, while everyone stared at me in disbelief. 'To this day, whenever they say 'Mind the Gap', I shudder!!

message 5: by Hilda (new)

Hilda Reilly | 48 comments Mod
On a business trip to Baghdad in 1985 I had to work late in the office one evening, alone. A company car was supposed to come and pick me up at a certain time. It didn't arrive. I had no way of contacting the person responsible for it (this being before the days of mobile phones.) No problem, I thought, I would just go out into the street and hail a taxi. I stood on the pavement and hailed empty taxi after empty taxi. None of them stopped. Getting desperate, I hailed a passing pedestrian, a man. I explained my predicament. Oh, he said, this was because I was a woman out on her own at night. This was unheard of in Iraq and could mean only one thing - that I was up to no good (the subtext seeming to be 'a woman of loose morals'). His solution was to stop a taxi himself, get in with me and direct the driver to my hotel. He even insisted on paying the fare even though he hadn't been going in that direction!

message 6: by Anne (new)

Anne Talvaz | 5 comments China in 1984. I'm in a tour group visiting the Great Wall, which is built on some fairly steep hills. Even my modest 5-cm heel is too much and I'm afraid I might take a pratfall, so remove my shoes and walk in my bare feet. A couple of elderly Chinese ladies stare round-eyed at my feet and begin to talk in scandalised tones.
Only later did I find out that showing your bare feet was just not done in the China of those ladies' youth. It was as bad as taking off my knickers.

message 7: by Hilda (new)

Hilda Reilly | 48 comments Mod
You have to be careful with feet. I was in a Buddhist temple in Malaysia once, sitting on the floor with a group of other people listening to a talk. Like the others, I started off with my legs contorted into one of those yoga-type positions which oriental people seem able to adopt with ease. After I a while I was so uncomfortable I unwound my legs and stretched them out with a sigh of relief. Right away I felt a tap on my shoulder and a horrified voice whispered in my ear that I was pointing the sole of my foot towards a statue of the Buddha and must stop immediately. Pointing the sole of the towards someone is one of the rudest things you can do apparently.

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