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5 unique customs from around the world

20 April 2017 ( 27 November 2018 )

As well as helping you avoid any disrespectful actions, understanding and appreciating the unique customs of a country is part of the joy of travel. Here are a few particularly special practices that you might encounter on your next trip.

Japanese food eaten with chopsticks

1. Watch your chopsticks in Japan

Japanese food eaten with chopsticks

The Japanese are renowned for their polite manners, so use your chopsticks with reverence if you want to avoid making an uncomfortable faux pas. According to the Japanese, it's considered very rude to play, point or stab food with chopsticks. Also, flip these utensils round if you're reaching for food from a shared plate – it's not only disrespectful but rather unhygienic.

A brief guide to Japanese cuisine

Discover the ultra-modernity and ancient traditions of Japan. Find out more here.

2. Pointing with lips in Nicaragua

Woman puckered lips

Interpret this wrongly and you could end up very red-faced. Whilst here in the UK puckering up signals your intention to land a kiss, in Nicaragua this expression is often used for pointing to something nearby. You might notice someone indicating where the toilets are with a discreet scrunch of the lips or to indicate a person or subject of discussion nearby.

Kissing for a longer and healthier life

3. Spitting for luck in Greece

Man spitting water in the sea

If you've ever thought how romantic it would be to get hitched or renew your vows in beautiful Greece, you ought to be aware of this unique custom. Spitting in Greek culture is traditionally thought to be a form of good luck and protection against evil and is often employed at special occasions such as weddings or baptisms as well as in general conversation.

Fortunately, spitting has evolved into more of an exaggerated 'ftou, ftou, ftou' noise these days. It's ok – the wedding's back on!

Tempted by a holiday to Greece and her islands? Find out more here

4. Seal the deal with a sauna in Finland

Sauna in Finland

The tradition of the sauna is central to Finnish culture, so don't be surprised if a business contact you've never met before extends this perfectly normal invitation. Expect to strip off your clothes and sweat it out in the sauna before heading outside to plunge into ice-cold water to really get that blood pumping.

Hidden gems to visit in the Baltic

5. Consider your gifts in China

Yellow Chrysanthemum with present

You might believe offering gifts to your friendly Chinese host or tour guide is a charming token of gratitude, but there are one or two items you really ought to avoid. Clocks, handkerchiefs, shoes, yellow chrysanthemums and any white flowers have strong associations with funerals and death. Take the safe option and offer sweet treats instead.

China is by turns ancient ultra-modern, and a land of immense natural beauty. Find out more about our holidays to China here.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.