Things that are, and things that are not acceptable – in the east…

There are different standards and rules out here, some are quite strange to Western minds and so easy to fall foul of; I’m sure the same is true in reverse, but here are a few things I have noticed:

  • It’s OK to eat with your hands, indeed many do. But do not use the left hand, and it’s considered bad from to get food above the second knuckle.
  • It’s rude to blow your nose in public, but clearing your nose and throat with the strongest retching you ever did hear is perfectly fine. The mornings ring with this sound…
  • Chopsticks should never be stuck in to a bowl of rice and left there; vertical chopsticks = death.
  • Sharp things like knives are NOT brought to the dining table.
  • It’s OK to queue jump (not in front of me though; words are spoken…)
  • It’s OK to abandon your supermarket trolley wherever you like: behind other cars, in the middle of the road, anywhere…
  • Many restaurants operate as self service canteens at lunchtime, you just walk in, take a plate and start piling stuff on from the buffet, without a hello, please or thank you.
  • If you don’t want something or it’s not up to scratch send it back or change it; these folk are second only to Americans in demanding exactly what they want… The best example I ever saw of this was in Los Angeles; a woman on the next table ordered a salad with about 11 items in it, and changed 8 of them, the waiter never batted an eyelid… the menu is just the merest suggestion; something to get the ball rolling.
  • Never tip – it’s considered a sign of weakness. A story; this is to go no further or I will be in trouble: the gas ran out the other day and we had to phone for a new bottle. A kid brought it round in about 10 minutes; balanced in front of him on a moped and travelling through a tropical downpour; he then brought it up 2 flights of stairs. When I paid him with Rg30 for a bill of Rg27.50 he was a bit put out that I didn’t have change. ‘It’s OK, keep it’ I said, this somewhat floored him and he just kept saying ‘need change, need change’. I had to shut the door in the end…
  • Expect a discount everywhere, I must have ‘the look’ now, as I can get 10 – 20% off with the flicker of an eyebrow.
  • Shoes off, in many places… homes certainly, but there are other places that require it as well, even some shops – pay attention and watch others.
  • Being very literal (probably a feature of translation), calling things just what they are: the crab restaurant, the noodle restaurant… OK so far. How about the pig restaurant? Do you want to go to the pig restaurant? Well… I suppose so… but could you work on the description a bit?
  • Cutting someone up whilst driving is perfectly normal, so normal its expected, and as a consequence there are very few accidents. Indicators are of no use at all here, if you see one working its probably accidental.
  • Never point at anything; especially with your index finger – its very rude. Either use your thumb to generaly indicate whet you are aiming at, or wiggle your fingers at it; palm side down.
  • Double parking is a regular event – just block people in and then go off for dinner.
  • Running round the Supermarket with your pants on your head singing ‘My Way’ can get you in to trouble; but then I’ve had complaints about that at home as well.


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