How to be Culturally Aware with Celebrity Cruises

Become a true global citizen with Celebrity Cruises. Read up on your destinations’ local customs to avoid offending and save yourself embarrassment.

Become a true global citizen: bone up a little on your destinations’ local customs to avoid offending and save yourself embarrassment.

One of the rewards of travel is personal growth: in learning other cultures’ customs we gain a deeper understanding of how we humans differ, and how very much we are alike. Take the issue of dining. On your cultural cruise vacation, you’ll eat lots of sumptuous meals on board, and also have opportunities to try local cuisine when in port or on excursions. Celebrity offers European cruises with the most unique itineraries of any line, so there are ample chances to soak up the local culture.

In Germany, for instance, using your knife to cut potatoes can mean you think they’re not cooked properly; mash them with a fork instead. You might get a startled look if you order a martini before dinner in France: strong spirits are viewed as palate-numbing. If you are lucky enough to be invited into a French family’s home, it’s important to taste everything a host offers, and leaving food on your plate is considered impolite.

In Hong Kong, however, it’s bad manners for a host not to keep a guest’s plate full, so the considerate guest should leave some food on the plate. The same is true in the Philippines, Thailand and Russia, all of which are popular cruise vacation destinations: a clean plate signifies that your host has failed to provide you with enough food.In Russia — a perennial favorite on Celebrity’s European cruises — the traditional welcoming gesture is a gift of bread and salt, sometimes accompanied by a bear hug and a kiss. But your new friends are just as likely to offer you shots of stomach–warming vodka in greeting. Some say the traditional drinking toast is “Nasdarovje!” but natives say it’s more appropriate to raise a glass with the salutation “Zazdarovje!” (“to your health!”).

In Norway, it’s considered inappropriate (and somewhat selfish) to drink alcohol you didn’t personally bring to the party.

In all cultures, it’s important to show appreciation of a dish well done. Celebrity offers a variety of cruise deals that will bring you to Japan, where making a slurping sound when eating noodles indicates deep enjoyment (in fact, it would be impolite not to slurp). Some scientists posit that slurping brings air into the palate to enhance the noodles’ flavor.

The conscientious diner in Japan (as in most of Asia) would never leave chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice…it’s considered bad luck. When not using chopsticks, it’s proper to keep them horizontal and on the rim of the plate. The Japanese also consider it unseemly to eat anywhere that is not a restaurant, home, hotel or bar, such as on public transportation or while walking outside.

Your cultural cruise will likely stop in a number of destinations, offering ample opportunities to explore port cities and the regions around them. When seated in a restaurant or café in the Middle East, it’s probably best to avoid crossing your legs at the knee. In Arab, Hindi, Muslim and Buddhist cultures, showing the soles of the feet to another person is considered rude, because the feet are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body, in that they (and the soles of your shoes) touch the ground.

Former U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson learned that through bitter experience: during a fraught negotiating session in 1995, Richardson crossed his leg at the knee while talking to then-leader Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader was so offended (or perhaps amazed the diplomatic corps hadn’t briefed Richardson) that he walked out of the room.

Most savvy travelers know that visiting some churches and monuments (as travelers frequently do as part of a cruise vacation) require that women cover their shoulders and refrain from wearing short skirts. But in South Korea, a popular destination on Celebrity’s Asian cruise itineraries, men are rarely seen topless; even at the beach.

And it’s not just what you wear; it’s also what you do. Gestures that are common in North America can also be misinterpreted: in Mexico, which is served by Celebrity’s Caribbean cruises, to stand with your hands on your hips this signifies anger; it’s also considered rude to stand with your hands in your pockets.

In various countries you might visit on a cultural cruise (mostly in the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa), the left hand is considered filthy because, historically, that was the hand used for personal hygiene. Thus, using it to shake someone’s hand, serve or touch food, or present a gift is considered an insult.

In some cultures, pointing with the index finger is considered rude and abrasive; in Malaysia and Indonesia (both popular cruise destinations) this gesture can be seen as extremely offensive. Instead, it is customary to gesture towards things with the thumb, as this is seen as a more polite option. In many countries in Africa, it’s a gaffe to point at people, but considered fine to point at inanimate objects.

Giving the “thumbs up” to someone in the Middle East, Latin America, Western Russia and Greece (all countries you might visit on a Celebrity’s cruise itinerary or shore excursion) might result in unintended consequences. The gesture has the same meaning as holding up the middle finger does in North America. The same goes for the “peace” sign in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Avoid it at all costs if you want to keep the peace!

In China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and France, it’s viewed as inconsiderate — if not downright disgusting — to blow your nose in public. Nose-blowing is likened to bathroom functions: best done in private.

In regions where most people are Buddhist (Sri Lanka, Thailand, and China, no name a few),  it’s frowned upon to touch or pat people on the head, even affectionately. Buddhists consider the head sacred; it’s where they believe the spirit lives.

Of course, no one sets out to deliberately offend or be obnoxious while exploring new countries on a cruise vacation. But there is wisdom in acknowledging that all cultures are not like one’s own, and research helps avoid mishaps.

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