If there’s one thing you’ll learn on your travels, it’s that sometimes things do not mean what you think they mean. Usually this leads to max. confusion, but also a lot of laughs once you figure out what’s going on. Here are some of our favourite quirky differences from cultures around the world so you’re in the know before you go.
In Bulgaria nodding your head means no
The most common way to show agreement and say ‘yes’ in Bulgaria is to shake your head from side to side, a gesture that in many countries means no. And it’s not just Bulgaria! Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt all follow the same method.
In Cyprus waving goodbye means something awful
You do not want to show your palm to the locals in Cyprus when you’re bidding them farewell. Unlike other countries where the wave of a hand is a casual way to say goodbye, in Cyprus it means “sh*t on your face”, and naturally, is considered pretty rude.
In Israel it’s rude to NOT interrupt people
Turning rude behaviour on it’s head is Israel, who believe if you fail to interrupt someone while they’re speaking it means you’re not really listening and aren’t engaged with what they’re telling you. Honestly, that’s one cultural difference some of us could get used to amiright?
In Iran giving a thumbs up is the same as flipping the bird
Telling someone you’re all good with a quick thumbs up ain’t cool in Iran, where the thumb acts as the middle finger. In Western culture the middle finger is a an offensive gesture to show someone you don’t like their vibe.
In Sweden you agree with someone by sucking in air
Not all cultures are verbal, and in Sweden (and Norway) to show you’re on the same page as someone you make a sharp sucking noise instead of saying ‘I agree” or nodding. It’s their way of letting you know they’re listening without interrupting the flow of conversation.
In Georgia ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ mean the opposite
You might get some strange looks if you introduce someone in Georgia to your mum and produce a woman, because to them ‘mama’ means father, and ‘papa’ means mother. In fact, in the Georgian language a lot of words you find familiar are ‘backwards’ in terms of Western linguistics!
In Korea a check mark means the answer is wrong
If you sit an exam in Korea and start celebrating when your results are a row of ticks, think again. A check mark is the same as a cross to them, and a circle denotes a right answer.