MS. BEHAVING is impressed with the global travels of her readers! Sometimes, however, what's fine in America can mean something quite different elsewhere.
A READER WRITES: We had a delightful stay in a fancy hotel in Mexico City last month. When the manager asked us how we liked our accommodations, I made the “a-ok” sign with my thumb and forefinger. He looked as if I had slapped him. Why?
MS. BEHAVING REPLIES: Oh my dear, hand gestures are such a minefield when one journeys abroad, and can only end in tears! While this gesture is universally understood to be a compliment in the USA, in other countries it’s a definite no-no. In Latin American countries, for instance, it is a rather nasty insult, telling the recipient to, um, shove it. In France, our “a-ok” sign means “zero” or “worthless,” and in Japan, it’s a symbol for money (your Japanese friends might think you’re soliciting a bribe).
Ms. Behaving suggests that you use words instead of hand gestures at all times, in all places, just to be safe. A simple “Si, gracias, we love our room” to the manager would be sufficient. And please don’t stuff your hands in your pockets, as …(see next question)
A READER WRITES: Visiting Swedish friends in Stockholm, I kept my hands in my pockets while we were walking, but my friends said that was a no-no. Illuminate, please.
MS. BEHAVING REPLIES: Such a simple, second-nature thing may seem like nothing to us. But in many countries – Sweden, Belgium, France, Indonesia, Japan and Finland, among them – having your hands in your pockets while conversing in either business or social situations is considered rude. Who knew? Ms. Behaving suggests practicing beforehand if you’re prone to using pockets as a crutch … or simply do what Prince Charles does – have your tailor sew those pockets closed to remove temptation. Note that this rule doesn’t apply to outerwear like coats, just to jackets you might take with you.
WHAT’S YOUR QUANDARY? Have questions about etiquette, local or global travel customs or awkward moments on the road? Fear not! Ms. Behaving is ready to answer. Send your queries (putting "Ms. Behaving" in the subject line) .
Photo above: Ms. Behaving at Royal Ascot.