Knowing the following customs may save you
embarrassment or grief during your next trip abroad because
things are done differently in different parts of the world.
The unthinking or insignificant gesture or act may be
meaningless to you because you live in North America. But abroad
it may be a rude or offensive display. Or worse, illegal. Here
are a few cultural do's and don'ts. If you know of or have
experienced others, send them to us.
They will regularly be added to the list.
Observance of any other religion is forbidden.
Non-Muslim services are illegal.
Displays of bibles and crosses are forbidden.
Non-Muslims cannot travel to Mecca and Medina,
sites of two holy mosques of Islam.
Do not take photographs of religious processions
Don't pack alcohol in your luggage, chances are
it will be confiscated.
Smoking cigarettes in the street is in bad taste
-- especially during Ramadan when the practice is illegal.
Religious police, known as mutawwa'iin, enforce
The religious police harass, accost or arrest
foreigners for improper dress and drinking alcohol.
Women should wear ankle-length dresses with long
sleeves, an abaya head covering or headscarf.
Women should not wear trousers in public.
Women must be met by their sponsor to enter the
Women can't drive vehicles or ride bicycles on
Women not accompanied by a male relative may not
be served at restaurants.
Women who socialize with a man who is not a
relative may be charged with prostitution.
Dancing, music and movies are forbidden in public.
Men and women may not mingle in public, unless
they are family or close relatives.
Homosexual activity is a criminal offense. Those
convicted may be sentenced to lashing and/or a prison
Private Saudi citizens may harass, pursue or
assault foreigners they think violate conservative
The penalty for the possession or consumption of
alcohol is severe. Convicted offenders can expect jail
sentences, fines, public flogging and/or deportation.
The penalty for drug trafficking is capital
punishment. Saudi officials make no exceptions.
While dining in India, always use your right hand
to accept or pass food, even if you are left-handed.
Before eating, wash your hands and rinse your
Most Hindus are vegetarian and many do not drink
Sikhs and Parsees do not smoke.
Muslims do not eat pork and orthodox Muslims do
not drink alcohol.
Remove shoes before entering any temple and ask
permission before you photograph people and places.
Remove your shoes when entering a temple of
Smoking is prohibited in public places, including
taxis. Offenders may be fined up to $500 in Singapore
Singapore has strict laws and penalties for a
variety of offenses that might be considered minor in the
United States or Canada.
Jaywalking, littering, spitting plus importing
and selling chewing gum can result in fines or other
Singapore imposes a mandatory caning sentence on
males for vandalism offenses. Caning may also be imposed
for immigration violations and other offenses.
Japan - Visiting temples and shrines
Here are the most important steps and manners with respect to visiting Buddhist temples and Shinto
shrines in Japan.
Behave calmly and respectfully. Show your respect by making a short prayer in
front of the sacred object. Do so by throwing a coin into the offering box, followed by a short prayer.
Traditionally, you are not supposed to visit a shrine if you are sick, have an open wound or are mourning because these are considered causes of impurity.
At some temples, visitors burn incense
(osenko) in large incense burners. Purchase a bundle, light them, let them burn
for a few seconds and then extinguish the flame by waving your hand rather than
by blowing it out. Finally, put the incense into the incense burner and fan some
smoke towards yourself as the smoke is believed to have healing power. For
example, fan some smoke towards your shoulder if you have an injured shoulder.
At the purification fountain near the shrine's entrance, take one of the
ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer
some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the
fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle
into your mouth or swallow the water. You will notice that quite a few visitors
skip the mouth rinsing part or the purification ritual altogether.
When entering temple buildings, you may be required to take off your shoes.
Leave your shoes on the shelves at the entrance or take them with you in plastic
bags provided at some temples. Wear nice socks.
Photography is usually permitted on the temple grounds. It is forbidden
indoors at some temples. Watch for signs.