New Survey Shows Majority of Americans Incorrectly Follow U.S. Customs When Visiting Other Countries
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA (May 13, 2008) Even though Americans enjoy traveling abroad, many neglect the local customs of other countries and make common faux pas that can lead to confusion and embarrassment, according to a new survey conducted by international travel site vayama.com. To help travelers avoid cultural misunderstandings on future voyages, vayama has added country specific etiquette guides that cover everything from dining practices to appropriate attire, available at www.vayama.com/etiquette
Vayama’s survey focused on U.S. adults know-how of appropriate etiquette in other countries and found that 95% of travelers say they typically learn about the places they visit outside of the U.S. However, they don’t educate themselves on local customs as much as they could. In fact, over half of travelers (54%) said they typically stick to U.S. customs when traveling abroad, and nearly half (47%) said they did something when traveling outside the U.S. that they later learned was inappropriate behavior in that country.
“The results of this survey paint a bleak picture of how Americans are behaving in other countries,” said Tony Hanseder, General Manager of vayama. “To help travelers overcome some of the common obstacles outlined in the survey, we added country specific do’s and don’ts to vayama.com so people can brush-up on correct protocol before they travel.”
Launched today, vayama’s etiquette guides provide a quick and easy snapshot of a country’s culture and customs, including tipping practices, dining etiquette, appropriate attire, how to greet someone, gift-giving, cultural taboos and more. Vayama currently has guides for more than a dozen of its most popular destinations and expects to have more than 50 guides available in the next couple months.
Vayama’s survey revealed that, overall, travelers are not very knowledgeable about the customs of the places they visit. With Europe, over half of travelers (56%) say they have no or limited knowledge of European customs even though the same number of travelers (56%) have been to that region of the world. Nine out of 10 travelers (91%) are somewhat to not at all knowledgeable about the culture of Africa, and over three-fourths admit the same lack of knowledge for South America (83%) and Asia (82%).
Vayama’s survey found that travelers’ lack of knowledge is most apparent when it comes to table manners in other countries. For example, about half (48%) think it’s appropriate to tip when they travel outside the U.S. regardless of the local customs, and a quarter of travelers (26%) learned afterward that it was inappropriate that they tipped a waiter/waitress. One in five travelers (19%) found out it was inappropriate that they waited for a waiter/waitress to bring them a check, and one in four think that forks and knives are used around the world so there’s no need to learn other forms of dining.
Americans are oftentimes misunderstood as disrespectful in other countries when it comes to greeting locals and other nonverbal communication. Two in five of travelers (42%) typically shake hands with someone they meet outside of the U.S. even if it’s not that country’s custom to do so, and about one in five travelers (17%) incorrectly think it is a generally accepted practice outside the U.S. to gesture to someone with a “thumbs up” sign or the “OK” sign.
“Unfortunately, certain stigmas of Americans abroad ring true. We are typically too informal in our interactions so we end up being perceived as rude or uncivilized,” said Syndi Seid, etiquette expert to vayama.com. “When traveling, people need to know that they can’t behave in Madrid the way they would in Miami so vayama has included this type of helpful information in its etiquette guides.”
The survey also compared the habits of those who travel abroad for business to those who travel for leisure and uncovered that business travelers surprisingly make more mistakes than their leisure traveling counterparts. For example, almost a quarter of business travelers (22%) kept their shoes on in someone’s home without knowing it was inappropriate to do so, compared to just 13% of leisure travelers, and 13% of business travelers incorrectly addressed someone as Mr./Mrs./Ms. versus just 8% of leisure travelers.
When it comes to learning about the places they visit, about four out of five travelers (84%) learn about the country they visit by reading about it on the Internet (75%) or in books/magazines (66%), and about two-thirds (62%) ask someone such as a friend, relative or business associate who has been there before. Only one third (34%) ask the locals when they arrive.
For more information on the vayama survey and its country etiquette guides, go to www.vayama.com/etiquette
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About the Survey
This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Airtrade International between March 13 and March 17, 2008, among 2,552 adults (age 18 and older) of whom, 834 travel outside of the United States at least once per year. Figures for region, age within gender, education, household income and race/ethnicity were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.
This online survey is not based on a probability sample, and therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated. A full methodology is available.