Un-American Foreign Customs
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The rule of "when in Rome do as the Romans do" is a debatable matter. But as the average American abroad does not wish to make himself conspicuous by non-conformity, a few suggestions as to minor foreign customs may be in order:
In France, even in better restaurants, the same knife and fork may be expected to serve throughout the meal, though plates and other dishes are changed with every course. Do not be surprised if your waiter gently lays aside the utensils you have crossed on the plate, American fashion, before he carries that off. A glass rest is usually provided to keep these implements from soiling the tablecloth.
In continental Europe, South America, and most foreign lands under European (not British) influence, it is customary for men to raise their hats to one another. In most of those same. lands acquaintances shake hands each time they meet, though it be a dozen times a day, chat a bit, no matter what their haste, and shake hands again upon parting. Gentlemen do not offer to shake hands with ladies upon presentation or meeting. A low bow is more customary. In higher social circles of mid-Europe, in Brazil, and several other countries, the custom of kissing a lady's hand more or less prevails. If performed, this formality should be impersonal rather than ardent. Japanese make greeting or take their departure by bowing low several times from the waist, at the same time rubbing the hands up and down the thighs. Chinese shake their own hands rather than exchanging hand-clasps.
The rather general American practice of licking stamps to be affixed to an envelope or postcard or licking the flap of envelope is looked down upon among the best circles in many foreign countries. Wet the fingers instead, when possible in water.
In England shoes (called "boots" there unless they are what we know as "Oxfords") are left outside the bedroom door upon retiring, whether in hotels or private houses. In a few continental countries this is also the custom. In Spain, Spanish-America, and parts of the Far East the public bootblack is patronized. If you neglect to have your footwear cleaned during the night in any British community, the chances are that you will not find an opportunity to correct the oversight during the day.
Baths are never free in European hotels. The customary charge for them is from twenty-five to fifty cents. In Japan and Sweden this function is performed in much less privacy than is customary with us, and only the inexperienced will show surprise when a serving-girl walks in upon him at his ablutions.
Always ask permission, with at least a bow, before sitting down at any cafe table at which another client is already seated. A train seat is reserved by placing any personal possession, however small, in it. Failure to observe this form of staking a claim is an evidence to Europeans of American boorishness.
Most French and many other continental hotels, as well as public baths, furnish no soap to clients without specific request and at a price. Double reason for carrying your own aluminum soap-dish.
In Italy say nothing that can by any chance be construed as a criticism of the government or of the dictator or king.
In Germany in particular, and in several other foreign countries, the American custom of rising and making for the door of the car before a train comes to a stop is not the practice. Remain quietly in your seat until the final halt at your destination is made, then surprise your fellow passengers by disembarking.
In most foreign countries gentlemen are never seen in public without both coat and waistcoat, whatever the weather. In Brazil it is illegal to appear on the streets of a city without a coat, although those to whom fate has been unkind may dispense with the shirt. In Rio and some other Brazilian cities street-cars are of three classes, often run separately. The fares are approximately the same, but no man not fully dressed, with coat, collar, cravat, shoes (not sandals), and socks may ride first class. Those carrying suitcases or other packages larger than a briefcase must await a third-class car.
Afternoon tea is an extra in most Foreign hotels, in Great Britain or abroad. Most foreign hotels (certainly all of the table d'hote class) serve meals at fixed hours, and guests are expected to be prompt.
In England the elevator is a "lift," in France an ascenseur. The English term is used in foreign circles in the Far East and in most English-speaking foreign lands.
Sunday in England and most British colonies is a day of rest. Train service is greatly reduced, restaurants and many places of interest to the tourist are closed. Take note of this in laying out your itinerary. The continental Sunday is the reverse, almost everything except government offices being commonly wide open, sometimes for longer hours than on week days. Avoid the more popular excursions on Sunday, or be prepared for overcrowded conditions.
Gentlemen seldom appear in public in Great Britain, in most continental countries, and in the higher social circles of Latin-America without a walking-stick. To be without one is to be mistaken for a man rather than a gentleman, and to use the word "cane" is inadvisable. In England one "books" a ticket for train, boat, or theater; one never buys them. The lower part of the house is known as the "stalls and the pit" rather than as the parquet. The stalls are the choicest location.
In Europe, especially in Germany and Holland, laws and signboards are meant to be obeyed, and the wise traveler will not overlook the words Verboten, defendu, prohibito, vietato, prohibido, "no thoroughfare," and "no trespassing."
In Russia and Siberia, should the traveler get so far afield, it is an affront to enter an office either wearing or carrying hat, cane, or overcoat. An attendant in the anteroom will take charge of them. The custom of re-moving the shoes when entering a Japanese house is well known. The same applies to many shops, and even to the great department stores in Tokyo, where shoe-wearers will be provided with cloth overshoes at the entrance. Shoes should be checked with other wraps upon entering a Japanese theater.
Mohammedan mosques, some Buddhist temples, and some other religious edifices in the Orient must also be entered in at least stocking-feet. Hats, however, need not be removed. Even the Prince of Wales was refused admission to the famous Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Ran-goon, Burma, unless he removed both shoes and socks. Hence the ordinary traveler need not suffer in dignity in being asked to live up to this requirement. In Spain, Italy, South America, and other very Catholic Countries, ladies are never expected, and are often forbidden, to enter a church or cathedral with bare head.
Coffee, or even tea, with luncheon or dinner is an almost exclusively American habit. To ask for them abroad will at once betray your nationality. It will also increase your bill since only at breakfast (except the demitasse after dinner) are these beverages included in the bill. The same is true of milk or cocoa. Wine is prefer-able to water in wine-drinking countries, since the sources of supply are not always as unquestionable as with us. Bottled mineral water may be had at all hotels and on the better trains in Europe and many other foreign countries. Coffee in small cups is available to passengers on the platform of almost every railway station of importance in Brazil.
It is hardly necessary to call attention to the fact that losing one's temper or using gruffness toward others is more represensible in foreign eyes than in our own. Nor that the traveler should never be noisy or unduly hilarious or garrulous in public places. Do not tap on glass or plate to get attention in foreign restaurants. In some countries, on the other hand, it is perfectly comme it faut to hiss in such a predicament. Above all do not boast of being an American if only because admission of that fact will probably result in higher bills.