A visitor from Chicago to Poland was embarrassed after she admired the dishes on which a resident of Krakow served her dinner. Her hostess insisted that the traveler take the entire set of tableware home as a gift. She avoided doing so by saying it would be too heavy to transport in her suitcase.

A man from Miami riding on a subway in London was surprised when he accidentally jostled a British passenger standing nearby — and that man apologized.

Many customs of people in other countries are different from those we’re used to in the United States. And behavior that would be fine at home can be perplexing elsewhere around the world. That’s why some people who are planning a trip to a foreign destination take steps to learn what is considered polite there — and what is not.

If the American woman in Poland had done her homework, she would have known that admiring someone’s possessions in that country may prompt that person to offer the item as a gift. Visitors to Great Britain may be aware that good manners there are very much alive and well. If you accidentally bump into someone, it’s considered polite to say you’re sorry — even if the encounter isn’t your fault.

The challenge begins even before a trip gets underway. It’s only natural that people who are packing to travel abroad are likely to take clothes that are casual and comfortable. However, residents of some countries aren’t used to seeing visitors wearing shorts, flip-flops and other clothing that would be at home on a beach. That’s true especially when entering a place of worship or other site that is considered sacred or otherwise revered.

In some countries a meet-and-greet often is accompanied by a kiss. People in Argentina may give a cheek kiss, while in Brazil friends might exchange up to three kisses on the cheek. Depending upon where you are in France, the practice may call for one cheek kiss in the town of Brest, two in Toulouse and up to four in Nantes.

Shaking hands is more common in other countries. That practice reaches its pinnacle in Germany, where formality often reigns. When entering a room, it’s considered polite to shake hands with everyone who is there, including children. Bowing is the custom in Japan when greeting or thanking someone, and it’s customary to bow lower if the other person is older or has a higher social status.

Some mishaps involve the hands and feet. In a number of Middle Eastern countries the left hand is used for bodily hygiene and is considered to be unclean. As a result, shaking hands with one’s left hand is insulting.

It’s the feet that can cause a problem for visitors to various Arab, Muslim, Hindu and some other countries. Because the feet are the lowest part of the body, in some places they considered to be less than clean, so showing the soles of your shoes to another person can be taken as an insult.

Another helpful hint involves being on time when invited to dinner. In the United States it’s usually acceptable to arrive a few minutes after the appointed time, which is considered to be “fashionably late.” In Germany, leaving other guests waiting is seen as a sign that you believe your time is more important than theirs. On the other hand, in some Latin American cultures guests aren’t expected to arrive at the precise time they were invited to a dinner party.

The practices that travelers encounter throughout the world include the entire alphabet of nations. Australia is one of several countries where passengers in taxicabs usually share the front seat with the driver. To climb into the back of the vehicle as most people in the United States do would be considered to be snobby.

Table manners are very important in Norway, where even a sandwich often is eaten with a knife and fork. In Japan and South Korea tipping is not customary. Workers there take pride in doing their job well and don’t believe they need the added incentive of a tip.

In Russia, China, Thailand and the Philippines an empty plate after a meal may be taken as an indication that you were not served enough food. You may have to leave a bit as a signal that you are satisfied.

Minding one’s manners in another country can be even more important when traveling for business. Demonstrating that you took the time to learn the local customs may help to make the sale or close the deal.

For example, businesspeople in some countries who share a meal with a potential customer or sales source often take time to discuss personal matters before they turn the conversation to work. The local host may chat about his family, ask about yours and find out if you have any hobbies in common. Only then will the discussion turn to business.

One of the more enjoyable — if unusual — examples of mixing pleasure with business takes place in Finland, where relaxing in a sauna is part of the way of life for many people. It’s not unusual for a meeting or sales presentation to be followed by an invitation to share a sauna with the host. If so, that may indicate that the discussion of business went well.

WHEN YOU GO
Whether planning a trip for business or pleasure, some advance research about the lifestyle of people where you will be visiting can add to the enjoyment and avoid making mistakes. Search for information on the Internet or contact the tourist bureau of your destination.

Another source of assistance is Commisceo Global Consultancy. Among information on its informative website - www.commisceo-global.com/resources - are reports about countries around the world, including their cultures and way of life.

— Victor Block is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.