Unbound is an international organization that serves sponsored children, youth and the elderly in 21 developing countries.
Our Kansas City staff traverses the globe to monitor and support our programs, and they put together this informal quiz about different cultures and their traditions.
Take time to answer each question before scrolling down to see the answer. Give yourself one point for each correct answer. There are 12 questions total.
1) People say that you “have a lot of weight.” It’s actually a compliment, though you may not feel that way. You’ve traveled to … ?
- Central American countries, and some African countries
- Pretty much any country outside the Western world
- Philippines, Ecuador and Mexico
Pretty much any country outside the Western world.
In many countries, having a lot of weight is a physical sign of wealth. This holds true for a number of regions. We’ve noted this phenomenon in countries as diverse as the Philippines in Asia to Kenya in Africa (and South/Central America).
- Offer your left hand.
- Explain the situation.
- Wipe off your right hand before offering it.
Explain the situation.
Offering your left hand is an insult in many countries, especially India. Your left hand is considered unclean, and offering it may convey disrespect. It may not be feasible to wipe off your right hand, either. Explain the situation and look for alternative ways to greet the person, such as nodding your head and saying, “Pleased to meet you.”
- Give short, general answers and inquire after her family.
- Politely evade her questions and change the subject to other matters.
- Tell her that she’s crossing some personal boundaries.
Give short, general answers and inquire after her family.
Many people from different cultures see you as an extension of the family unit, not as an individual. To many Americans, this may seem strange at first. Often people are just being friendly. It’s best to respond politely and ask about your questioner’s relatives as well.
4) When ordering a hot dog in Chile or Brazil, you should be prepared for it to be …
- Served without a bun, but still on a plate
- Made from the meat of a guinea pig
- Topped with corn, peas and mayonnaise
Topped with corn, peas and mayonnaise.
In several South American countries, including Brazil and Chile, hot dogs and even pizza are normally eaten laden with toppings such as chopped veggies and many condiments. Ordering a hot dog plain, or with “just mustard,” is met with looks of confusion.
- Reach out to take it with both hands.
- Wait until she has placed the money on the counter before going to pick it up.
- Tell her to keep a portion as a tip.
Reach out to take it with both hands.
In Botswana it is considered polite to show both of your hands when receiving something from someone else. It is appropriate to take a gift, plate of food, or your change with one hand while cradling it, or your elbow, in the palm of the other. (Please note that Unbound does not have a project in Botswana, but we found this interesting and wanted to include it.)
6) At a restaurant in Costa Rica, you have finished your meal and are ready to leave. You still have not received the check, however. Why?
- You didn’t eat all your food and your plate is not clean.
- You are expected to settle your payment at the door.
- You never asked for it.
You never asked for it.
In Costa Rica and many other countries, waiters usually bring your check only after you have asked for it. It would be considered rude to bring it before then, as you might think they want you to leave (isn’t that what most U.S. restaurants are trying to do when the waiter says, “Here is the bill; whenever you are ready”?).
7) After arriving in a Santali tribal village in Bihar, India, you are ushered into the village amid singing and dancing, seated, and your feet are washed by some of the villagers. Following this, the children form a line and, one by one, come to touch your feet. What is the appropriate response?
- Bow your head.
- Lift your hand over each child.
- Hold your hands together, palms up, and curl your fingers toward your body.
- Touch each child’s shoulder.
Two right answers to this one!
Lift your hand over each child OR hold your hands together, palms up, and curl your fingers toward your body, depending on your gender.
If you are a woman, it is appropriate to receive the sign of respect by holding your hands together, palms up, and curling your fingers toward you or bringing your palms together.
If you are a man, you are to raise your hand over the child as a sign of blessing. (If the person is older than you, the actions are reversed: you bow your head or touch their feet, and the elder will either cup her hands or lift his hand in blessing.)
- How is your food?
- Enjoy your meal.
- Your food looks delicious.
Enjoy your meal.
It is customary in Mexico and many Central American countries to say “Buen provecho” to your own table before beginning a meal and to anyone else you see eating. You might feel strange interrupting complete strangers, but it is appropriate to wish them a good meal.
9) If you need to park your car in Venezuela, what should you look for to identify a parking lot?
- A sign that says “Parking”
- A sign with a car on it
- A long line of cars. Surely they are all trying to park, too.
A sign that says “Parking.”
In Venezuela and some other countries, the word parking has been adopted into the Spanish language. You might also find a sign that says “Parking Full,” and well, you know what that means.
- The Philippines
Videoke is the Filipino version of the famous interactive singing game of Karaoke.
11) Say that you are in Africa, and you need to get to a specific destination immediately. How should you communicate that to your fellow travelers?
- “We need to leave now!”
- “We need to leave now now!”
- “We need to leave just now!”
“We need to leave now now!”
In some parts of Africa, time is so fluid that it has three categories: now (an hour or more, no one really knows), just now (maybe an hour or less) and now now (if you are not in the vehicle at this moment, it will leave you in the dust).
12) When you arrive at work at your office in Colombia, you should:
- Go straight to your desk. It is rude to interrupt people while they are working.
- Say a general hello to the co-workers you pass by and go to your desk.
- Say good morning to every person in the office/every person you see.
Say good morning to every person in the office/every person you see.
In many Latin American countries a general greeting can be considered rude, so it is usually best to greet people individually.
The tally system
0-4 points: It’s possible that you may be offended at things that aren’t meant to be offensive. Try learning a little more about the culture you’re going to visit before traveling there.
5-10 points: Good job! You’re increasing your cultural awareness. There’s always room for improvement, though, so feel free to ask about experiences and things that have surprised you. You may find there’s a simple answer behind every previously mysterious gesture.
11-12 points: Congratulations! You’re quite the international traveler. We hope you share your stories with us about where you’ve been and what you’ve learned along the way.
Have you caught the travel bug yet? Learn more about our awareness trips!