5 Things Not to Get Offended by in Asia, Handling Cultural Differences

Vietnamese Factory Workers

And Why Not To Take Offense At These Cultural Differences

There can be many cultural differences that happen when you are traveling in Asia.  Sometimes things happen, and you may feel like someone has just insulted you or invaded your personal space.  I have often said to live, work, and travel in Asia, you cannot also have self-esteem problems as someone is sure to offend you somehow. 

In Asia, there can be many cultural differences. Here are 5 things or not to get offended by in Asia as 1) total strangers commenting about your looks, 2) people asking personal questions, 3) lack of understanding your personal space, 4) lack of decorum, and 5) language blunders.

Some much can happen when you are living, working, or traveling around Asia, but here are 5 things you should try not to get offended by in Asia:

1 – People Making Personal Comments as “Oh, You So Fat!”  

Strangers may come up to you on the street and tell you that you are fat or have a big nose, or why is your hair the color it is?  These are all personal questions we would never ask anyone in the west, but they consider this to be an acceptable thing to ask or do in many parts of Asia.  

I realize it can be a hard and difficult thing to get used to. It can also even break your heart and hurt your self-esteem and pride. But most Asians do not mean it to hurt you or to be mean. For many Asians, it is just how they are talking to each other and part of their culture.

So if someone comes up to you and makes a personal derogatory comment to you, the best thing you can do is smile and learn to accept it. It is not personal as it’s just part of traveling, living, and working in Asia.

2 – People Asking Personal Question as “How Old Are You?” 

In the west, we rarely ask anyone their age. This is considered to be not only impolite but also can be downright rude, especially if asked by a complete strange. But in Asia, do not be surprised if you are asked personal questions like this all the time. Someone may even ask you how old you are, and then they kind of sigh and look at you like, “oh, you are so old.”

In many Asian cultures, to ask your age is a very acceptable part of their culture. In fact, in Vietnam, a person may introduce themselves and right away tell you their age.

The reason is that in Vietnamese, you will greet a person by the title of their age. If you are a woman and older than me, then I would call you “Chi,” but if you are younger, I would call you “Em.” Even if we are born the same year, but I am just a month younger than you, you would still call me “Em.”

Knowing your age can be a sign of respect for the Vietnamese, as they consider it essential as they want to know how to address you politely. This is why you need to understand a bit about the culture in the country you are traveling or visiting so you do not get offended by these kinds of culturally based personal questions.

3 – Lack of Understanding Your Personal Space or “The Grabber”

In Asia, I have had strangers come up to me to touch my blonde hair, grab me by the arm, and in one circumstance grab hold of both breasts – all in a very public setting.  I am not sure why many Asian’s think it is OK to grab hold of a stranger’s personal body part, but it will and can happen.

This is always a very tough cultural norm to address. I certainly feel anyone should know not to come up to touch a perfect stranger to touch them in any way without permission. In some cultures, this is acceptable behavior, or in the case of my blonde hair, some Asians I have met have never seen blonde hair before, so they wanted to touch it and see if it felt like their hair.

The best thing you can do is to learn to politely tell them to stop it without getting too upset or getting too angry. In most circumstances, I have found they may not really understand this is not something we do to each other in the west.

4 – Lack of Decorum or the “We Don’t Have Your Size.”  

Shopping in many parts of Asia can be really daunting.  You can go into a store, and the clerks may look at you and immediately say, “Oh, we don’t have your size; you too big.”  And then they start to laugh at you.   This can even happen in stores that serve westerners regularly. 

I have found this to be a total lack of decorum, especially in the stores that cater to westerners. The sales staff in those stores should be better trained and understand that you do not say things like this to a customer.

One of the best ways to handle this is to try to ignore their comments if there is something in the store that I really want to buy. If not, I will walk out and find somewhere else to shop.

5- Language Blunder or “Where the Hell Are You From?” 

Once`1 in a taxi and a taxi driver were trying to ask me what country I was from. I can speak some Vietnamese and understood what he was asking me, but the driver assumed as I was a foreigner that I could not understand him, so he pulled out his phone that had a translation device. The translation system on the phone asked me, “Where the hell are you from?”

So many things can get mistranslated, whether by a translation app or another person. This is just part of living, working, or traveling in Asia.

Instead of getting upset, smile, and answer.  There is little point in explaining to them the translation is off as they probably will not understand you anyway. 

Traveling to another culture can be an amazing and wonderful experience. But at the same time, there will be cultural differences that lead to cultural misunderstandings. One of the best things you can do is learn how not to be offended by these differences and smile politely. Getting upset or angry does not help the situation, especially when dealing with someone who may really not understand what they have done to offend you.

If you are interested in finding out more about how we can help you create, develop, and manufacture home decor and home furniture products in Asia, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact Mondoro and Anita by clicking here or with her direct email by clicking here.

Related Questions

What Is Travel Etiquette?

Travel etiquette is knowing about the culture and place you are traveling to and understanding what is or is not acceptable there. So if you are going to travel to another country, be sure to do your homework and learn about the culture of the place you are traveling to. Study up about the acceptable dos and don’ts. If you do this, then you will have a more meaningful trip.

What are some Asian cultural do’s and don’ts?

Here are some basic Asian cultural dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t lose your temper in public. That is considered to show a lack of character.
  • Don’t point your feet at any sacred object, and in places like Thailand, you should not point your feet at anyone.
  • Know how to greet people. In some places like Thailand, you do not shake hands but put your hands together in a “wai.”
  • Remove your shoes before you enter a home.
  • Bargain at the market, but know when you also need to stop.
  • Do not touch someone’s head; it is considered to be the symbol of a sacred place as it is the highest place on the body.
  • Take a gift if you are invited to someone’s home.

Anita Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Hummel. I am the President of Mondoro. I am passionate about helping you CREATE, DEVELOP, and MANUFACTURE home decor and home furnishing products. I am also an avid blogger with a love of travel and riding my motorcycle around the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

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5 Things Not To Get Offended by In Asia