If you’re a guest in a new country, it can be tricky to know how to navigate a dinner party—let alone everyday interactions—without a little help. Should you take off your shoes at the door, or dress to the nines? Is it three cheek kisses, or two? Shake hands, or bow? So Traveler enlisted the help of etiquette experts Myka Meier of Beaumont Etiquette, and William Hanson, one of the United Kingdom’s leading etiquette and protocol coaches, to find out what to expect when someone’s expecting you—and how to conduct yourself accordingly.
If you’re invited to a private home in Japan, you’ll want to invest in some fresh, hole-free socks first: Guests are expected to remove their shoes before entering. Tracking dirt into the house is a sign of disrespect, and to a degree, a matter of cleanliness, since people sit on tatami mats and eat close to the floor—but it also works to guard against Japan’s high humidity and rain, which, if unchecked, could damage the floors of the property. The tradition holds in newer, Western-style homes, too, so don’t balk when you’re handed a pair of hallway slippers—hustle into them as quickly as possible, and with minimal fuss. Be sure to bring a gift for your host or hostess—nicely wrapped (and store-bought) baked goods or sake should do the trick—and note that bowing, too, is a big deal. The more junior person should always bow first, and the deeper the bow, the greater the respect shown.
The Chinese tend not to entertain at home—so don’t expect an invitation. Most hospitality is conducted in restaurants (and if the goal is to really impress, in a private dining room) where hosts will typically choose dishes for their guests. You’ll likely be offered a regional delicacy, like Nanjing’s duck blood and vermicelli soup, so for the sake of politeness, try it, and do your best to eat as much as you can. Business travelers, take note: Business cards are exchanged at the beginning of a meeting, pre-handshake, and should be offered and received with two hands.