TPG readers share their most embarrassing travel faux pas

Aug 1, 2020

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While traveling has been put on pause for the most part, we can’t help but reminisce on our previous trips. From the exhilarating parts (visiting somewhere new), to the mundane parts (excruciatingly long layovers) and everything in between, we can’t wait to get back in the air.

Especially when traveling internationally, you’re inevitably going to experience some cultural differences. No matter how much you research a destination, sometimes an important travel faux pas falls through the cracks.

While they make for funny stories to laugh about later, read about these common mistakes that you can avoid in the future. Here are some of the travel faux pas shared in our TPG Women Facebook group. (The responses below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Eating & Drinking

“I was with my teenage son [in Italy] for a big soccer competition. In the afternoon I always went to a local gelato shop and decided to order an “iced cafe.” Think ice coffee. What I got: a shot of lukewarm espresso on a cube of ice.” — Desiree G.

“I ordered a latte in Milan a couple of years ago (at a local cafe — not an Americanized Starbucks) and the fellow asked me in broken English if I wanted coffee with that. He knew I was American and likely meant something different from what I ordered out loud!” — Charlotte G.

“I was in the Cinque Terre, Italy. I ordered a pepperoni pizza. What I got was pizza with slices of bell peppers artfully arranged. Not what I meant but I learned next time to ask for salami.” — Cristina G.

“When I was 9 we went to visit relatives in Australia. My cousin and I went to the movies and afterward we went to a burger stand and I ordered a burger and fries. They said “chips” and I said no I don’t want potato chips, I want fries. This went back and forth for awhile till my cousin sorted me out.” — Charlene F.

“Barcelona — we went during an unusually cold spring week and had been walking all day. Stopped at a restaurant and really wanted hot chocolate, so we ordered some in our best broken Spanish. We got a cup of melted chocolate.” — Jodi V.

“I mixed up the word Champagne and champignon in France. One means Champagne, one means mushrooms … I hate mushrooms.” — Charlotte T.

“We were in Germany, and knew very little German. We were in a pub, and wanted a snack. We ordered something like smartzbrat, thinking it was some kind of brat. It was lard on rye bread.” — Dianne C.

“It was in the ’80s, in Amsterdam. We’re hanging out in this bar, and I’m hungry. I’m practically inhaling the olives in the little bowl on the table. The people next to us are giving me dirty looks and I’m like ‘OK, so I’m a hog. Chill.’ I make my way through a few bowls, the dirty looks are flying, and my friends have the giggles. We get up to leave, and as we step outside, my friends burst into laughter. I mean, weeping with laughter. Me: ‘What?? You mean those rude idiots? I know, right??’ Them: ‘Laurie… they PAID for those olives!’” — Laurie Q.

“Ordered a filet sandwich in Brussels … got a raw hamburger smeared on baguette!” — Kimberly B.

“When I was in college I went to Italy. I was in Florence and ordered focaccia bread (and pronounced it foh-ka-CHEE-ah). The server politely corrected me.” — Meg E.

Miscommunication

“I did a semester abroad in England as a college student. One of the only other Americans and I went shopping for formal wear at a local town men’s store. We asked for “suspenders” for him to wear with his suit. We were shushed out of the men’s store. Apparently, we should have asked for “braces,” since suspenders in England is actually a garter belt.” — Suzanne B.

“We visited friends in England. After dinner my then husband said he was “stuffed.” Apparently that word has a very different — and vulgar — meaning. Oops.” — Jori S.

“I was in Munich and asked for nine pretzels (we were on a Euro tour with my whole family). The man looked very confused and offered me custard. I looked very confused at the man and said, no, nine pretzels, and put my hands up to say ‘nine’. Then he realized I was speaking English and did not say “No pretzels.” We both laughed.” — Caroline E.

“I did a summer abroad in Italy and thought I had finally gotten accustomed to the whole kissing-on-each-cheek greeting. But then I went to France and their whole demeanor was just much different / harder to read, so I totally screwed up and accidentally kissed my guide in Chamonix not once, BUT TWICE. I then tried to redeem myself and ended up just letting him kiss me on the cheek and it was all captured on video. I still cringe thinking about it lol.” — Liz H.

“Talking about French mistranslations, I have a friend who did a semester abroad in France. The person that was showing her around asked her how things were going. I don’t remember the exact words, but she intended to say that she was still having trouble learning her way around. What she actually said was that she was having trouble dressing herself.” — Heather L.

“My favorite translation error was when my family went to Mexico when I was a kid. I had taken maybe two years of Spanish in school at that point so I had a basic understanding of common phrases. My dad wanted to ask how much something cost so he asked ‘Cuanto queso?’ How much cheese? He was going for ‘Cuanto cuesta!’” — Cara L.

Traveling Woes

“Overpacking for my first trip to Paris. I have never carried such heavy luggage up and down steep stairs, cobbled streets and stuffed into tiny elevators. I learned my lesson and it’s rare that I even check a bag these days!” — Benet W.

“My friend and I were on a bus from Izmir to another part of Turkey. My friend was in a bad mood. The bus was pretty empty and one woman sat right near us. My friend asked her to move. The woman looked upset and went to talk to a staff member. The staff explained that we were sitting in that woman’s seat! So embarrassing.” — Elizabeth N.

“In the days when [flying] was still possible, I boarded the wrong plane and ended up in the wrong city (twice!!). I also fell asleep on a train in Europe and ended up in Zell am See Austria rather than Salzburg (turned out to be a happy error).” — Jacqueline J.

“Was riding a bus outside Bangkok with a group of fellow students studying abroad one summer. i had my legs crossed and apparently my foot was pointing at an elderly woman. She started screaming at me and was beyond furious. i couldn’t understand what the problem was but finally figured it out. Using one’s feet to point at or touch in Thailand is major no no. I’ve since become much more mindful when traveling especially on public transportation.” — Sheila M.

Featured Photo by Baris Seckin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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