There are so many ways to embarrass yourself in this world. It's easy enough in your own culture, where you know most of the rules, but when you visit a foreign country, social interactions are fraught with gaffe potential. You could shake hands when air kisses were expected, make eye contact in a culture that deems it aggressive and boorish, or bring a hostess a gift of funeral flowers. Even smiles can be misinterpreted; what may seem like a friendly, open gesture to you can signal anger, embarrassment, or disrespect in other cultures.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cultural Etiquette is a lifesaver for all travelers, especially those attempting business trips on foreign turf. Even before the Guide gets into the particulars of Israel, India, Singapore, and Japan, its "Overview of International Etiquette" offers enough pointers, reminders, and general cultural sagacity to make it worth the purchase, introducing conventions whose norms differ from culture to culture (thereby providing fertile fields for insults and misunderstandings) such as gestures, table manners, dress, gifts, punctuality, and interpersonal space. Geared toward the businessperson, Turkington's guide suggests you dress conservatively, behave with respect, and refrain from telling jokes in languages you barely know. It also points out that it's always worthwhile learning your host country's history, culture, and language before you get there, and recommends obtaining business cards printed in English on one side and the language of the country you're visiting on the reverse.
Most of the book is dedicated to specific cultural phenomena in 26 regions, covering Canada to Latin America, Belgium to Russia, and Taiwan to Saudi Arabia. In Portugal, for instance, dress is formal, small talk doesn't include politics or government, business cards are vital, chrysanthemums are associated with death, and dinner is generally eaten around 8 p.m., whereas in Hungary, punctuality is prized, halo can be used for both hello and goodbye, and you should never chew gum in public.
With her Complete Idiot's Guide to Cultural Etiquette, Turkington offers a major contribution to world peace and compatibility. All you need for avoiding international egg on your face is to read the appropriate chapters in advance and remember never to turn your back on royalty when leaving a room--back up three paces first and then pivot. --Stephanie Gold