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Steer Clear of These 4 Tourist Etiquette Traps

American tourists sometimes get a bad rap for their boorish behavior abroad. Avoid that fate with these tips.


Banish negative stereotypes by brushing up on travel dos and don’ts before embarking on your summer vacation.

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I collect vases, and I often pick one up as a souvenir when I’m traveling abroad. How do I know whether it’s rude to haggle over the price? Flea markets and street vendors are usually safe bets for bargaining, but the protocol elsewhere can be confusing. You might never dream of haggling in, say, a department store, but that’s par for the course in some places, such as Hong Kong. If you haven’t researched your destination’s haggling culture, gauge whether a price is fixed by asking the vendor or sales clerk, “Do you have a better price for this item?” If you get a lower offer, feel free to negotiate until you both settle on a price. If the sales associate in a boutique or department store won’t budge, don’t push it.

If you do haggle, don’t be surprised if the shop owner acts offended by your lowball counterbid; that’s usually part of the game. But don’t respond in kind: It’s important to let the seller save face. Alternatively, ask outright if you can take, say, 3% off the souvenir by paying in cash rather than credit, says Sharon Schweitzer, founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, in Austin, Texas.


We’re visiting a museum that asks for a “suggested donation” of $25, but that adds up for my family of four. Is it poor form to pay less? It would be inappropriate to skip a donation altogether, but otherwise, it’s fine to pay an amount that better fits your budget. Museums that collect suggested donations don’t rely on those funds to stay open, says Schweitzer. Aim to give at least half the suggested donation amount, or pay full freight if a lower suggested donation applies—say, for children under 16, says Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre, in Hollywood, Fla.

When the dollar is strong, is it considered a courtesy to tip in greenbacks rather than the local currency? Even though some service staff and cab drivers are thrilled to receive gratuities in U.S. dollars, others may find it a burden to exchange the cash for local bills—and pay a commission in the process. Ask a knowledgeable local—say, a tour guide or the front-desk staff at your hotel—whether U.S. dollars are preferred for tips, and always be ready to pay with local currency. If you’re cleared to tip in dollars, pull out crisp paper cash. “Some people won’t take older bills,” says Brouwer.

I’m staying in a private guesthouse instead of a hotel. Whom do I tip and when? Don’t tip the owner of a private establishment. But if a housekeeper or cleaner takes care of your room, leave behind the equivalent of a few dollars per day as a tip at the end of your stay. To show your gratitude to an owner who has gone out of his or her way to play tour guide or educate you on the region, consider leaving a small gift that’s not too personal.

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