10 ways to look like a local in Asia

10 ways to look like a local in Asia

Throw away your guidebook and let actual locals tell you how to blend in with the crowds

Burp, don't burp. Slurp, don't slurp. The rules of social protocol around the world are as varied, and as conflicting, as countries on the planet. So how's a traveler to know what to do, when and where?

To misquote Madness, don't watch that, read this. Never again do you need to feel like a bull in a china shop. Or a fairy in a bull ring. 



Xenia Li, customer service repCarry her purse with head held high.Be a good boyfriend

“Shanghainese men almost always carry the handbag or purse for their girlfriends. You don’t see it anywhere else, except sometimes Hong Kong. But Shanghai men are well-known for taking care of this for their women.”

— Xenia Li, customer service rep


Eheart Chen, independent singer and directorResist the "fake" markets.Shop smart

“Although most Shanghai tourist guides include Nanjing Dong Lu Pedestrian Street and several ‘fake’ markets around the city, Shanghainese rarely shop there. We consider them ‘tourist only’ areas.

"There are exceptions -- a lot of local women shop at historic food stores on Nanjing Dong Lu, such as Shen Da Cheng and Shanghai No. 1 Food Store. For fashion, young Shanghainese prefer to shop in the Luwan, Xuhui and Jing’an districts.”

— Eheart Chen, independent singer and director


Nissorn ‘Bo’ Jongcharoen, translator/writerEven if you don't drink, you pay.Split the bar tab

“When a group of Thais go out to drink, rather than ordering individual drinks they will buy a large bottle of whiskey to share. The waitress keeps bringing small bottles of mixers and ice as required.

"At the end of the night, regardless of who has had more glasses of whiskey, the bill will be split evenly.”

— Nissorn ‘Bo’ Jongcharoen, translator/writer


Hiroko Yoda, CNNGo Japanese language Tokyo editorDon't eat like a child.Eat something raw

“In Tokyo, a classic foreign tourist thing is going to a sushi bar and never ordering any raw fish. Focusing on cucumber rolls or inari rice balls or tamago doesn’t cut it.

"Basically, those items are for little kids in Japan, so it’s funny to see adults keep ordering them and avoiding what Japanese consider to be the more flavorful fish.”

— Hiroko Yoda, CNNGo Tokyo Japanese city editor

Robert Michael Poole, CNNGo Tokyo city editorEmbrace the silence.Sit down and shut up

"Definitely do not answer your phone on a train. Locals can expect to be lambasted by teenagers for the merest mumble, or at least get the evil eye from restrained salarymen.

"If you must pick up, the accepted gesture is to cup your cell with your hand, say nothing longer than, 'Am on the train, will call you back,' then bow to the disgruntled commuters around you."

— Robert Michael Poole, CNNGo Tokyo city editor


Sanjit Sikand, director/filmmakerTrust in God. And Indian drivers.Pray ... and run

“In Mumbai just cross the street. Just go. God will protect you. If you wait for cars to stop before you abandon the safety of the curb, you may never make it.”

— Siddharth Sikand, director/filmmaker

Sikkim (northern India)

Devi Shikha BoeremaTemper your vices.Wear a beard to buy booze

 "Women should not buy tobacco or alcohol from shops, or drink or smoke in public. Or, if they do, they should prepare for some quizzical looks, and maybe even a raised voice asking what they think they're doing."

— Devi Shikha Boerema, journalist


Charlene Fang, CNNGo Singapore city editorMeet your new extended family.Adopt new family members

"In Singapore, don’t question why the locals refer to anyone older as ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’ -- it’s a Singaporean thing."

— Charlene Fang, CNNGo Singapore city editor

Hong Kong

Tiffany LamBreathe easy ... with a mask. Prepare for germ warfare

“Locals wear surgical masks at the mildest hint of flu. Call it post-SARS trauma. Locals who have sniffles and are not wearing a mask may be evil-eyed by complete strangers on the street.

"It’s also local habit to overreact whenever someone near them sneezes or coughs, especially on public transport. I’ve been in a situation in which the people around me literally formed a little ring around me with their faces averted when I coughed."

— Tiffany Lam, CNNGo staff writer

South Korea

Alan D'Mello, marketing director.Do some blood work.Be (O/A/B) positive

“Koreans are pretty big on blood type, so have it ready when socializing. There’s a pretty strong perceived correlation between one’s personality and their blood type here.”

— Alan D'Mello, hotelier