We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.

In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:

A primer on how to avoid mistakes in

Yemen culture photo

Photo by Julien Harneis

Three rules should always be followed in exploring Yemen: 1. This is a Muslim country. As such, be sensitive about where you point your camera. There are many great photo opportunities around every corner (the question is usually what to leave out of each image), but when photographing people, always ask first. The Arabic phrase “mumkin akhud sura minak?” is very useful indeed.

Don’t ever, ever try to take pictures of women, even if you’re a woman yourself. This is considered a great offense and can even result in more than a few harsh words. Also don’t try to take pictures of anything that looks as if it could be of any strategic importance (i.e. has at least one soldier or policeman guarding it). However, if you ask with good manners and the guards are in a good mood, you might be allowed and take a souvenir photo with a military holding a machine-gun! 2.

Despite being close to the richer oil-producing countries, Yemen is one of the poorest states on earth. Living conditions for many locals are very tough. As a tourist, expect local merchants to demand higher prices from you. While being mindful of the poverty level in Yemen, tourists should resist sympathetic urges to pay the merchant’s first price. Bargaining is a way of life in much of the world and is expected of all buyers. 3. If an area is off-limits, it is that way for a very good reason. Tempting as it may be to play the intrepid explorer, there is no reason to increase your risk of being kidnapped or worse unless you absolutely have to.

In addition, be prepared to be asked for pens (qalam, galam) for the local schools, and also sweets (bonbon). In the former case, if you have one to spare you may wish to consider it. In the latter, resist the urge to give a handout as it will create an expectation for the next foreigner to arrive. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t give money (“fulus!” “bizniz!”) to children. Donate to local charities instead.

With this, you had the primer on key facts about Yemen, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Yemen food and drinks:

Local food you should try in Yemen and No miss drinks in Yemen.

Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Yemen? Please comment below.