If, in the Arab world, someone say’s to you, ‘Eyreh be afass seder emmak*’ you are entitled to go all Bruce Lee on their ass. And never say ‘Me cago en tus muertos**’ to a Spaniard. A Bulgarian would be scandalised to be compared to a salad, while calling someone’s mother a ‘big turtle’ is a big no no in China.
While no one in authority is going to care how rude you are to an annoying tout or cheating cabbie, best keep it to yourself when it comes to negative opinions about the nation’s flag, the President or long dead founding father. At least until you’ve crossed the border.
The French Flag, France
The French invented the term ‘Lèse majesté’, meaninginjured majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state. Though the French chopped their monarch’s head off some time ago, insulting the flag or the national anthem during a publicly organised event is punishable by up to six months in prison.
As recently as April of this year there were calls to strengthen the law to punish a man photographed wiping his bottom on the tricolour. The photograph sparked outrage when it was entered into the ‘politically incorrect’ category for a competition organised by a Nice department store.
The King, Thailand
I have no idea whether the Thai King can dish it out, but he certainly can’t take it. Whereas most countries with Lèse majesté laws on their statute books do not tend to prosecute, in Thailand more than one foreigner has ended up inside for perceived insults to the King.
Swiss citizen, Oliver Juper, got ten years when he pleaded guilty to drunkenly defacing portraits of the King during the monarch’s birthday celebrations in 2006. And, despite selling only seven copies of his book, a brief reference to an unnamed crown prince landed Harry Nicolaides with a three and a half years jail sentence in 2009. The maximum prison sentence is 75 years.
Have you checked out the latest popular video to hit YouTube? Well, lucky you. I haven’t, because in Turkey, where I live, YouTube is banned. A row between Greek and Turkish users in 2008 escalated and a number of videos, including one associating Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, with music by the Village People, resulted in the site being blocked ever since.
Insulting Ataturk, the Republic or “Turkishness” can all result in a prison sentence.
Where religion is concerned it is wise to tread lightly and respectfully, whatever the faith is in the country we are travelling through. Most of us would, I believe, think many times more than twice before trying out our artistic abilities by drawing, say, some cartoons, about, say, the Prophet Mohammed, in, say, Iran.
While British schoolteacher, Gillian Gibbons, sensibly kept the crayons away from her class of six year olds in Sudan she couldn’t stop them naming a teddy bear ‘Mohammed’. Complaints by several parents led to her arrest where she faced a six month prison term, 40 lashes or a fine.
* my dick in your mother’s rib cage
** I shit on your dead
For more interesting insults take a look at The 9 Most Devastating Insults From Around the World