How Can You Avoid Offending People When Traveling Abroad?


When you travel abroad, you always want to mind your manners. Here’s an easy guide to behaving brilliantly around the world.


Remember how careful you were during your driver’s license test? Good. Hold the wheel as if your driving instructor is still sitting next to you. Drive passively and don’t honk unless you absolutely have to.


Don’t smile unless you mean it. To some Russians, a polite smile to a passing stranger or a store clerk is rude and meaningless. Don’t be a phony!


Avoid disagreeing in public and watch your grammar. Politeness is such a big deal in Japan that there are different grammar rules for expressing degrees of politeness.


Whenever you receive a present, unleash your inner child and tear it open right away. Leaving gifts unopened is an insult. Of course, if you’re going to give them flowers in return, avoid chrysanthemums—they’re for funerals only.


When you’re stuck in the elevator with a stranger, don’t start a staring contest with the door. Make small talk. Actually, try making small talk with anyone you run into—especially shop owners. (It could land you a free baguette!)


When you visit a beer hall, it’s okay to grab a seat at a table with strangers. Just don’t sit anywhere marked with the word “Stammtisch.” That’s where a regular sits.


Hankering for some gum or a cigarette? Make sure you’ve got enough for everybody in the room—you’re expected to share.


Forget what your mother told you about staring. Go ahead and look all you want—attracting a wandering eye is considered flattering. Catcalls are common, too, but they’re becoming less welcome. Use at your own risk.


If you’re having dinner with friends, don’t pack up when the plates are taken away. You’re expected to stick around a little longer. The tip is also included in the bill, but you don’t need to pay it. 


Avoid raising your thumb, index, and middle fingers all at once—you’ll be mistaken for a Serbian nationalist. And when you’re talking to someone, don’t beat around the bush. Get to the point!


Almost all the cafes in Iceland are mom-and-pop shops with nary a chain store in sight. So don’t drink your mocha latte on the go; it’s supposed to be savored inside.


If something is “so-so,” it’s perfectly acceptable to give someone the middle finger. (Now that’s a sentence you don’t read often!)

What Are the Best Places to See a Sunset?

What makes sunsets so eye-catching? Air molecules! When the sun shines during the day, air molecules reflect waves of blue and violet light. Our eyes can’t process violet well, so the sky looks blue. Later when the sun sets, those sunbeams travel through more air molecules, which scatter those waves of blue and violet. They scatter so much that we can no longer see them, unveiling the other side of the color spectrum—yellows, oranges, and reds. The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the farther those sunbeams must travel, and the more colorful the sky becomes.

Now that the science is out of the way, here are some of the best places to watch the sun’s late-day lightshow.

Santorini, Greece

In the village of Oia, sugar-white homes capped with blue domes are carved into a cliff-side. Narrow cobblestone paths zigzag up to the town’s pinnacle, an old castle with a postcard view of the greatest sunset in Greece. From there, you can watch oranges and purples splash off the Aegean Sea, bathing Oia’s buildings in dazzling color.

Grand Canyon, USA

When the sun goes down, the Grand Canyon turns up the Technicolor. Light reflects off layers of geological strata, revealing every hue of red and orange imaginable. Views are amazing from both the canyon’s South and North Rim, although you’ll bump into fewer tourists on the north side. Still, if you’re stuck on the south side, Yavapai Point and Hopi Point are musts.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The isle boasts the grandest mountains in all the UK. Stunning green landslips in the northernmost peninsula near the ocean make for a bewitching nighttime view.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Not only is the 12th-century complex of temples a cultural treasure, it’s also the centerpiece of Cambodia’s national flag. Watch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng Hill and the temples will sparkle.

Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara is the sort of amazing place where lions bask under lone acacia trees. Zebras and wildebeest migrate across the plains. Silhouettes of giraffes tower in the sunset. Although no one is allowed inside the park at night, you’ll still be able to snap a few photos as the sun says goodnight.

Lofoten, Norway

The Norwegian archipelago may seem like a terrible spot to catch a sunset. From May to July, the sun doesn’t go down. In the winter, it never comes up. But the months in between are what make Lofoten dazzling. That’s when the sun dips below the horizon, but doesn’t sink far enough to darken the sky. The result? A hypnotizing, eight-hour lightshow.

The Maldives

Coconut trees. Aqua blue water. White sandy beaches. Bungalows. If that sounds like your kind of paradise, you’ll love the Maldives. The island chain in the Indian Ocean is home to spellbinding sunsets. The colors will make you feel like you’re honeymooning inside a Monet painting.

All images via Thinkstock.

How Do Skyscrapers Keep Getting Taller?

Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest skyscraper in the world, rising 2,717 feet. That’s twice as high as the Empire State Building. How can buildings stretch so high without toppling over?

Until the late 1800s, most urban buildings didn’t peak over 10 stories. Getting much taller was physically impossible with the available construction materials. The higher you build with brick and mortar, the thicker the lower walls have to be. The base of a 70-story brick building would have been so thick that there wouldn’t be any room for a lobby.

That all changed as modern steel became more common. Today, all skyscrapers have a skeleton—a steel frame of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams. This skeleton (called the superstructure) transfers all of the building’s weight to the vertical columns, which spread the weighty force of gravity down to the building’s foundation.

The foundation, or substructure, usually stretches down all the way to bedrock. Builders may dig a pit hundreds of feet down to solid rock, where a platform of concrete is laid. Holes called footings are drilled deep into the bedrock, and steel beams are secured inside those holes to anchor the building above.

Most skyscrapers may look square and boxy, but they’re actually circular tubes with cantilevered corners. Ever since the 1960s, skyscrapers over 40 stories have been built with a tubular frame—an engineering technique that saves money and frees up floor space because it requires fewer columns inside. (Chicago’s Willis Tower—formerly the Sears Tower—is actually a bundle of nine tubes.) In the middle of tower, a central concrete core contains elevator shafts, stairwells, and the building’s mechanical guts.

That concrete core is especially important on gusty days, allowing most tall buildings to safely sway like a tree in the breeze. Some buildings battle the wind with tuned mass dampers, oil hydraulic systems that hold a 300 to 400-ton concrete weight near the top floor. A computer system monitors the wind and moves the weight, shifting the building’s load from side to side.


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