For the past several months, I have been traveling through places where I’ve had to do things I wouldn’t normally in order to abide by the local customs. I’ve eaten food, questionable food, I definitely wouldn’t have touched otherwise. I’ve downed beverages that would normally make me gag and I have donned clothing that made me nearly overheat.
I did these things so that I would not be considered rude by the locals. Have you ever thought that what you might be doing while traveling could even be considered rude?
Many haven’t because, let’s face it, they are just being themselves. However, it is important to take a few minutes to learn the local customs before traveling so that distinctions and adjustments can be made.
Here are a few of the areas where cultural understanding is important while traveling:
Food and Drink
The traditions of some countries are to always accept food and drink when offered to you. While the Western world generally allows the refusal of food and drink, this sort of behavior can be
seen as disrespectful to others.
In Kyrgyzstan, for example, I had already tried the infamous fermented mare’s milk drink, kumis, in the past, and I knew that it was a sour, acquired taste. Still, when each family in the yurt offered me a glass, I had to sip, at least touch that liquid to my tongue, or they would not be happy. Painful? Yes. But it was definitely nice to leave knowing I had been a good foreign guest.
If traveling in conservative countries, it is best to avoid short shorts and skirts and tank tops, and instead opt for light long-sleeved shirts and pants.
When visiting a mosque in Russia, it was important to bring a scarf in my daypack to cover my head before entering. Though this made the visit very hot and uncomfortable, it allowed me to see a
beautiful place without offending the locals.
The standard practice when in markets and bazaars around the world is to bargain. It is necessary for foreigners to partake in this practice to avoid getting ripped off, and even though it might
seem strange at first, it is normal for the locals.
But don’t get carried away! While the markets or bazaars call for this, some shops will take quick offense if you try to negotiate a price and perhaps even kick you out completely!
If there is just one thing you learn to say in another language, “thank you” should be at the top of the list. (Learn how to say “thank you” in 58 languages.) It’s a common courtesy that can go a long way when trying to show a local that you appreciate the service or help that has been offered.
In addition to this, I would recommend researching whether there are formal and informal ways of greeting and speaking. That way, you can always address new acquaintances, friends, elders
or people of rank in a non-offensive manner.
Research gender roles before traveling, especially if you’re a female! Gender roles are clearly defined in other cultures, so in order to not do something crass, realize and accept the differences if you want to be a respectful traveler. Don’t be the female that wears the mini-skirt in a Muslim country. Don’t be the guy that doesn’t take the vodka shot with the Russians. Just saying.
Can you think of any other areas where cultural considerations might be necessary during your travels?
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