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.
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
“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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