When you travel you discover cultures that differ from yours dramatically. One must stay open-minded to avoid trouble traveling and discovering exotic cultures. Sometime it’s difficult to react well to some behaviors that don’t fit to standards we usually function in. If you react inappropriately, especially in a small community, they might become suspicious and you might get yourself into some (or a lot of!) trouble. But if you react the way you are expected to, you might even gain their trust and get the chance to get closer to them. And that is a valuable experience. This post gathers my thoughts on ways to stay out of trouble while discovering different cultures.
I keep telling you, that it is impossible to predict every single occurrence that might happen to you during your travel. But that does not mean, you’re not able to do some research on the place you go. How do they treat foreigners there? What are their eating habits? What is forbidden by the law? All the basic stuff is pretty easy to find, and will give you an idea of the way to behave and what to expect. The easiest way to do research is to browse the internet. A lot of tourist oriented places have websites in English that point out the important issues. Also, there are plenty of travel blogs and websites that might help you get a little intel on the location. And since you’re already at TravelWorldPassport.com website, why not search for something here? Our constantly growing community might surprise you with it’s helpful information and willingness to answer your questions. But no matter the sources, remember not to overdo your preparations. And by overdo I mean:
DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
I read once in a stupid graphic that was a picture of a day on some silly website, that assumptions are the main reason of misunderstandings. However trivial this site was, there is some truth in that statement. It is natural, that you create a vision of the way things will be after you arrive at the destination point. One of the worst things you can do is rely on them. If you do as I advise you, you will most probably keep an open mind and that attitude will make your journey even more special. Also, you will avoid the misunderstandings caused by you expecting something from the other side, that they simply can’t or do not know how to deliver. And a simple misunderstanding may lead to something more, so it’s generally a good idea to “dodge them like a bullet”. There is also another thing that can come from making assumptions: disappointment. When something goes differently from what you expected, you may feel let down. And if you’re that good of an actor, the disappointment shows, which will make the representatives of this other culture anxious or sad or angry and you might end up in trouble.
HIRE YOURSELF A GUIDE
No matter how well you researched the location you’re going to and the habits people have there, you might want to consider hiring a guide. A local that speaks your language (or English, French, Spanish, German…). This person can be particularly useful if you plan on visiting places that are really distant from your home in terms of culture (like Chile and Iceland). Having an interpreter and a guide will most likely prevent from you offending representatives of other cultures and help you understand the traditions better…. Also, a guide may be invaluable and even necessary, when you try to approach closed communities, so think about it.
KEEP IT TO YOURSELF
You might not approve of what you see. You might feel embarrassed or shocked. Some of the things you observe might look ridiculous or pointless. You might want to feel the urge to laugh or comment – but it’s always best not to react nor to fake your reaction – not to offend anyone. Of course situations like that are extremely sensitive, so again – if you’re a bad actor – keep your guard up and be careful not to exaggerate when you pretend. Depending on a situation, it’s sometimes better to ask questions and look like a moron, than like a person, who judges.
FOLLOW THE LEAD
Copying behaviour of locals might prove risky sometimes – some types of behaviour or roles in a ritual are occasionally reserved to just a part of the society or community and if you do that, you might get into much bigger trouble than if you did nothing and just observed. But as a rule it is safe to do the same thing everybody else does (this is also what I do at really fancy restaurants and billion star hotels, where I am not a frequent guest – I observe and repeat what other people do – and it works!). Copying the behaviour might be a little awkward for you at first, but you will probably get used to it or it will end quite quickly (even though to you it may seem like hours). Just go with it and get through with it as fast as possible.
Despite all that, you still might get into trouble. When it comes to me, I’ve always been able to adapt pretty quickly. Then again, I’ve never traveled to see for myself the extremely closed communities like the ones you can find in South America or in Siberia. The topic seemed important and so I did my best trying to explain how to stay out of trouble, having my own common sense as a guide. But maybe some of you could offer some practical advice from your own, richer experience? The comment box below is one of the best places to do that.
Sometimes we clearly base our assumptions on myths – read about demystifying Russia in our recent blog post and find out how you can communicate better when abroad. This also helps to stay out of trouble. And if you need to use some stronger foreign words, you might find our post on swear words around the globe helpful.
And If you want to learn about truly strange local customs you might want to view our presentation