Tips To Be Respectful To Foreign Cultures
Very few people will pass up the opportunity to travel, particularly to an unfamiliar, exotic location. But many exotic locations come hand in hand with cultures very different to the one we may be used to and although many countries will tolerate a tourist faux pas, many others will not. Even if we visit a destination with a culture similar to our own, there are still some things that may be considered disrespectful to the locals.
To ensure you the only memories you take home with you from your travels are the happy ones, here are a few essential tips on how to be respectful to foreign cultures.
1. Do Your Research
The internet is full of information for travelers and much of that information includes travel blogs from people who have already visited the country you want to see. Look up the destination you have added to your bucket list to see if there are any things you should avoid doing while you visit. As an example, you may think holding hands with your partner as you stroll through the marketplace is harmless, but in some cultures, public displays of affection are frowned upon and may even be forbidden. The same applies to how you dress. While many countries now have relaxed dress codes in some areas for tourists, you still need to know where these are and adjust your wardrobe if you intend on leaving these areas.
2. Learn The Language
Okay, no one is really expecting you to be fluent in the local language, but learning a few basic words and sentences will show the locals you respect their culture. Simple things like ordering food or asking directions will go a long way in shining a positive light on yourself. Also, make sure that when you are conversing with locals, do so in positive, respectful tones and make sure you learn the absolute basics like “please” and “Thank you”.
3. Try The Local Cuisine
Some of the bigger fast food chains have a presence in almost every country in the world. As happy as you may be to see something familiar, you are in a country to experience something new and exciting. Show your support of local restaurants and cafes and don’t be afraid to ask your waiter to recommend something very traditional to the region. Most people are happy to promote their culture so you’ll probably have more choice than you thought possible.
4. Try Not To Be Disruptive
You may be a tourist in a strange place, but other people around you may be rushing to work or have just finished shopping for groceries and want to get home to cook dinner. Try to avoid disrupting the locals as they go about their daily business. The middle of a busy walkway is not the place to be searching for directions on your smartphone or window shopping. Find a spot out of the way and do whatever you need to do.
5. Leave Nothing Behind
It’s completely expected that tourists need to eat and many like to get their food from local street carts or kiosks. No problem! It’s all part of the experience. Just make sure you put all of your trash in a bin. If one isn’t nearby, take it with you until you find one. Littered streets are unsightly in every culture but in some, it is considered a serious crime. If you wouldn’t throw the trash in or around your home, you certainly shouldn’t do that in a foreign country.
Trash isn’t the only thing you shouldn’t leave behind when you travel. Unfortunately, a number of tourists seem to think it’s cool to leave some sign of their visit such as etching or writing their names on national monuments or other attractions. Really? This is not only juvenile, but it’s also defacing something that may be thousands of years old and priceless to the locals. What’s worse it’s disrespectful and in some foreign cultures, the penalty for defacing such property could land you in a lot of trouble. If the fines aren’t enough to deter you, in some cultures the penalty is caning. Plain and simple … don’t do it.
6. Avoid Inappropriate Conversations
You may think your country’s foreign policies are above reproach, but your host country may think otherwise. Politics is always a touchy topic of conversation and when visiting a foreign culture, the last thing you want to do is offend the locals by arguing about international politics. Religion is another topic that is best left back home.
7. To Tip, Or Not To Tip
Many western countries are fine with tipping waiters or any other service personnel. At the very least, many travelers are happy to leave behind the change from their purchase. Keep in mind though, that not all cultures leave tips and some may find it offensive.
8. Don’t Get Too Snap Happy
Everyone who travels likes to come home with dozens of photos on their travel camera. It’s perfectly fine and it’s pretty much expected. However, in some places, it is prohibited to take photographs, even with a smartphone. Such places could be things like government buildings or military barracks, while others could be religious institutions. Fortunately, most of these places do have some sort of sign warning visitors to not take photographs so make sure you don’t. It’s also worth noting that the locals may look interesting, but that doesn’t make them tourist attractions for you to take holiday snaps of.
9. Expect The Unexpected
You may think you are pretty open-minded and can take a joke, but some cultures may very well be even more laid back than your own. What you consider inappropriate heckling may just be a joking local trying to make you feel welcome by making you laugh with silly jokes. Keep an open mind and don’t take things personally.
No matter where you travel if you’re not sure of what you should or shouldn’t be doing, don’t worry too much. Just be yourself and be polite to everyone you encounter. Apart from making your travels more enjoyable, a positive and polite person is always more welcomed than an over-entitled grumpy one.