Ignorance Of Local Culture and Customs in Travel
Ignorance Of Local Culture and Customs in Travel as lot of people do travel on daily basis. That doesn’t mean that a lot of people travel well. One of my biggest pet peeves is the complete and total lack of cultural consciousness that I see on a daily basis. I’d like to provide you with some examples so that you can eliminate yourself as one of these fools. Also, since I know that often times it is rough being a foreigner, I’d like to provide you with some ways to avoid becoming an inconsiderate fool, keeping in mind that cultural burnout is real and sometimes inevitable.
Where I currently live there is a big open market. Certain sections, like the long bright and colorful fruit aisle, are beautiful. Tourists frequently come to look, take pictures, and get disproportionately ripped off. The market has a reputation for being a little dangerous, and thieves are a serious problem. Tourists come with their big fancy cameras and whip them out right in the middle of the aisles.
I am what people call racially ambiguous. I am often confused for a Peruvian. In 9 months of traveling in the last year, I have had one person guess I was American. Some friends argue that I am not white, despite year’s states side of scribbling in the little circle that marks me as Caucasian. Regardless, I am able to blend and it has its benefits, I’m not going to lie. I get ripped off, sure. However, I find that I get ripped off a lot less than my western friends. I always realize this when I go to the market with other people and the prices immediately suffer a dramatic increase.
Once, while bargaining with vendors, I had Europeans follow me around the market snapping pictures of me while I shopped. Some of my regular vendors inquired if these people were my friends. When I remarked that no, they weren’t, they expressed disgust. As I was leaving the market, I saw the same group of tourists standing near the exit arguing about how to get back to the center of the city. I offered directions, despite thinking them a
rather vile bunch of idiots. One of the women, standing next to my stalking photographer, remarked, “Oh, you speak English!” I just replied, “Yeah, I’m American.” One of them started to talk, but I just walked away. I think I ruined her friend’s dream of catching a real live local doing her grocery shopping on film.
I also see people improperly greeting locals. All cultures have their customary greetings. In America, we shake hands. In Peru, and many other Hispanic countries, they kiss. This may feel invasive and uncomfortable for many westerners, but hey, I’m sure a handshake feels cold to them. I’m not going to lie, it feels excessive to me at times. For example, I don’t entirely understand why I have to both greet and bid farewell to people with a kiss on the cheek when I see them several times a week. However, that is my understanding based on my cultural upbringing and for the sake of remaining considerate and not offending, I kiss. Some people will pull away when a local goes to greet them. I understand that this is an initial instinctive reflex, but after being around for a few days, greetings should become common knowledge.
Let’s talk a littleabout how to avoid being inconsiderate:
- Remember that you aren’t at home. Sometimes when we travel we stay in hostels, we go to ex-patriot locales, and we are constantly speaking our mother tongue. If that is the case, we can forget that we are even in another country. It’s not my travel style of choice, but I do understand that it happens. Remain conscious that you aren’t in your home country. That will prevent you from making a fool of yourself when you stray from your pack of homies.
- Don’t objectify the people. People are people. Regardless of their class, race, language, religion, etc. If you feel the need to bring home some pictures of the locals, ask them. A lot of people, especially children, will be more than happy to pose in pictures for you.
- Be as understanding as possible. Try your absolute best to remain patient when someone isn’t acting how you think they should be acting. In Arequipa, Peru, people don’t do well with lines. This mean that in stores people will often times walk right up to the front of the line, disregarding anyone that arrived prior to them, and start barking orders at the people behind the counter. I come from a culture where lines state an ultimatum-you will stand here and wait patiently until you are called upon. I don’t have the gumption nor the desire to ignore the natural progression of service that is dictated by order of arrival. Sometimes I get frustrated by the amount of time that it takes me to get service, but then I remember that I am not in a position to justify this frustration and I shut up and wait quietly.
- Adjust your expectations. For example, perceptions of punctuality vary from country to country. When someone says that they are coming over for tea in Kenya, they may show up later that afternoon… or they may show up the next day, or later that week, or never. In America, 5 o’clock means 5 o’clock or 4:55. It also means that anything beyond 5 o’clock warrants a phone call or a text message. In Peru, a class that begins at 3:00 pm will not formally begin with all students present until 3:30 pm. Keep this in mind when making plans with people. While it may be perfectly acceptable to get frustrated and uptight over a tardy friend backhome, that may not be the case where you are.
Regardless of if you are visiting for just a few weeks or if you are escaping for a year, remember that there are new customs to be conscious of, regardless of your level of immersion. If you need a break or you find yourself getting burned out, remind yourself where you are and remember why you came there in the first place. Focusing on your inner wanderer can keep you grounded.
I like to take this time to thank Tina Stelling for helping me with this amazing article. Check out her works at www.tinastelling.com
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