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Top 5 Ways to Honor the Cultures You Visit

by Richard
04/19/2016 01:32:04 P.M.

Traveling is certainly many things to many people, and few places is that evidenced more than at Travel Country, where people come in to visit places all over the world for myriad different reasons. And that is great, because there are few things more rich than experiencing a new culture for the first time. For me, it is the best thing about travel and, ultimately, I don’t think travel is healthy unless it is rooted in the traveler immersing himself/herself in the local culture. This can be quite difficult and definitely takes work. But when you choose to do it, it can make such a difference in your experience and—more notably—the experience of those whom you interact with on your visit. A nice byproduct is that when you do this, you can fit in quite nicely and experience a truer version of that culture. 

Now, here is my list of top 5 things you can do to honor the culture you’re visiting: 

Research
This is everything. For starters, it shows that you care enough to be proactive in your pursuit of knowing the people and their culture. So, it’s a great first step! Study: 

  • The history of the country. How’d they come into existence? What famous events have occurred? Etc.
  • The religious practices that are commonplace. Can you best honor people’s religious beliefs by talking about them, saying specific phrases, or ignoring them altogether?
  • Any taboos that might exist. Then avoid, please...if not for yourself, for your country.
  • Which types of clothing are acceptable and which are not.
  • Food. Know what the normal foods are and prepare yourself for them. You may not have to eat those foods, but who knows, you may even like them. It is also common to offend if you don’t partake in food offered to you or if you’re unaware of particular manners surrounding meals.
  • To see if there are any festivals while you’re in there. You learn an incredible amount about a culture when you experience how they celebrate, mourn, or just generally remember. It is typically a gift to take part in witnessing one of these events.
  • Language basics. There is nothing you can do that will show people from another culture that you care like learning their language. Granted, some people don’t care two shakes if you learn their language, but most people deeply appreciate your attempts, whether they’re very successful or not. As an added bonus, you may be able to find the bathrooms, restaurants, and your lodging. Furthermore, it does a great deal of good to your psyche to be able to connect with people that you would otherwise feel disconnected from because of an inability to converse with them.

You’ll naturally gravitate to wanting to learn certain things more than others. Find those things and get to learning! Besides being beneficial, it can be quite fun. 

Set Healthy Expectations
You’re going into a new place with all different types of customs and standards, so be careful not to set any particular expectations about what will occur...at least not specific expectations. Check those ones at the door and set wide expectations. How would you generally like to experience the culture? What are some ways you’d like to interact with people? What types of things would you like to see? 

Observe
Once you get there, use what you’ve already learned and partner those things with what you see happening around you. Cultural cues are everywhere and you’ll miss them if you’re not quiet and observant. If you haven’t done your homework, observing will be like looking for clues to a puzzle without knowing what they are. If you’ve done your homework and have set healthy expectations, you are able to observe practices, attitudes, and anything else you can get your senses on and it will be like accelerated learning. There are also some things that you don’t need to have done your homework for (though it helps). One example is looking for lines when you go to eat. It can often be beneficial to use Yelp! or TripAdvisor to find the best restaurants, but if you see an inordinately long line where people are behaving themselves...they’re waiting for a reason. I had some of the best pasta of my life this way as I was headed to a pizza place in Bologna, Italy but saw over a dozen people waiting outside on a street where there were no other people. I got in line and reaped the benefits. 

Build in What You Need
The very last thing you want to do is impose your culture on the countries where you travel, which is abhorrent. Those Kazakhs or Chileans don’t need to learn English because you’re in their country and you should expect that. But...you should figure out how you can still be yourself in the culture. For me, that means finding the best way to go for runs, the best markets to find produce, the crucial time for me to spend praying/meditating alone, and more of the same. What are yours? Do them in light of the research and observations you’ve already engaged in, and with your broad expectations in mind. 

Be Flexible
You’ve researched the culture, you’ve set grand expectations instead of narrow ones, you’ve observed further knowledge, and you’ve figured out how to still be you in that place and time. Now, you’re ready for most normal happenings, but just remember: things always change. Everything you’ve done up to this point will make it so you’re best able to withstand changes. And when you’re able to engage with the culture wisely, when you’re still maintaining your personal identity, and when you have the people of the culture in the forefront of your mind, you’re not just ready to interact with a place, you’re able to become a part of it. And that is when travel gets particularly special—when you’re not just visiting somewhere, but living a day in that place as it is.