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Culture Travel

A gentleman’s guide to behaving abroad

In a globalized world, where more and more people get access to travel, cultural crashes happen. Most of us have probably witnessed tourists doing strangem disrespectful and rude things.

We may have laughed, got upset or just shrugged it off, but no matter how you react in these situations, keep in mind that they most likely didn’t realize that they did something wrong.

They were simply behaving the way they would do at home.

And be certain, if you travel (if you don’t you should), then you have probably been that person too, that locals either laugh at, get upset by, or just shrugging it off.

Cultures differ widely between regions, countries and continents, and what is seen as normal in one place is often seen as deeply rude by people from different cultures.

Sh how do you avoid being “that guy”?

Assume that anything you do could be deemed as rude

Talking too loudly or two quietly? Slurping or not when eating soup? Accepting or recieving a gift? Tipping, not tipping, tipping too much or too little? Greeting a woman with a handshake, or without a handshake?
Wearing shoes indoor or no shoes? Haggling or not haggling at a market?

These are a few examples of opposite everyday behaviour that are deemd as curtious in some cultures and rude in others.

With this, I want to illustrate that any behaviour – as innocent as it might seem to you – might be regarded as deeply rude when you are a guest in a different country.

Read up on the culture

Before any trip you make, read up on the basic culture. Learn a little bit about the country, the people and their habits. This does not only help you understand the social convetions, but also the context and origins of their customs.

Also, read up on specific topics, such as:

  • Tipping – when, how and where should you tip? How much?
  • Haggling – should you haggle or not, and if so, how and how much?
  • Eating and drinking etiquette – is it acceptable to drink alcohol, and if so, how much? Should you finish your food or leave a bit on the plate? How do you use the silverware?
  • How and when to greet others
  • How to behave at someon’s home. Do you bring a gift? Which type? Do you bring a bottle of wine for the meal or not? Do you wear your shoes inside? Should you be on time or late, and if so, how much?
  • Learn some simple phrases in the local language. Hi, yes, no, please, thank you and I’m sorry will get you a long way and will get people on your side.

By reading up on these basic topics before you leave for your trip helps you be prepared, and minimize the risk of commiting a faux pas.

Observe the locals

Observe how the locals behave and imitate them.

Ask

If you are put in a situation where you are not sure how to act, simply ask. While asking will reveal that you don’t know, it will also show that you care and that you want to avoid offending anyone.

While language can be an issue, ask the hotel staff, your guide or anyone else who speaks English or your language.

Apologize

Be seneitive, and if people seem to react negatively to something that you do, ask what it was and promptly apologize, preferably in the native language.

Don’t be afraid

While it might seem scary to have to behave differently or not knowing how to behave, most people in most cultures will understand, especially if you show that you try and apologize when you fail.

The worst thing that can happen is that you get told off, but this happens rarely. In most cases, a slight faux pas can lead to a shared laugh, a chat and perhaps even friendship for life. It’s not the end of the world as long as you show that you try.