Be a diplomat

When travelling, you are actually a representative for your own country. Whomever you meet while travelling, you will be giving that new person a perspective on what people are like from your own country. Since they may have never been to your country, whatever impressions you give them reflects on your country. Some backpackers excel at being good ambassadors by showing mutual respect for differences, learning the art of listening, and generally being interested in the other countryís culture. Unfortunately, others fail miserably and generally make themselves and their country look like arrogant idiots.

It is always a good idea to be on the localsí good side. You never know when you are going to need their help or advice. The following are some common sense suggestions on how to get along with local people and be a good ambassador for your country.

Leave your country at home: You travelled how far to experience something new? The last thing a local person wants to hear is how great your country is compared to how backward their homeland is! This is your chance to start learning and exploring other cultures. There are going to be 1001 things that are going to be different and easy to complain about. But this is the reason why you travelled in the first place: to get out of your comfort zone at home and experience what life is like someplace else. Be respectful. Remember that being different is not bad, just different from what you are used to. Learn to adapt.

Donít be loud and obnoxious: No one likes the loud mouth. When you enter a room, it is sometimes easy to tell who the foreigners are. They are talking loudly and shouting to one other, making huge gestures, and causing a regular disturbance. All the locals are doing their best to ignore them. Try to blend in. Before you start shouting or causing a scene that would be completely appropriate back at home, check out how everyone else is acting. It will be greatly appreciated by the locals and your fellow travellers.

Change the way you speak: When you are speaking to a local person, understand that English may not be their first, second, or even third language. They are doing their best to communicate with you, in their country, in your language. Donít take speaking your language for granted and expect them to understand. Make it easier for them. Start by slowing down your words, enunciate, stop using slang, and talk more with your hands. Some travelers make the mistake of speaking louder, believing that it would help get the point across. It really doesnít work. Donít start speaking louder, they are not hard of hearing and itís embarrassing to watch. Try to speak their language: If you have a clue on how to speak their language, do it. It shows that you are trying to communicate, if not rather poorly, but it shows the effort. Often, a local will be more helpful and more forgiving if you switch to your own language.

Their English is not your English: There are subtle and potentially embarrassing situations where one culture would use a certain word and that word would have a completely different and sometimes vulgar meaning in the other culture. Just remember, you do not speak English, you speak a specific regional dialect of English. Let this be a chance to expand your vocabulary and enjoy the differences. My spoken English was vastly different than the Irish and Scottish English that I encountered.

Learn to listen: Donít push your values or ideas on the locals. Try showing some genuine interest in understanding their lifestyle and culture. Again, you are here to explore a new land, not to promote your own.

Do what the locals do: It will give you a chance to mix in and experience what life is like. This is all part of the adventure. This is why we travel. Go to where the locals eat and avoid the tried and true fast food eateries that you have back at home. You may even like it. The locals know the best spots since they live there.

Respect dress codes and local customs: The big thing is to blend in and work with the local people. Women especially will attract a lot of unwanted attention if they are not sensitive to local dress codes. In Arab countries for example, find out if it is socially acceptable before wearing tank tops, swim suit tops, or short skirts in pubic. Although it may be hot out, you donít need local men harassing you because they think you are easy. Adapt to and respect their local sensitivities. Remember that you are a guest in their country.

Adapt to their measurements: Learn both the Metric and Imperial system and use them correctly when speaking to someone. The majority of the world uses the metric system (kilometres, Celsius, etc) with the exception of the few who use the Imperial system (miles, Fahrenheit, etc) such as the U.K. and U.S.A. Also, learn the currency conversion rate from your countryís money to theirs. Donít expect a local to know how much something costs in your own currency.

Change your body language: Gentle smiles are and likely to put both you and the person you are speaking with more at ease. Body language and facial expressions can vary greatly from country to country, but smiles are universal. And always, learn to respect and accept the people for who they are. Try to break away from all the cultural stereotypes that your culture has programmed you to believe. Leave all of that at home. No culture is better or stronger, just different. Understanding this will help you find that travelling and relationships become a lot easier and more enjoyable.