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
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
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.