“When in Rome do as the Romans do,” is the famous saying, and it is the perfect theme for your next excursion abroad. Beyond opening yourself up to new experiences and cultures, this saying has some very important applications.
Understanding the Culture before You Get There
Before you set sail or hop aboard a jet to travel to another country it’s important to understand the customs, etiquette, and laws of that country. Understanding the laws is important for your own personal safety. There’s probably little that’s worse than ending up in a foreign jail.
Understanding the customs and etiquette will mean you’ll be better received by the people you come in contact with on your travels. Some of the main areas to pay attention to include:
Negotiation – In many cultures it’s expected that you’ll negotiate the price for goods and services, while in other countries it can be extremely rude.
Gestures – Gestures are another area to pay special attention. Some gestures that are so familiar to us can be extremely offensive to others in different parts of the world. For example, using your index finger to call someone to you is an insult in Asia and the Middle East. In parts of South America and Europe, slapping the back of one fist with the other hand conveys your wish that the other person engage in an improbable activity. Even shaking or nodding your head for yes or no can be misconstrued.
Etiquette and hospitality – You may know that you take your shoes off in Japanese homes and establishments. However, you may not know that if you talk to someone’s wife you could be insulting the husband. There are many rules around food, gifting, shelter and even conversation etiquette. For example, in some countries it’s offensive to eat with your left hand.
Clothing – How you dress is important in many cultures. For example, in many Middle Eastern countries and Muslim countries, the women have to be covered head to toe in loose-fitting clothing. If you’re visiting religious facilities or sights, your head may need to be covered and your feet bare.
Where to Learn Customs and Etiquette
There are a number of resources available both online and off to research the customs and etiquette of a country you’re traveling to. Travel guides, travel and tourism websites and even government websites can be a tremendous help.
If you are traveling through a travel agency, be sure to ask them about the customs, laws and etiquette before you travel. Knowing the rules, both legal and customary, will not only make sure you stay safe, they’ll ensure you have a pleasant and enjoyable trip all the way around. After all, a trip is more than just enjoying new experiences and learning a culture, it’s about putting your best foot forward – no matter where you travel.