By ANIL POLAT
Travelers don’t usually want to offend the people living in the places they’re visiting. However, many of you end up doing it, and despite your best intentions it’s possible to piss off the locals without even meaning to. It’s often the things you don’t do that can get you into trouble and make you feel more like an invader than a tourist.
You don’t want to leave your new favorite city or country feeling guilty about being an unintentional jerk. Fortunately these mistakes, made by travelers novice and experienced alike, are easy to avoid if you keep a few things in mind.
1. Neglecting to Learn the Local Customs
Most seasoned travelers figure they’ll just pick up the culture through observation as they go along. While you don’t need to take an anthropology course before venturing to a new place, brush up on the local faux pas. Know the basics like not putting your feet up in front of others in Arab cultures, throwing the ‘V’ sign in England, or throwing the OK sign in Brazil for example.
2. Criticizing Home
Going to other countries and saying how much you hate where you came from without a good word to say is a quick way to get under peoples’ skin. Some travelers think they’ll endear themselves to the locals, especially if they’re not as well of as you, but that can make you sound demeaning and spoiled. If you don’t appreciate where you are from it’s hard to appreciate where you’re going.
3. Bringing Up Sensitive History
Learning more about a nation’s history is a good way to learn about the culture before you encounter it but that doesn’t mean that the locals will interpret events as you’ve read them. It’s best to listen to the locals talk about war, politics, and national figures if they bring it up rather than talk about it yourself. Use your best judgement when asked your opinions but be mindful and avoid extreme positions on the issues.
4. Not Going Along With It
One of the best ways to adapt to the culture is to immerse yourself in it and go with the flow. Don’t resist bargaining, thinking it’s only done when someone is trying to rip you off, or get upset by varying personal space around the world, or refusing to try any of the local dishes. Going along with the flow begins with what I mentioned in #1 above, knowing what the customs are to go with the flow with.
5. Assuming It’s All The Same
A surefire way to piss off a local is to say that their (country, culture, people, etc.) are “basically the same” as somewhere else. The more you travel the more you realize how similar we all are, but you shouldn’t tell a Norwegian that they are Swedes living in a different country. Customs also differ regardless of physical distances, don’t assume a nearby town is as liberal as the beach resort you are staying at so dress and act appropriately.
Other Potential Offenders
- Not knowing any of the local language - This varies but a traveler should always learn these 6 basic words: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes, no.
- Treating the locals like 2nd class citizens of their own country - Don’t talk down to anyone or be the all-knowing traveler.
- Not trying some of the local cuisine - Yuck, gah, gross, and reactions like these at first sight or smell limit your experiences as a traveler as well as offend. Give it a try, you might like it.
Don’t Get Offended Yourself
In every new place you visit there will be customs you are unaccustomed to, individuals who give the locals a bad name, and travelers who’ve made these mistakes above – giving you a bad name! If you’ve done your very basic research and committed yourself to being a part of the local culture while respecting the locals you won’t be likely to offend anyone. Best of all you’ll end up being a good ambassador for other travelers but your fellow compatriots back home as well.
Photo credit: whl.travel