When travelling to countries whose culture is utterly different to ours, we should take several things into account, since what might seem meaningless to us can come across as something else entirely and get us into trouble, or even worse, provoke a different reaction than what we intended. Have a look at the 10 gestures we should avoid when travelling.
1. Giving away pens, notebooks… to children
This is one of the biggest mistakes you can ever make when travelling. Giving away pens or sweets, especially to kids, will make them see us as «walking wallets», waiting to be mugged. When they realise that this is a recurring action among each group of tourists arriving to their hometown, they cut class and start performing the con artistry, neglecting the education they should be receiving at this stage. Try to avoid this at all cost; regardless of how cheap these goods might be in our country of origin, they are not the best gift for these kids, but rather the complete opposite.
The best thing is to think about the kind of education we would like our children to receive in order not to behave differently with our neighbour’s.
If you really want to contribute with something, go to a school, hospital or association: no one will know better than them what organisation or citizen is more in need and what’s the best way to distribute the resources.
2. Getting annoyed at traditions
There is a saying that goes: When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable. We believe there are no better words to define how we should behave in countries we do not share our culture or traditions with. There will surely be traditions we won’t understand, or even share, but we should respect them no matter what, and restrain from judging them. This is their traditions we are talking about, and we are just passengers, mere observers.
3. Giving away candy as if you were trick-or-treating
Do not throw away candy or other objects from your car/bus/truck under any circumstance. You are not trick-or-treating and the effect you’ll get is exactly what we were mentioning earlier. The same thing applies to pulling out a bag and start giving away presents: you will find yourself surrounded by kids with their arms outstretched claiming gift.
We know and understand the satisfaction one gets from seeing a child smile when you give them a sweet, but trust us when we say that this is not a good idea in the long-term, just as giving them money, because in a way we are leading them to homelessness with these actions.
4. Judging the unknown
One of the phrases we hear the most when travelling and that should be avoided is: This would not happen in Spain. This is probably true but, who are we to judge something that doesn’t belong to us?
We travel to learn and try to understand the world, not to judge what we don’t know and even, sometimes, what we are not interested in knowing.
Although it is true that a lot of the times we will find ourselves in shocking situations that we won’t probably ever understand, we should avoid judging, let alone believing, that we are in possession of the absolute truth, for there are as many truths and perceptions as people in the world.
5. Laughing or making fun of situations or local gestures
There is nothing more unpleasant than spotting a tourist laughing or making fun of a customary scene in a country with a different culture. We can understand that there will be certain situations that might be shocking and even, in certain occasions, funny, such as being in a Japanese restaurant and hearing how everyone slurps their noodles like there is no tomorrow. But it so happens that in Japan, the louder you slurp you noodles, the happier the cook will be. We have to understand though that there is a huge difference between smiling and bursting into laugh.
This is also applicable to religious or traditional celebrations, when what might strike us as something funny can be so special and important for the locals that just the action of your smiling may come across as something uncomfortable or even insulting.
6. Taking a picture no matter what
How many times have we been tempted with taking a picture of that person who is a few feet away from us? First and foremost, we must be respectful and act the way we would like people to act with us. Be honest, would you like to experience what is like to have 10 tourists taking pictures of you, zooming to the limit, from across the street while you are doing your groceries in your local market? I bet you don’t.
Approach the person in question, ask for their permission politely, and if they agree to it, thank them and keep that picture in your mind’s eye, because in the end that is the best way to save a picture.
This is easier with kids. Kneel down, face them eye to eye, and after a talk and a few games with them, take the picture. Although, bear in mind that taking a picture of a child might bring with it another 10 wanting you to take their picture as well.
Of course, when we are dealing with a minor, you should take something into account, and that is asking their parents for permission, and in case you want to publish it somewhere, have with their consent.
7. Disrespecting the local customs
As a tourist, you should take the local customs into account when planning a trip. If you don’t agree and you don’t think you can accommodate to them, the best thing you can do is to stay at home. Remember: «If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home».
For example, in Turkey, religion and law are two separate things, which is why tourists are more free to dress however they like. Nonetheless, prudence is welcomed, avoiding showing a lot of cleavage or wearing short skirts. Still, you will have to cover your shoulders, legs and head if you want to go into a mosque.
In Jordan, tourists do not need to cover their heads as in Turkey, however it would be very considerate of you to wear modest clothes. These are just two examples among the many local customs you will encounter. In consequence, we recommend that, prior to travelling, you do a bit of research so that you are not surprised at any of them, and if you consider they do not apply to you or you won’t be able to comply with them, you choose another destination.
8. Bargaining until you make the salesman lose money
We know that one of the greatest experiences of travelling is the anecdote material that is bargaining for that mask you fell in love with upon entering that little store at the end of the street. Bargaining is an art in itself, both for the tourist and for the salesman; so much so that in some countries it becomes a requirement with regards to shopping.
However, you must remember that finding a fair price for both parties should be the main goal here, even more so when often times the bargaining comes down to something ridiculous if we think about the fact that we are arguing for a euro above or below the price.
It is not the first time we hear something like: but, do you realise what an euro is worth to them? Well, it is precisely because of this, that we should perhaps analyse the situation the other way round and realise that a euro is worth nothing to us, while to them it might mean that they can buy another meal for the day. So, where does the need of bargaining comes from, especially if we are spending our money on something we like?
9. Feeling superior and showing it
There is nothing more annoying than showing an unpleasant attitude, like feeling superior towards a different culture. We can be different, but better?
Being a tourist does not equal being superior, so we must avoid feeling entitled because we keep more money in our wallets or we believe our culture to be better.
There is nothing more sickening than seeing a tourist give an unfair treatment to an employee in a hotel or restaurant, claiming something is not to their liking, just because they are the ones who pay.
10. Disrespecting the local cuisine
We know that you might not like all kinds of food. We understand that you don’t have to eat everything that lands on your plate just to play it cool, but you should take into account that food is a huge part of any culture, and thus, you should be very respectful towards it, and, especially avoid rude gestures to the people offering it with their utmost attention and dedication.
If at any given moment you find yourself unable to try something, do not reject it grimacing, try to make the person understand that you can’t go through with it, and your host will sure find something else in their kitchen to offer you.
Last but not least, remember that a lot of countries have a different currency and you cannot expect them to accept yours. Hence, we recommend that before departing on your trip you exchange it with Global Exchange.