Ways to be respectful in a Foreign Country
Travelling is always an insightful experience because you are exposed to cultures and norms different from what you are used to everyday and its important to learn ways to be respectful in a foreign country.
Every country has their own culture and sometimes multiple cultures may exist in one particular country. It is advisable to understand a little bit of the cultures and traditions in any country you plan to visit to avoid culture shock. You should make researches on what is okay and what’s not. Some things that may seem normal to you can be absurd in a different country. Do you know that in Quebec, kissing on the check is a common greeting? But in Nigeria,it is a very uncommon way of greeting. You should keep some certain things private if they are illegal where you are visiting like having a particular sexual preference or showing public display of affection.
Other ways to be respectful in a foreign country also includes you to be polite at all times, avoid judging people, be quick to apologize and use social niceties such as please, thank you, you are welcome and always smile when talking to people. Abide by important cultural rules like complying with the dress codes which may include pulling your shoes at times or covering your shoulder or hair. This will enable you to easily integrate with the local community and have a fun-filled experience. Here are some practical ways to be respectful in any country and ensure you don’t offend anyone during your stay.
- Research their cultures, norms and values
Before embarking on your trip, you can go online to search for information regarding the country you are visiting as alot of information can now be obtained online. You will need to know about things like the language, dressing, religion, food, bargaining, folklore etc. For instance in Kenya, when greeting an older person or someone with a higher status, you have to grip their right wrist with your left hand to show a sign of respect unlike in Germany where handshakes are firm and people are always referred to using a title like ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’, followed by their surname. There are some gestures you may need to be aware of that mean a different thing from what you know like nodding to mean ‘NO’ in Bulgaria. It is impossible though to learn all the rules for etiquette and manners for where you are visiting but you should get the barest minimum information possible.
- Ask before you take that picture
It is rude to take pictures of someone without their knowledge. Some locals are happy to take a shot with you or for you to take their picture but it is always appropriate to ask first. I am sure you will not be happy if going about your everyday life and then find out someone is pointing a camera at you. Cameras are also forbidden in some locations so before you take that picture, ensure it is okay to do so. Some of these places are sacred or off limits and you should play by their rules. Places like inside the Taj Mahal in India, some parts of Musée d’Orsay Museum in Paris or the embalmed bodies of the former North Korean heads of states in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. These rules are usually in place to preserve the artifact or historical sites.
- Mind your surroundings
When on holiday, sometimes it’s easy to get carried away and forget that other people around you are just going about their daily and usual routine. You should always be aware of your surroundings and avoid getting in the way of locals living their normal life. A common example is getting lost while driving and require consulting your map or asking for directions to your destination, what you should do is find a good spot to park your vehicle properly and avoid obstructing vehicular traffic or if on a sidewalk, especially crowded ones, you should properly step aside to allow free human movement before seeking assistance from the locals. Be environmentally responsible, like avoiding putting up graffiti on walls or throwing trash by the road side. Some countries have very systematic and precise separation and disposal of garbage so you should follow their rules and properly dispose yours accordingly. Do not jump queues or waste too much time on them.
- Keep an open mind
They say “when in Rome, behave like the Romans”. Don’t be consumed with your own habits and beliefs perceiving anything that is different to be wrong. When you see something you do not approve of, it is better to keep your opinion to yourself. What you voice out can be upsetting to some people. You should rather be an objective observer because there is so much to learn and understand from different cultures. Look out for what is done differently from your culture and if possible, ask why it is done that way. There is always an interesting history or story behind every tradition. Learn a few phrases in the local language. It will be exciting to have something to share with those at home on what people do differently and why they do them.
- Represent your country positively
Just because it may seem okay to abuse your leaders in your country and you get away with it, it does not mean you should do same in a foreign country. People generally respect those that hold high opinions of where they are coming from. You do not want people joining you in making fun of your country. Perceptions about your country can be formed from your interactions with the locals. Portray your country in a good light, you never know who will be attracted in visiting your country by how you made them see it. If there are certain slangs that are okay in your country, check that using it in a foreign land is not rude or insulting.
Don’t be afraid to be a tourist. It is impossible to know everything about the country you are visiting. Sometimes, you may unintentionally step on someone’s toes. The best step to take is quickly apologizing, people are usually more forgiving than we assume. Try to add a little humour to enable you blend in better with the locals. It eases your conversations and helps people understand even when you are doing something odd from their norm.
Writter : Chioma Atueyi