I have traveled a lot.
Close to 70 countries on all continents. In addition I have lived for longer periods of time in at least 10 of them.
That’s a lot of traveling. And a lot of experiences. AND a lot of BAD experiences.
When you are visiting a new country, you are bound to make mistakes. That is human nature. But as long as you are aware of your mistakes, and try to learn from them, it’s all ok. It’s only an issue if you don’t.
For me traveling means gaining new experiences and learning new things. That also includes the local customs. When you are moving to or visiting a new country, you are a guest and will have to adjust to your new environment. The locals will not adjust to you.
After seeing so much bad behavior, both in my own country and in countries I have visited, I have put together three easy and necessary things that everyone should do before visiting a new country.
Let’s start with the obvious one which is language.
Learn Some Basic Words
I know. Learning a new language is hard. I studied Spanish for 3 months before my last visit to Colombia and I can’t say I am anywhere near fluent.
But learning some basic words and phrases is not hard. It will take a few hours to learn how to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Hello’, and perhaps five other words or phrases.
This shows tremendous respect and gives an impression that you are more than just the usual tourist. I have made so many waitresses smile just because I could say a few words in Russian or Vietnamese.
If you have the time to search for plane tickets and hotel rooms, you also have the time to learn a few simple phrases.
Learn the Local Customs
There are customs in every culture that’s considered rude if you don’t respect them. Even I get angry if people come to my country and don’t respect my customs.
I don’t mean you need to know the whole ceremony when visiting a Buddhist temple in Thailand (but its fun and I recommend it), but there are always a few things that every visitor should be aware of.
For example, in Thailand the feet are considered dirty. Tipping may be seen as insulting in Japan. And in Sweden and Germany, showing up late without notifying the other party is extremely rude.
All this takes a short 5 minute Google search to find. If that’s too much work, maybe it’s better that you spend your vacation at home.
Don’t Be an Asshole
This is related to the two first things. When moving to or visiting a new country, ALWAYS treat the local people with respect. You are their guest. Do you want rude guests in your own house?
Of course you shouldn’t be so nice that people use you as a doormat. For example, I never accept if someone cuts me in line, or if a restaurant gives me bad service. There’s always a middle ground.
In many ways you are the ambassador of your country. If your countrymen already have a bad reputation due to past incidents (for example Chinese tourists in Thailand), you can make a small difference. Let them know there are also polite people in your country!
It’s never ever acceptable to use your own culture as an excuse, and say this is not how we do things where I come from.
If that’s how you do it, please stay at home!
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