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Important Cultural Things to Learn About A Country Before Visiting

12 Jul Important Cultural Things to Learn About A Country Before Visiting

Everyone knows cultures are totally different from each other. However what are those differences? The primary time we travel to a new country, we don’t all the time know what we don’t know.

What we might contemplate “common sense” is probably not widespread – or make much sense – in one other tradition. By merely appearing “naturally,” we might truly embarrass ourselves – or worse: offend somebody.

Recognizing cultural variations is the first step towards understanding and respecting the individuals in other nations. Sadly, it’s troublesome to detect these variations on our personal.

It might be straightforward, for example, to stroll proper previous the pile of footwear at the door to a temple, should you’d by no means encountered a culture where it’s widespread to take away footwear before getting into a dwelling or place of worship. Despite the fact that you had the clue that everyone else had taken off their footwear, it might be simply missed in the event you’d only ever recognized a world the place it’s no massive deal to put on footwear indoors. You’d waltz right in with out understanding you have been committing a critical fake pas.

One other instance is from our coaching as Peace Corps Volunteers once we first arrived to Jamaica. Our trainers knowledgeable us that it was thought-about rude to eat whereas out and about on the road. This is one thing we might have never found out on our personal. It just wouldn’t have occurred to us to find a spot out of sight to end the lunch we purchased from a store, if we hadn’t been informed. We in all probability would have gotten some bizarre seems to be, which can or might not have registered, and we definitely wouldn’t have made a constructive first impression with the group.

All that to say: if you would like to be an intentional, accountable traveler (and I know you do!), there are a number of essential issues to discover out a few nation before touring there for the first time.

How to find cultural information about a rustic you haven’t visited

Truthfully, we don’t all the time analysis all the issues we’re going to mention earlier than we travel to a brand new country. But they’re all issues we now have on our radar.

An necessary talent for travelers is remark. As quickly as we arrive, we begin observing the conduct, clothing, and habits of the locals. Native individuals grow to be the models for our personal conduct, to an extent. (Observe that fellow vacationers don’t rely nearly as good models as a result of they may not concentrate on cultural norms themselves.)

So remark upon arrival is vital to accumulating details about cultural norms. But you might have to know what to search for and it may possibly only get you thus far. Once more: you don’t know what you don’t know.

That’s why a bit of pre-trip analysis can go a great distance. The location is a superb place to begin. Or do an internet search for “[name of country] culture and etiquette.”

Or attempt the Culture Sensible collection. These are information books specifically targeted on the customs and tradition of each nation.

Cultural customs and etiquette to study a rustic

Clothing norms

Sporting applicable gown in a unique culture is extremely essential for displaying respect. That is the most typical faux pas I see Western tourists committing.

Individuals don’t understand that clothes can talk unintended meanings in different cultures. In lots of elements of Asia, bare shoulders or knees (tank tops, shorts, brief skirts) are strictly forbidden in temples. Not masking up in sacred websites is seen as offensive and disrespectful.

However beyond that, many nations have a extra conservative commonplace of gown basically. Typically sporting revealing clothes isn’t just seen as uncommon. Displaying even slightly bit of thigh, or a neckline that dips under the collarbones, or a spaghetti strap tank prime, could also be thought-about promiscuous – read: literally related to prostitution.

We spoke with a young lady in Thailand who was shocked to see a female tourist driving by way of town in a bikini. We noticed vacationers sporting swimsuits in town a couple of occasions in Jamaica, too, and it was clearly causing a stir. Some tourists are so targeted on their own vacation that they act like they personal the whole place. Positive, swimsuits are positive on the seashore. And perhaps in Hawaii, it’s more widespread to stroll round with no shirt on. But in most cultures, swimsuits aren’t applicable in public.

This is not a matter of not caring what different individuals assume or being true to yourself. It’s a matter of respect.

Discover out what sort of clothes is acceptable for the totally different conditions you’ll be in – walking around town, visiting essential sites, any cultural occasions, and so forth. Observe what is usually worn by respectable locals in your age group. Do they put on shorts? Do they put on sleeveless shirts? Do they gown more formally for sure events?


Taking time to study at the least a couple of key phrases of the local language can go a great distance in building respect and trust in a new tradition. Some prime phrases are: thank you, excuse me, please, yes, and no.

The more of a language you recognize, the higher you’ll understand your setting, give you the option to get round independently, and it might actually assist you to out in sticky conditions. Figuring out the language also opens the door to deeper connections with locals.

Nowadays, Google Translate could be a massive assist, too. We’ve had full conversations with Vietnamese homestay hosts, just passing a sensible telephone forwards and backwards. Or we’ll pull up the interpretation of “not spicy please” once we’re at a restaurant.

One caveat with language: it’s not all the time applicable to converse the native language. In the travel world, we hear this as a universal fact, nevertheless it isn’t. This was the case in our Peace Corps host nation, Jamaica, the place both English and Patwa have been generally spoken. In a method, Jamaican Patwa is like Ebonics within the States. It was very helpful to understand, but when to converse it (as a foreigner) is difficult. Simply remember and avoid crossing into cultural appropriation.

Another time once we’ve gotten resistance about language was within the Netherlands. There, just about everyone speaks English. Often it’s well mannered to ask “Do you speak English?” in most places. Within the Netherlands, this query was virtually like asking, “Are you educated?” So find out what the societal norms are round their language and what they anticipate from guests.


Along with the key phrases talked about above, being able to greet locals in their own language is a pleasant gesture. Understanding the significance and customs concerned with greetings can also be necessary.

In Jamaica, our Peace Corps host nation, greeting each individual you encounter is an indication of respect. In Jamaican tradition, it hardly mattered in case you ever stated the words “thank you,” but not greeting someone was immediately thought-about impolite. In many African cultures, there’s an elaborate greeting ritual with a collection of questions that have to be asked and answered before each events can proceed on their method.

Don’t overlook about bodily greetings, too. Find out if it’s applicable to shake arms, hug, or kiss on the cheek. Typically these norms differ based mostly on how properly you recognize the individual you’re greeting, the genders of both individuals, and typically age as properly.

Food etiquette

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Eating meals is a universal every day behavior, so it’s no shock that customs have advanced around food. We’ve all grown up consuming a certain approach – from the utensils we use to the situation of our eating to who we’re consuming with. Our means feels second nature to us, however in reality, there are tons of of variations on how we people eat.

In some cultures, ladies all the time eat individually from males. In others, the eldest have to be the first to sit down at the table. In some cultures, every individual dishes up their very own plate with every little thing they need, whereas others share family-style and solely take somewhat at a time from the widespread dishes. In some situations, it’s impolite not to finish the whole lot on your plate, while other locations have a system of giving left overs to pigs or canine.

Each culture has unwritten rules for what’s applicable on the desk. A few of these habits are straightforward to observe and comply with, nevertheless it’s all the time clever to analysis meals norms simply in case a few of the guidelines aren’t apparent.


We like to assume that sure gestures, like a smile, are common. And yes, smiling often does talk happiness and good will. But even a smile could be inappropriate in certain conditions – like between men and women in cultures the place genders do not intermingle.

Each-day gestures, like pointing with one finger or yawning without masking your mouth, may be seen as rude in certain cultures.

Hand motions can range rather a lot, too. Motioning “come here” with the fingers dealing with up tends to be completed in the West, whereas it’s often palm down in the East. Also, a benign hand movement in one tradition might translate into something offensive in one other.

In this class as nicely is shows of affection. Applicable physical contact and personal area range from one tradition to another. When you’re part of a couple, ensure to understand what gestures are acceptable in public. In Vietnam, for instance, public shows of affection are frowned upon and even holding arms was rare to see among locals.

Interaction of Ethnic Teams, Courses, and so forth.

No nation is homogenous. There are all the time totally different teams – racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and so on. – and it can be really useful to perceive how these groups interact with each other. Is there any rigidity or hostility between teams? How is privilege and standing assigned? How will individuals view and deal with you, whether you’re inside or outdoors their group? What are applicable methods to interact with the totally different teams?

If there are essential issues about these relationships that may affect your personal interactions, you ought to be in a position to find them in a guidebook or the All over the place Tradition website. Otherwise, they’re principally simply things to hold an eye fixed out for.


Finally, we all the time seem to end up googling “tipping norms in [country]” at our first meal out. However our pal, Nick, has truly created an app for that: Travel tipping with Piper.

Being from the U.S., tipping servers at meals is a vital complement to their wage. But this is not the case all over the place. Typically ideas are only left for outstanding service. Typically it’s a token amount, like $1 or $2, whatever the worth of meal. Typically tipping isn’t accomplished in any respect and should even trigger offense!

Be certain to lookup the tipping norms for eating out as well as another providers you employ on your travels.

Why is it essential to pay the proper worth and tip applicable quantities? As a result of when tourists overpay and overtip, it could actually significantly screw up the local financial system – especially in much less developed nations. If overpayment becomes a development, it finally ends up inflating costs for the locals.

Cultural generalizations vs. Stereotypes

One ultimate word as you’re wanting up cultural info: While it’s useful to study from generalizations about different cultures, ensure not to use these generalizations as a stereotype. A cultural generalization is a bent that almost all of individuals within the tradition comply with. This helps us anticipate how individuals will assume and behave.

However each individual is their very own universe of complexity. We’re all formed by many elements, so a cultural norm might not apply to every individual. So never assume. Attempt to hold your mind open and keep away from oversimplifying your categories for different individuals.

I hope this guide helps you turn out to be a cultural detective, in search of out the roots and rationale of various behaviors and attitudes you encounter overseas. Keep in mind that cultural differences are deeply rooted in the society’s values and beliefs. Everybody considers their own customs as not just good and proper but pure and regular.

Be curious. Be fascinated. Learn as much as you’ll be able to. And go take pleasure in turning strangers into pals around the globe!

We’d love to hear from you, too. What are your experiences learning about new cultures as you journey? What cultural things do you discover essential to analysis before you go to a brand new country? Tell us in the comments.

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Responsible travel. Cross-cultural Travel: 7 Important things to learn about a country before you visit | Intentional Travelers

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