By Jeremy Miville
International etiquette is more than knowing which side of the road to drive on and which hand gestures to use in a fender bender. It really is more about understanding other cultures, traditions, and customs while avoiding an ethnocentric mindset.
Ethnocentrism is defined as an evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture. Basically, being a judgmental tourist.
We’re all guilty, only some of us don’t admit it.
I was very “American” on my first trip to Mexico. It showed most when it was time to buy souvenirs. I walk into a big box store in the States, find my item, pay the marked price, and drive home. The idea of negotiating and haggling on a price was very “foreign” to me. Now that I know I can talk that $30 snow globe down to $12, I am much more open to the concept; but on that first trip I was out of my comfort zone.
I thought I would share with you some common travel experiences that often make Americans uncomfortable and the travel etiquette that is often required for their occurrence.
Americans are a little prudish. Don’t be offended, but if you travel internationally you know it is true. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has a different view. “Quebec Kisses” on the cheek are a common greeting. Across Europe, cheek kisses are as common as an American handshake. In India, kissing is viewed much more intimately and is a rarity to see in a public forum.
Etiquette tip: Embrace the love of a kissing culture, even if it feels slightly odd at first. Visiting a non-kissing culture? Don’t push your lips around. But know what is expected before you arrive.
Did I mention Americans are a little prudish? Yes, we have nude and topless beaches in the States, but not with the popularity found in European cultures. On my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I saw a European man skinny dip in his public facing pool one night and topless sunbathers with European accents peppered our resort beach. I’m not saying dribble off those bobby brooks and hop in, but don’t knock it until you try it!
But then there are cultures who opt for much more stringent dress codes, covering themselves from the human eye. They may also require you to do the same. Remember, you’re a guest in their culture, their home. You’ll need to know what is expected.
Etiquette tip: Don’t get caught staring, whether they’re naked or fully robed! You’ll want to sneak a peek, either in shock or in awe. But to get caught makes things awkward, and neither one of you will want that. Also, no laughing or pointing.
A New York Minute
Americans are used to speed and immediate gratification. We want our orders taken now, our food served fast, and Amazon purchases delivered by a drone before we go to bed. This may be one of the hardest concepts for international rookies, but the rest of the world does not work like this. India has a very unique look at time, so much so that a late train is not a big deal for them. I mean hours late, not 10 “New York Minutes”.
Etiquette tip: For every New York Minute, there is an equal and greater Mexican minute. Just take a breath and enjoy the fact you are somewhere new, experiencing something wonderful.
Honestly, just be polite and kind. Those traits are inherently human and speak volumes in all culture.
Get out there; see the world. And, please, leave the selfie-sticks at home.