Monday, October 27, 2008

Awareness Abroad: Knowledge of Your Cultural Surroundings

All too often do we hear tragic tales of incidents that occur to unsuspecting tourists while abroad. I'm going to go out on a limb here, type a bold statement, and say that many of these treacherous acts can likely be avoided when the necessary precautions have been taken before traveling to an unknown place. Of course, while the specifics of these critical steps indeed vary from location to location, the constant lies in doing your homework.

In a time where uncertainty and terror plague our world, it is absolutely vital that we're familiar with the culture, tradition, language, history, religion, economics, and politics of each destination we plan to visit. Being an expert in all of these elements is not a prerequisite for traveling, but keeping an open and educated mind is undoubtedly crucial. In my personal opinion, there is no greater insult to a group of people than ignorance and disrespect.

Sure, we all enjoy the softer side of traveling.. the romanticism, sightseeing, socializing, fancy hotels, room service, local cuisine.. however, in order to experience something real, it is imperative to immerse oneself within the respective culture. Living like a native defines true travel.

To make light of the concept of cultural differences, it doesn't take a genius to know that you wouldn't wear the attire you'd sport in a New York night club in the midst of more conservative Middle Eastern countries. Communication is key. Understanding interactions and how they can be misconstrued between various cultures is also a factor to take into consideration. For example, in the US, a firm handshake is often interpreted as a sign of masculinity whereas in Africa, a limp handshake signifies the appropriate way to complete this action.

In our day & age, there truly isn't any excuse for lack of preparation when it comes to trip planning. With so many valuable resources available from travel guides to books to internet articles and much more, cultural information is easily accessible in today's society. Some of the more popular references include:

If you know of other credible resources, please share in the comments below - the more aware & educated we all are, the safer we'll all be.


Meriel said...

Perfect Example: If you walk down a sketchy alley in Valencia, Spain to smoke illegal substances (as my study aborad roomie did) - don't be suprised/offended when you get mugged!

Lil' Boozie said...

Good to know - thanks, Mer.

I was thinking about creating a post or a feature dedicated to explaining the different meanings of common interactions around the world. What do you think?