Travel etiquette can be explained in a few words. Courtesy, courtesy, courtesy. Respect, respect, respect.
How do you feel when a foreigner criticizes anything in your country? Or if a foreigner is demanding in any way?
Think about it.
“When in Rome…”
You’re in a different country, curb your ethnocentrism and try to fit in. Stop comparing everything to how it is at “home”. No one cares about how it is in your home country. Consider that a different way to do things might actually work better in this country. Accept a different culture as it is – new, unique, interesting.
Avoid Being a Typical “Tourist”
See the places you want to see, but don’t do what every tourist does. Get off the beaten path and look for where the locals go, their favorite local spots and cafes. That’s where you’ll find the bargains and the best food. And whatever you do, leave your t-shirt, running shoes and a negative attitude at home.
Learn how to say “hello”, “please” and “thank you” in the native language. Respect their customs, try new foods, use a strange toilet, be willing to do things when you are tired. In short: experience that country completely and show your appreciation for their way of living.
Do a little research before you leave. Have an understanding of what action may be offensive in another country.
For example, to look someone in the eye in North America usually means honesty, but in many countries avoiding direct eye contact is a sign of respect. In some countries, wearing shorts (males or females) away from the beach is unacceptable, or having an uncovered head and shoulders in a church/mosque may be offensive. When in other countries, touching a person on the head or pointing your foot at them is unacceptable. Jaywalking, chewing gum or napping in your car could land you in jail in some places. In Bulgaria, you nod your head for “No”, and shake your head for “Yes”. Check out drinking and driving laws too before you go.
Scams and Deals
Yes, be wary of people offering help or great deals, but again, many countries are poor and this is a necessary means of survival for them. We have experienced this many many times. There is no need to be rude. Just be polite, smile and say “No Thank You” in a firm tone (in their language of course). Works every time.
Take a look at how the locals dress, and if reasonable, dress similarly. At the very least, try not to dress in loud colours or expose a lot of skin. When in doubt, be conservative. Drawing attention to yourself as a “tourist” may invite people to take advantage. A low-key demeanor and dress will allow you to also be more accepted and helped by locals.
Pull yourself away from your phone/tablet/computer and go explore the country.
No matter what, there are times when you are going to get confused, lost or frustrated. It is good for us to get out of our comfort zones once in a while. Stimulating for the body and mind to be challenged occasionally. The best medicine? Laughter. Look for the humour in a situation. Like my sister says, “If it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s not worth worrying about.” And think of the situation as having the makings of a great misadventure story for your friends.
Countries are simply trying to protect their people from dangers. You can lessen your anxiety at these places if you recognize that security is now more strict than it has ever been for good reasons, and understanding this will help you to accept that these rules have been set in place for your safety.
We all know about “rude Americans”, but we’ve seen Europeans and others be just as demanding. In many countries, losing your temper is seen as a major character flaw. This is basic travel etiquette.
In many big cities the pace of life is fast. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Consider slowing down, taking your time, stopping to take a deep breath and look around. Just sit and watch people. And smile.
If someone looks like they need a hand, help them! Watch out for anyone struggling with something, particularly the elderly. Bring along a few small giveaways – gum, little flags, pens/pencils, coins from your country.
If you don’t know the language of a country at all, take a few pictures of common items – bathroom, bank, doctor, police, bus, train, restaurant and so on to show and ask for help if necessary.
Here are a few things we’ve seen personally while travelling that made us ashamed to be North American:
People shouting across a crowded room, or just speaking very loudly all the time…
Pushing others out of the way to get to the front of the line…
People demanding service immediately…
Criticizing everything they see in another country…
People saying, “At home, we do it this way….!” or “Why don’t they do it as we do?”
People speaking very loudly in English to someone who does not understand English, believing that somehow they will understand if they shout the English…
People boasting about their accomplishments or home country in places where it is considered arrogant to do so.
Interrupting others and talking constantly.
People speaking rudely in English about a local without realizing some do speak and understand English.
Speaking too fast in English. They just might understand if you speak slowly in simple English with a few gestures.
Finally, a Big Point
You have no automatic rights in another country. You are not protected by the rights you have in your home country. You are subject to their laws and their rules, and if you get into trouble, they do not have to help you. You are not a citizen of that country. No amount of fist-banging will help you in another country. No amount of shouting or demanding will help. In fact, in many countries, the more demanding and belligerent you are the less help you will receive. They will look at you like you are a spoiled child throwing a tantrum.
So again, how do you feel when a foreigner criticizes anything in your country?
When you’re travelling, you’re the foreigner speaking in a crazy language.
Think about it, and behave humbly and respectfully in their country.
As your Mom would say, “Behave yourself.” And no one knows better than Mom.
A great website for Travel Etiquette and Culture by country: http://www.traveletiquette.co.uk/