Preparing for a trip abroad? Spending time in a new country and culture can be a great way to expand your worldview and connect with new people from different backgrounds.
However, while traveling, it’s important to realize that you’re a guest and to respect the host country you’re visiting.
Follow these steps to prepare yourself for immersing in a new culture. This way you can remain a respectful traveler and avoid faux pas that could cause offense.
1. Learn basic greetings and gestures
Basic greetings such as “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you,” can go a long way. When appropriate, using the spoken language of the host country can show you’ve put in a little extra effort to respect its inhabitants.
However, even if you don’t know a foreign language, using basic greetings is a sign of respect, and English is commonly used while traveling to foreign countries.
Similarly, it’s important to use greetings in context and become aware of any accompanying gestures.
For example, in France, "Bonjour" is said in several contexts, including when greeting every new patient who walks into a waiting room at a doctor’s office. In many Asian countries, bowing is customary during greetings.
2. Read up on dress code norms
Every country has a different idea of modesty. Learning about dress codes is an important way to show respect to a host culture. Dress codes may be specific to gender or religion.
For example, at religious sites such as temples and mosques, women are often required to cover up, and wearing shorts, short skirts, and tops that show skin are not allowed.
In some cultures, wearing shoes inside is a big no-no. Instead, indoor slippers are worn. Educate yourself on dress code norms before traveling to avoid causing offense.
3. Educate yourself on food and table manners
Trying new dishes is one of the great joys of exploring a new culture.
Familiarizing yourself with common dishes eaten in your host country could help prevent unnecessary surprises that could occur if a dish like kimchi or natto, both pungent foods with a strong odor (to some), shows up at the table.
Learning about commonly eaten dishes ahead of time will also help you identify new dishes you’d like to try.
Tables manners and restaurant etiquette are important to know as well. In some countries like India, it’s customary to eat with your right hand. In South Korea, diners wait to eat until the eldest person at the table has started.
Become aware of common table manners so you can remain as respectful as possible.
4. Be aware of any rules or laws that must be followed in public
Rules and laws differ in every country. It’s safe to assume that because something is legal in your country, does not mean that it applies to every other country.
Becoming aware of rules and laws that apply in the country you’re visiting can help you avoid fines, or even jail time.
For example, in Taipei’s Metro, eating, drinking, and smoking are forbidden on platforms and inside trains and can result in a fine. Similarly, never ever try and bring illegal substances to a foreign country. This could result in deportation, fines, or even jail time.
Tomorrow you're visiting a Buddhist temple, what precaution should you take beforehand?