Keeping The Peace
Context varies by country. How do you make sure you’re in the right?
DO arrive aware: Before your trip, research a bit about the country you’re headed to. “You don’t have to know a lot, but general awareness is important, and people will appreciate that you’re informed,” says Gayle Cotton, author of Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. To prepare, there’s a wealth of resources to browse online, including CultureGrams, downloadable guides to more than 200 countries (culturegrams.com, $4.95 each).
DON’T forget your manners: Learn a few words in the country’s language, such as “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you.” “I always try to learn ten basic words in the local language before I travel,” says one Virtuoso travel advisor. “The free iTranslate app is great and has more than 90 languages.”
DO be careful with hand gestures: In China, it’s rude to point with your index finger, and in Brazil, the gesture that means “A-OK” in Australia (making a circle by touching your index finger to your thumb) is considered obscene. Use an open hand – not just an index finger – if you need to point at something, and in general, avoid peace signs, thumbs-ups, and other gestures that may not mean the same in your travel destination as they do back home.
DON’T be disrespectful: Speaking negatively about the royal family in Thailand is an offense so serious it could land you in prison. And even if people don’t speak your language, they may still understand you. “Don’t talk loudly about how strange the local dress is or how bizarre the food tastes,” says Lanie Denslow, president of the Protocol & Diplomacy International – Protocol Officers Association. “Your behaviour sets a reputation for your home country.”
DO cover up, especially in conservative countries: In Muslim countries such as Morocco, women should dress modestly. “Pack long pants or skirts, and shirts that have a collar and cover the shoulders,” says an advisor. “You’ll get a warmer reception if you try to follow local customs and religious beliefs.” Bring a light scarf and use it to cover your head or arms before entering sacred buildings.
DON’T photograph someone without permission: Some of the most stunning travel shots capture citizens of other cultures, but don’t start snapping away without getting the OK. If there’s a language barrier, hold your camera toward your subject and politely nod to let them know you’d like to take their picture.