You have your trip all planned and you are all set to GTFO! After some time, you start to get some concerns brewing in your mind. Some of them maybe, “How do I act in a foreign country?”, or “Will I do something that will offend them?” Those concerns are completely and utterly natural, and I am here to tell you 5 ways to be a respectable tourist and ease those concerns. When you travel to any foreign country, you are an unofficial ambassador for your home country, so as a tourist we have to present ourselves in the best manner. Foreigners mainly get their ideas of a particular country from the media, but when they travel to that particular country, most of their preconceived notions are usually put to rest and you see a whole different side that they never imagined.
Here are the 5 best ways to show respect to a foreign country as a tourist
- READ: I cannot stress this enough! Reading about the country itself and their local customs ahead of time will save you so much unwanted attention. Then, when you reach your destination, you will be well equipped about how to handle certain situations. I’ll give you an example. I was in Qatar 6 months ago for a short trip on my way to India, and I was going through passport control in Doha. I gave the guy my passport to get my exit stamp, and for some reason he got extremely offended. I was wondering why, and I noticed that I gave him my passport from my left hand when it should have been my right hand. In the Middle East, handing someone anything with your left hand is considered disrespectful. The reason being is because in Islam, your right hand is used for purification and food, basically your right hand is clean. Your left hand is used for dirtier tasks such as using the toilet. As a Muslim, I should have probably known better, but to be honest, I didn’t even realize it until the immigration officer said so. I just dug for the passport and handed it to him. To wrap this all up, just read upon local customs so you don’t get into situations like mine.
- Do not take a million copies of pictures in one setting: I know this seems oddly specific, but I can’t tell you how many times I have had to wait a long time to take a picture of a site because some tourists wanted to take the picture from literally a million angles. A great example of this was when I was in Prague about 2 weeks ago and I was on the Charles Bridge, and I saw this really cool crucifixion I wanted a picture of. There were these tourists that were literally taking forever with the same crucifixion and they just didn’t seem to realize that there were other people waiting. If you plan on taking a picture of something cool, please respect other people’s time and just take a couple of pictures, especially if there is a line of people.
- Ask locals questions, and I mean lots of questions: You are on vacation to learn and explore another country’s culture, and the best people to ask are the locals themselves. It can be whenever. Not only are you showing interest in their culture and city by asking questions, but you are also showing them respect because you are taking that interest. I remember when I was in Japan last year, I was at the music store buying CD’s, and I was asking the lady which artists were really good, given that I’ve loved Japanese music since I was about seven or eight years old. She found it really shocking and exciting that a foreigner like me was interested in their music, so she was telling me this and that artist was good and I ended up buying all of them. At the end of the day, there is no shame in asking questions about the local culture and the city itself! Remember that travelling is a learning experience in of itself.
- Dress Appropriately: Now do you need to wear a tux everywhere you sightsee? Nah!! But, it would be helpful to research what the dressing norms are in each place you visit and dress accordingly. Especially if you plan on visiting any religious sites, they tend to have more specific dress codes. I went to Saudi Arabia in 2018 and generally everyone there is dressed modestly, so in my packing list, I had to pack more modest clothing and comfortable enough for the heat. It will definitely help you avoid any disapproving looks from the locals and rubbing them the wrong way.
- Avoid sensitive subjects when talking to locals:Going back to talking to locals about what to see and what to do, it is a good idea to talk about other things and try to form friendships with locals and other tourists. My suggestion is to avoid particular sensitive subjects like for example, the political state of the country, or how their leader may be a nut job. That can definitely rub people off the wrong way. A friend of mine went to Munich and asked a local about the Holocaust and Dachau and the local just completely avoided the subject altogether and changed the subject completely. When talking to a local, listen to your gut before saying certain things. 😊
Do you want to know the biggest secret of being a respectful tourist? Honestly, just let loose and have fun but being respectful at the same time. Also take your time and soak it all in. Traveling definitely makes you into a more matured and well-rounded person. 😊
-Jet Lagged Jaff