Oyster’s top tips for how to be culturally sensitive when travelling

An Oyster volunteer in Nepal attends a Nepali wedding, dressed in local clothing to be culturally sensitiveHow to be culturally sensitive when travelling

Having the opportunity to experience other cultures is a key part of travelling, and one of the most exciting parts too. Whether you are trekking through the Himalayas or discovering the wildlife of Ecuador, it is fascinating to see how differently life operates all around the world. However, when visiting a different country for the first time, there is always a risk of offending the native population. Due to failing to observe customs that are the norm for them. Similarly something that may be the norm to you may be considered extremely offensive to them. For instance, tipping a waiter or waitress in Japan can be taken as an insult. Few things are more embarrassing than disrupting someone’s way of life simply because you don’t know any better. These 3 tips should help you to remain sensitive to different cultures during your travels.

1. Do your research

Before you begin your travels, take some time to do your research into the places you are visiting. Guide books and travel websites are perfect for this: they’ll tell you what cultural differences you may experience whilst you are there and advise you on how to observe their social norms. By learning these social customs, religious practices and general information about the destination you will be spending time in, you will greatly enhance your own experience.

For instance, if you are not dressed appropriately when visiting temples in Thailand, you will be refused entrance. Doing this ‘homework’ in advance should also hopefully build up some excitement before the trip even begins! If you are travelling with a company, they should also give you advice about how to prepare for your chosen destination. Oyster Worldwide provides full advice on what to wear, how to behave and what to be aware of so that you can avoid those awkward cultural faux-pas.

2. Engage with locals

For native English speakers, we often end up making the assumption that everyone in the world does (or should) speak English. Even the half hearted ‘bonjour’ and then abrupt switch back to English when we venture over to France reflects the laziness of a Brit abroad. But being culturally sensitive and abiding by another country’s culture also consists of making an effort to speak their language.

Before you go on your travels, take some time to memorise at least a few key words or phrases in the local language. People will appreciate the effort and it will give you a chance to properly engage with locals and converse with them. It may also prove necessary in order to be able to communicate in any form, once you arrive in your destination. The assumption that everyone speaks English may work for the tourist areas of Western Europe, but not much further than that.

3. Try not to be a stereotypical tourist

Remember that wherever you travel to, this will be the home to a community of people. Making your presence agreeable and trying to blend in will allow you to observe daily life at greater ease. But it won’t disrupt other people’s way of life. You will also be protecting yourself from a potentially threatening situation due to a cross-communication breakdown. Even small things, such as remembering not to make too much noise, will prevent the locals from feeling resentful towards you. Another key point to keep in mind is to be aware when taking photos of people. The natives are not there just to feature on a tourist’s next instagram post! So potentially try to strike up a conversation first if you would like to photograph them rather than just snapping away!

Using these methods to be culturally sensitive when you travel will help you to get the most out of your travelling experience. To help you begin, here’s some strange international laws that you’ll need to know when travelling to the following countries:

• Feeding pigeons in either Venice or San Francisco is illegal
• Chewing gum in public in Singapore is illegal
• Stepping on money in Thailand is illegal
• Taking photographs in and around airports in Kazakhstan is illegal
• Eating or drinking while sitting on church steps in Italy is illegal
• Hiking naked in Switzerland is illegal
• It is illegal to publicly display any affection – kissing, hugging, holding hands – in the United Arab Emirates
• Driving without a breathalyzer in France is illegal

Volunteers in Laos meet monks at their beautiful temple

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