I'll never forget the look of horror on that British face when upon being introduced to a young man many years ago I hugged him and kissed him on both cheeks!
I had been living in Spain, where NOT kissing someone on first meeting is considered rude. That was a cultural etiquette fail.
Nothing but a friendly kiss (Brian Boyd via Flickr CC)
Cultural etiquette is what you call the codes of behavior that rule different cultures - in other words, what's acceptable and what isn't in a society.
But before you can delve into culture you first have to learn about you. Consider these questions.
How you answer these and similar questions about yourself will dictate how you react to situations around you.
Etiquette can be tricky and falling afoul of it can ruin a trip or worse, insult the very people you have traveled so far to meet.
Take solo travel. Not all cultures think it's normal for women to travel alone, so we have learned to adjust.
As I traveled across Africa by myself the most common comment I heard was, "I'm sorry."
In other societies, women on their own may be considered fair game: if you're traveling alone, you must be 'easy'. Otherwise you would have a husband and he certainly wouldn't 'allow' you to travel solo.
Remember, some people, especially in remote societies, only know Western women from television; for all you know they may think Desperate Housewives is everyday life in the USA!
Galling as it may be to our independent Western souls, understanding cultural differences can help unravel these travel challenges and reduce your heart rate whenever people are consistently late, whistle as you walk by, or refuse to look you in the eye.
A beautiful, endearing and public kiss in Paris won't be culturally acceptable in many other parts of the world (Philippe Milbault via Flickr CC)
I travel a lot and I'm used to encountering customs that don't work for me.
Whether you're heading around the world or simply visiting a new country for the first time, coping with culture shock is bound to be part of your experience.
You might discover that...
Gestures can mean different things in different cultures; pointing in some societies is quite rude
(Nick Kenrick via Flickr CC)
Cultural etiquette may deal with serious issues, such as gender inequality or stereotypes, or with simpler everyday situations, whose rules may leave you perplexed.
See how easy it could be to offend or be offended?
The big question is what to do about cultural differences, some of which I've written about elsewhere.
You have choices, but each has benefits and costs.
Here's how I deal with cultural etiquette...
I start by researching the culture before I go, and then I tend to mix it up.
I try to be myself whenever I can, but where the situation demands it, I act in a culturally appropriate way. This is made a lot easier by my own background: born in Paris, brought up in Spain, studied in Canada, lived in Switzerland and France, had a Turkish father - this jumble of religions and cultures has helped make me adaptable. The Canadian in me shows up on time, the Spaniard in me kisses everyone in sight, and the Turk in me invites people I don't even know to visit.
Bottom line: I compromise on the
But I won't compromise on the intrinsic ones which deal with discrimination and fundamental rights. If your culture treats women as inferior beings, I won't play that game. Chances are I might give your country a miss. If I have to visit, I will insist on being treated equally. After all, cultural etiquette works both ways.
What about you? How do you feel about cultural etiquette and adapting to the culture you are visiting? I'd love to hear in the comments below.
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