Cultural differences

Tips to the first time international traveller

9:09 AM

Our recent trip to Thailand exposed us to the first time international travellers, a phenomenon I saw countless time over the years as I am no stranger to holidays abroad. Our flight from Mumbai to Bangkok had a significant amount of such people, and the reason I noticed a fair percentage of them is because these were acting like total asses. They exists in every country, every culture and they usually end up being rude and insulting. The ones on that flight were behaving like brats, shouted at the flight attendants not getting why they would not serve them food before all the other passenger, demanded special meals they never booked in advance and that didn’t exist, threw fits because they could not open the overhead compartment and couldn’t wait two minutes for a cabin crew to help, they pushed, poked, and rules and regulations didn’t apply to them. I haven’t seen these past the airport though, they were that breed of travellers that go the tour operator package route, DH and I went the independents way. Not only because we are both more seasoned travellers, but because we like having a free schedule on our holidays…but that is not the point of this post. When you are venturing out of your native country for the first time, there are things you need to do in order to prepare yourself, not just what to pack, and what vaccines to have, I won’t tough these here, because these are things all travellers virgin or not have to figure out.
Nope my list of tips is to make the life of the locals, fellow travellers and in the long run the life of the first timer easier.

1) Even if you go a tour operator all inclusive trip route, educate yourself on the country you are going to visit beforehand. It sounds redundant, but you just should NEVER expect the world to be just like home, there are different etiquette protocol, dress code, and customs the world over. You don’t need to know them all, you just need to have a rough overview of what to expect, and the job of learning that is not a tedious one, just a few pages to read in the Lonely planet or a website. I’ve seen many Westerners in India who just think it is ok to walk around in tiny tank tops and even tinier shorts…while there are no restrictions on dress code outside temples and places of worship, don’t be surprised if your attire rub people the wrong way, you don’t have to go all local, or dress in potato sacks, but parading around half naked is not very respectful…period.
To some of my fellow passengers on the Bangkok bound flight: Thai do not seem to put a same show of hierarchy and power play as it is done in India, so tone it down, just because you can afford an international vacation which would elevate your status in your own community back home doesn’t mean you are above anybody else, or have even a right to treat the cabin crew like garbage, simply on the base fact that you paid “good money” and therefore are entitled to have all your whims and fancies answered…sorry.

2) It’s ok to have a special diet, religious or ethic based, but you must be prepared that there are regions of the world where your dietary needs will be misunderstood, not understood at all and that feeding yourself might not be as easy as back home. You need to plan accordingly, it’s not your destination country’s job to figure out that in your country strictly veg means no egg but dairy allowed, or that if you are Jain it means the onion and garlic needs to stay off the plate. If you ask nicely some restaurants will accommodate you, but don’t expect it to be a norm. There was a group of six on our flight that was Jain vegetarian, and didn’t know they had to place a special meal order at the time of check in. They instead pestered and harassed the crew for over an hour to provide something that was simply not there…I’ll let the fact it was 1 am and they probably ate before boarding slide…when you have a very specific diet, you plan ahead, that group was probably on an all inclusive tour with a vegetarian chef tagging along, but you must still be ready not to have every single meals on the whole trip planned your way. Again better read about your destination’s country culture and cuisine in advance to avoid being taken short notice. In the same vein the foreigners that would find the lack of steak and fries outrageous in India would make me roll my eyes just the same.

3) Observe the world around you, travelling gives you that wonderful opportunity to learn about others, to be exposed to something new and different and learn from it. The lonely planet and other guides will not cover everything, you need to use your judgement…a lot. One thing that has disturbed me a little on our recent Thailand trip was the total disregard the Indian travellers we saw around had for rules. Thais seem to like their discipline, have a much much higher sense of civism than even my Swiss compatriots, there are signs written in English along with pictures everywhere to make people’s life easier, little rules to follow to make it so. The prime example is the blue line standing 3-4 feet away from the luggage conveyor belt in the airport, with “No trolley beyond this line” written in English, in Thai and accompanied by a picture explaining it. The logic being that cramming the trolleys right smack against the belt will make it difficult for anybody to access their suitcase in the first place. My observation led me to see that all travellers in airports observe that rule, the only one breaking it blatantly were Indian. Pushing and being chaotic is accepted and common place in India…but that should not mean one should be above rules in another country. Ditto with the ladies in the Gate’s bathroom in Bangkok, if you took time to observe things around while on your trip around Thailand you would have noticed that people stay in line so don’t go cutting it to be in the loo before everybody else, and you surely must have noticed that not a single public bathroom on your trip was filthy (that surprised me…cleanest bathrooms I have ever seen in all my travels) so when you decide to refresh yourself and wash your face, don’t go all Tsunami in there, two ladies were doing so before boarding the flight back to Mumbai, once their face was fresh, the entire bathroom was slippery and wet…simply DISGUSTING, and just because you can get way with it in India doesn’t mean it’s even polite anywhere, what you end up achieving with this is giving a bad rep to your entire nation in the eye of the people in your host country, especially if said country place an utmost importance on hygiene. Just because civism might be a lost notion where you come from doesn’t mean the entire world thinks the same. Observe! People routinely give their seats to old people, women or children on public transports? Do the same. People wipe the splatter around a sink in a public bathroom…do the same, you see a queue with people waiting patiently? Don’t jump it. See some signs around you written in something you can read or understand, you are not immune to what it says, follow the instructions. You see a clean park or beach with enough dustbins to dispose of your trash…use them.

4) When in doubt, it’s ok to ask. Not asking and making assumptions is a tricky thing when you re faced with a dilemma because there is 50% chances you will be wrong and offend a lot of people if not break a capital rule. If you aren’t sure you can take a picture in one particular place and can’t see a sign pointing one way or another, ask a local. Of course always ask when specifically wanting to take a picture of somebody, that’s the polite way. If you aren’t sure about stepping into a specific place inside a temple, ask. It will make you appear respectful in any case, never stupid or ignorant…not doing so however will.

5) If you know nothing about something, don’t have an opinion…learn first. There is nothing more annoying that the self proclaimed know it all on a holiday. They know better than all, they are the best, the rest of the world is wrong, there is no nation more advanced and superior than their own and they will never miss an occasion to rub it in the face of anybody be it on holidays or back home…frankly it is going to the point as to wonder why that type of people even bothered travelling at all in the first place. It’s ok to be proud of your home country, not ok to make the other inferior. Each countries have their strength and flaws, expats that have been in a host country long enough do understand enough of the internal politics to have an opinion…as a tourist, you don’t, so thread carefully.

6) Just before you can, doesn’t mean you should. Goes along the line of actually spending time reading the cultural overview of a country before travelling. But I will not repeat it enough. Try to act responsibly the world over, just because you can pay to take picture with a wildlife animal somewhere doesn’t mean you should, the prime example in Phuket was of what we learned visiting the Gibbon rehabilitation center, these animals are poached, an illegal practice, and then the owner of those creatures makes as much profit from them before dumping them or killing them when they stop being cute or too difficult to handle. As a tourist, you can take a pic, all it costs you is a few dollars/rupees whatever. But the repercussions on the environment and wildlife are much deeper, and as long as people will pay for “just one innocent picture” there will be poacher willing to break the rules and kill. This is only one example, but there are some the world over. And that will be my conclusion to this blog post.

Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to learn, always make the most of it.

6 comments

  1. Beatrix10:18 PM

    "don’t go all Tsunami in there, two ladies were doing so before boarding the flight back to Mumbai, once their face was fresh, the entire bathroom was slippery and wet…simply DISGUSTING,"

    HAH!!!
    So that's what they're doing in the airplane toilets to get water everywhere!
    I avoid public toilets in India & Nepal so I never noticed.
    But every time I fly on a plane where most of the passengers are Indian - there's water everywhere, running out the door, down the aisles, & it is DISGUSTING!

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  2. Ramesh12:21 AM

    Hey Beatrix !

    You are right ! Indians just can't stand Dry bathrooms !

    Most likely because water has always been the way to wash up after ...well ..you know what !

    I agree with Cyn as well .. Indians just love to splash water with total disregard to modern public washrooms that are used by the public. Totally Disgusting !

    Don't know if you and Cyn have observed this, but a lot of Indians usually "Garlgle" after Lunch/Dinner. This is okay in private, but is disgusting when done in public, say ... a marriage hall, or corporate food court/area. The reason for this is, even going back to a couple of decades back, annual dentist checkups at younger age were non existent. No dental braces , etc etc .So most kids ( including myself :) :) ) grew up with imperfect teeth , lots of gaps ! Thus the post meal "gargle".



    BTW Beatrix, please head over to LittleBlackYellowSeeds to read my comments on ElektroMantra's article on Food USA vs Nepal ..


    Thanks in Advance !

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  3. Oh yeah, the bathroom in the planes on a flight with a lot of Indians on board are usually disgusting after any length of time, on domestic flights I try not to visit them at all. It doesn't matter that there is a sign that reminds people to wipe the basin dry for the next user, it's never done, and seriously I wonder what the hell some people do in there to get water absolutely everywhere, no normal usage of the cabin's washroom should result in that much mess.

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  4. Yes I noticed the gargling in some places...way to churn the stomach of those still eating! One thing that has really surprised me in India is the lack of travel oral care kit available. In Switzerland you find these little foldable toothbrushes and toothpaste tube boxes in every supermarket, because kids who end up eating the mid-day meal in school (it's optional, most kids go home for their lunch break) have the supervisor lead them to the bathroom to brush the teeth after the meal. DH said he was very impressed with his Swiss colleague's oral hygiene too as most still carry one of these tiny toothbrush case to work and quickly go brush their teeth in the restroom before returning to work, no need to gargle in public to keep the mouth clean when you have the right tools :) With all the comercials you see on TV these days about tootpastes with germi check or namak, or whatever dishoon dishoon power and then mouth washes, you'd think someone would want to corner the pocket toothbrush/toothpaste market :)

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  5. Beatrix8:48 PM

    I introduced my husband & everyone at our mosque to fluoride mouthwash & those toothpicks that are pointy on one end & have the bow of dental floss on the other.
    They were a big hit!
    Now the imam keeps a box of those dental floss toothpicks on him at all times & regularly advises fellow Muslims to use them in addition to the miswak (stick/brush thing Muslims use to clean their teeth).
    The imam has 11 children (!!!!!!) and is quite happy that the fluoride mouthwash has cut down on cavities in his kids - he preaches the glories of fluoride mouthwash too.
    Now, if I could only get him to realize the evils of giving his kids Mountain Dew.

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  6. Last week Ishita's school were following the World Oral Care Month awareness and they asked us to send the kiddo with a toothbrush and toothpaste to school to learn how to brush their teeth the right way, and they also showed them how soft drinks are nasty with an experiment. Basically they dumped a stick of chalk in a glass of coke, the thing started foaling and the chalk dissolved very quickly, then explained the same thing happens to teeth...Ishita told me that coke is bad after that :)

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