What I Have Learned About People Around the World
Long ago when I first started traveling, it was all within my own country, therefore everyone and everything was about the same. They spoke the same language, the customs were about the same, they shopped in about the same sort of places, and they lived in about the same kind of houses. They all needed pretty much the same things; they all wanted pretty much the same things.
I had never really given much thought to how other people in the world might be. I had no reference point.
Now, for more than fifty years I have traveled around the world. I’ve been in many cultures. I’ve learned about people in different lands and I’ve seen their customs. I’ve lived where I don’t speak the language. I’ve learned that the local people on an individual basis are generally very polite, friendly and helpful.
I learned a valuable lesson in English from a Frenchman in France. The man in Egypt showed and described to me an irrigation system centuries old that is still in use today. There was the taxi driver in Singapore who longed for his little house in a shallow ravine, to have once again his banana tree and his chickens – just to be left alone. Simple things. Haven’t you felt at times that you just want to be left alone? I do – every day.
I’ve found there are rich people and poor people in every country on every continent where I’ve traveled. Even in a small town there will always be someone who has more money than the others. That’s just the way things are.
I’ve found that if you are friendly and smile often, that almost anyone anywhere will be the same toward you. I’ve had people on a remote Pacific island offer to take me into their home for the night when there was no other accommodation available. In Abu Dhabi an airline man offered me a place to sleep and brought me something to eat when I was not allowed to leave the airport. I am grateful to have had those experiences.
Simply put, people are pretty much the same the world over with the same needs and the same desires. Oh, and a little more money would be nice.
I make no judgments about any of those countries, the people or how they live. I observe, I listen, and I learn. How they do things in their own country is entirely up to them, and I do what I need to do to fit in with them. After all, I am the visitor. If I don’t speak the language, that’s my problem, not theirs. But I also know that they will do their best for me.
If I live in a country it is incumbent on me to learn their language. They have absolutely no obligation to accommodate my lack of effort.
Mind Your Manners
Travelers should always remember that local customs might frown upon certain behavior. Before you leave home, do some research about the countries you will visit to learn what you can expect there. Certain dress, especially for women, is traditional and expected. How you dress at home may be offensive to your host country and to the individuals you meet and associate with.
Remember, you are Not at home now.
Oftentimes loud, obnoxious conversation is not the norm in many countries. Many are very placid and peaceful people. Treat them with respect and you will receive respect.
Remember that if you don’t speak the language of the country you are in, it is just as trying for the local man to understand you so he can help you as it is for you to try to make him understand what you want or need. Speak slowly, smile often, don’t raise your voice in frustration, be always friendly, draw pictures on your hand or pantomime if necessary. If people laugh at your expressions and antics, so much the better. You will get what you want. And keep smiling.
Pay attention to how your host does things and try to emulate it, even if you don’t do it quite correctly. You will be respectful and he will notice it. For example, if he hands you something with both hands, take it with both hands. Simple little things will go a long way for you. Another example; if he takes off his shoes when enters his house, you do the same. Often your host will not ask you to take off your shoes in case it might offend you.
If an individual or a religion does not drink alcohol, do not offer an alcoholic beverage. It might be a show of appreciation in your home country, but you are now in his country.
You will soon make yourself unwelcome if you always criticize the local customs or the food or the way the locals do things or the unusual hours of business. Don’t complain when things aren’t the way they are in your home country. Remember, if you are always critical you will soon wear out your welcome.
Don’t keep referring to “back home.” If you can’t disconnect from “back home” and enjoy where you are even temporarily, maybe you shouldn’t have left “back home.” Americans, especially the inexperienced or inconsiderate, are famous (or infamous) for this. Sooner or later the people of the country you are visiting will think they can’t please you, and they are probably correct.
In my opinion, travel is an education in itself. It broadens your mind if you will let it. From the people you meet; the things you will learn; and the things you will witness will eventually let you see that people everywhere are pretty much the same. That is what I’ve learned.
I’ve done all the things I have suggested to you and I know they work. They will work for you, too.
Contributed by Tony Reno ~Tony Reno is an anonymous full time traveler currently somewhere south of the equator.