(Guest post by Danny Thomson)
When travelling, particularly if it’s to a foreign destination, it is always smart to do some research before leaving to find out what is considered taboo in the country you will be visiting. While some mistakes might be laughed at, others could potentially get you in trouble – even those that seem totally innocuous to you. If you want to fit in, and you do want to do that, it is also advised to be a careful observer of the locals and how they do things. If you are unsure about something, you can usually ask. It is usually better to ask than to make a grave mistake that leads to unpleasant consequences.
Even though the world is more connected than ever before, cultural differences remain, but there are also a fair few urban legends too to contend with. If in doubt, here are some of the most common road trip taboos that are not true.
1. Taking Photographs of Local People
Travellers are often told that it is taboo to take photographs of local people. This might not always be the case. The best thing to do is to ask before taking a picture because they simply may be cooperative and not mind at all. If they decline, be respectful of their wishes. You might be able to take pictures, but just be aware that in some places it is frowned upon without asking permission from your subjects first.
2. Removing Shoes Before Entering a Religious Place Or a Local Home
You may or may not be required to remove your shoes before entering a shrine, mosque, or any other place that is considered to be sacred. The best idea is to follow the lead of local people or ask if you are not sure. In some places it is highly offensive to keep shoes on and walk into a room.
The same is true for when you visit the home of a local resident, particularly in the Far East. Take your cue from them about whether you are supposed to remove your shoes. In some countries, feet are considered to be very dirty and removing shoes shows respect for the local resident’s place of worship or for their home.
3. When In Doubt, Choose Modesty in the Way You Dress
In some countries, it is taboo to wear shirts with no sleeves or shorts, especially in sacred places or in places of worship. This is very much a contemporary problem, so take the time to find out the dress code requirements before breaking them. When in doubt, it is best to wear long slacks, long skirts for women and long sleeved shirts with collars. It is better to choose a conservative dress style than to try to be trendy when visiting a foreign country.
More Helpful Tips
Always be careful when making gestures with your hands. When you are in doubt, keep your hands still. Different gestures have different meanings, depending on the country you are visiting. Something perfectly acceptable in one country can be highly offensive in another. And these taboos don’t just have to be in how you handle yourself personally. Something as simple as how you drive can be very, very different in a foreign country. For example, in parts of Indonesia, locals don’t use their indicators for indicating. Instead, they are used to tell others on the road that they have priority. The last thing you want is to crash, just because you weren’t aware of how the locals drive. So if your road trip is through a country where things are ‘done differently’ on the roads, get insured! The Caravan Club is a good place to start. And remember – a smile is universally accepted!
Politeness And Respect Go a Long Way
Being very polite and respectful of the people in the country you are visiting goes a long way towards showing sensitivity for their way of life. The locals will hold you in higher regard if you show concern and if you are careful not to offend them. It is always important to remember that you are a visitor in their country and to be considerate of their beliefs and traditions.