Diplomats, Regardless!

February 1, 2012

Most foreigners look upon travelers not just as individuals, but also as the representatives of the country they call home. Excuse the pun, but it comes with the territory.

The good news is that of all western travelers, Americans are likely to be most welcome. While abroad, one seldom witnesses a flagrant disregard for social customs or mores; however, subtle yet demeaning comments or activities continue to surface. Consider that your guide, who often speaks impeccable English, most likely will understand the language equally well. China is a prime example where many sights and fragrances are unique to our senses. So often one can hear travelers speak at length about the odor from a bathroom, the mispronunciations of words in English by local staff or the “horrors” of what might be seen in the local marketplace. One should keep in mind that whatever comments are made about the local economy, living conditions or cultural ethos generally, may not only be demeaning, but also extremely upsetting to the person attempting to present the best of what their country has to offer. At the very least, if one must comment on what appears strange and unusual, cheer for what has been accomplished.

Think of the many things that might make a difference to your guide or who you might meet en route about how you act in their presence. Discussing families always is a great way to show interest in their well-being; in contrast, presenting them with photos of your palatial estate and your daughter taking riding lessons, while they return home to a crowded apartment, perhaps even a dirt floor, is unlikely to warms their hearts. Focus on their lives primarily. Observing your attire and where and how you dine will provide enough clues as to your majesty.

One simple way to show respect is to place the gratuity that you intend to award them within an envelope easily found at the hotel. Remember their name, how to pronounce it, and write it on the envelope. Cuffing curled dollar bills into their hand as you alight from the vehicle works, bit it shows not added consideration.

On your next holiday, plan to avoid making the never-ending suggestions for change or improvement. Allow your host country and its populace to make a change in you! Centuries-old traditions have preceded you. Go to listen, not to preach. Go to witness, not to judge. Find value in their society and you will easily win new friends and just as important, readily gain their respect. After all, it is their country, and they love their Motherland as dearly as you love your own.

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