The summer holidays are coming up. Due to the ease of access of boats, planes and cars, there will no doubt be an influx of people going to holiday destinations. Somewhere warm, sunny and quite possibly inexpensive. Of course, some people will be staying at home and getting summer jobs; but generally they don’t pose a cultural threat, so this essay isn’t going to focus on them.
Of course, there will never be a conclusive article written about these issues, but getting the ideas out certainly helps. These pieces of advice may not be relevant to everyone or everywhere, but they are pinpointed common mistakes that people often make when traveling overseas into Asia. Of course, Asia isn’t a country but a few countries within the continent share the same values or have big similarities in culture.
You will get treated differently if you’re white. Thankfully, it wont be the same treatment that you would get if you were the only Asian in a room full of white faces. However, there is no denying that having white skin can be both a benefit and a disadvantage. There is no doubt that you will get treated more respectfully in the shops, but you also stand a much higher chance of getting ‘ripped off’. Although it really won’t be that much money to you, it will be a lot for them.
You may also find yourself the center of attention, in a good or a bad way. The locals will probably be quite curious about you; where you’re from and what you do. To the extent where, and I’ve had this story told to me before, they’ll crowd around you wanting to take pictures. If this happens, you can respectfully decline. Please don’t completely freak out, but rather explain to them why you’re uncomfortable or simply leave. Especially if you’re with a minor – you don’t know where the picture are going to end up. Just like the locals, who get their pictures taken by tourists, have no idea what you’re going to do with them. It goes both ways.
On that note, please respect both the people and the landscapes that you visit. If you’re going to a temple, don’t chip off pieces of rock even if it looks like it’s going to fall off anyway. Not only is that disrespectful, but your contributing to the deterioration of what could be considered a valuable site. You’re destroying history.
Likewise, just because you’re walking down any old street and you see rubbish all over the ground, doesn’t give you the right to litter. Treat whatever country you’re in with respect. Don’t vandalise, don’t steal street signs and don’t trail toilet paper along the floor. Don’t walk into open doors and definitely don’t let your children run around wild.
Oh, and if you are going to a foreign country don’t forget to take note of the dress code. No, it generally isn’t written on sign boards and you don’t get berated by people who walk by you on the street – but it can be insulting nonetheless. Please, and I stress this, don’t go to temples in a tank top and short shorts. It’s unlikely that you’ll even be let in, but even so, take a walk in their shoes. Think about your religion, if you have one, and consider whether you’d appreciate foreigners traipsing into your church / temple wearing nothing but a string bikini. No? Neither do they.
Did you also know that in some cultures it can be disrespectful to point at things with your feet? This is because in places like Thailand, the head is considered sacred and the feet are considered the dirtiest part of you. Pointing at someone or something with your feet is an insult. So, before you visit a new country please make an effort to research about your specific country. What do you have to avoid doing? How do you show respect? Are politics okay to talk about?
Generally, you should try and avoid talking about politics. Not everywhere has the luxury of free speech, so please don’t try and incite people into having conversations with you about their king or their government. You will probably be given a larger reign in regards to what you are allowed to say, but you should probably steer clear of the topic altogether. As an example, Thailand is going to be used again.
“No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.”
Anyone who does not obey, can face up to 15 years in jail according to this article. Something else that might seem a little bit strange, is that if you happen to go to the cinema while in Thailand, there are going to be advertisements quickly followed by a short interval of time where you must stand up. A montage of the king’s life will appear on the movie screen, and everyone must remain in silence.
Finally, I just want to stress that no two countries are the same and in order to truly respect the culture, you must do your own research. I would also like to point out that even though I have used Thailand as an example multiple times, it should in no way dissuade you from visiting. I was simply more familiar with some of the practices.