Summer is a time of travel and travel is a time of interaction with cultures, custom, and languages different from those we know. A small amount of preparation for these travels, paired with a large degree of awareness of best practices while travelling (foreign OR within the US) can reap big rewards and make you a wise and welcome tourist. Picture yourself as a ‘’native’’ of your region. What makes you most likely to want to help someone who needs directions or assistance? If someone were to approach you on the streets of Morristown , speak to you in Russian, and expect you to understand and respond, criticize your city or country, how would you feel? Anxious to help him or her? I don’t think so… and yet, many travelling Americans expect everyone to speak to them in English and do everything the same way “we” do it. Granted, English is an international language and is widely spoken, but attitude is everything. Have a good one. Here are a few things that you can do before and during your trip that will build rapport and make your travel easier and more pleasant.
Before you leave:
- Take some time to learn some ‘’survival’’ words in the language of the country you are visiting. There are so many apps with sound that make it easy. Good Morning, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, I’m sorry, or asking for Help, paired with a big smile, can work wonders.
- Learn the “Question Words” of Why, Where, Who, When, How Much, How. With matching body language, you’ll be able to communicate on a basic level.
- Do some basic cultural research. The web is chock full of customs and other cultural information. Learn a little about where you are going. Focus on American behaviors and gestures that might not be welcome where you are travelling. You can also find this basic information in Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (Morrison), an exhaustive book about interactions in 60 countries. Being clued in on what is important to the residents of the country or area you are visiting will help you avoid accidentally offending someone or embarrassing yourself.
When you are there:
- Remember to smile, lean in to show friendliness, and don’t be afraid to use the words and phrases you’ve learned. Don’t worry about how well you say them. Your effort will be appreciated and welcomed. Use your foreign words frequently, especially Please and Thank You.
- Play “Charades.” Use your body and your voice tonality to communicate non- verbally. You’d be surprised how far this goes toward understanding, paired with the combination of limited English ability on one side of the exchange and limited native language ability on the other. Work towards common understanding with a smile and ‘’open’’ face.
- Be cautious in your interactions. Avoid politics and religion and never criticize or mock the customs or religious beliefs of the country you are visiting….even if the local person does! Just because they may speak negatively of their government or religion does NOT mean that you can agree or add your comments. Be wary on touchy subjects! Offending locals can be uncomfortable at the least and dangerous at the most.
- Be appreciative of all that is offered to you and avoid making negative comparisons to what you have or eat ‘’at home.’’ Enjoy what is unique to that country or region and do not appear to question its quality.
These hacks, developed throughout a lifetime of foreign travel and extensive conversation with foreign expats here in New Jersey, will help you to be the enlightened, savvy, and welcome visitor, both in other regions of the US and abroad. Happy travelling!!