While visiting new places, we don’t always have the benefit of relying on our previous scope of reading body language and facial triggers to get the true sense of what people in other cultures are used to portraying.
In the steppe of the Himalayas, clapping hands is used to ward off evil – so that group of tribal people is not welcoming you with applause. In the mountains near the Golden Triangle, folding hands together while overlapping the fingers is a sign that you would like to have sex – not that you’re simply waiting contently for your bus. And unconsciously holding your hands out to shape your frustration at the border in Malaysia will tell the guard that you are trying to affront him and take away his power. And none of these instances will certainly do any good in aiding your cause.
Even the most common and lifelong mannerisms that we know from back home will serve up only confusion and mistranslated initiatives on the road. So it is important that we take the time to research these possible losses in translation, watch others for what they do and try to pose as little a threat as possible while navigating this new world of foreign expectations.
Often we just don’t think about the gestures and subconscious language that we are using to transmit our ideas. And while it is difficult to know just how we will come across to the people of new cultures, it is also important to simply remain continuously aware and cognizant of our movements, tone and general presentation.
The more time we spend being mindful of your personal expression and presentation to others, the more we become aware of how we come across in our home lives. And this lesson will continue to benefit us as we will undoubtedly engage a countless array of personalities throughout our lifetimes. And while it’s not possible to know how someone will react to you based on their own personal opinions and perspectives, it’s at least possible to be chary of our own intentions throughout these interactions.
Insider’s info: On the road, I have learned many universal no-nos. Here are a few:
- Never raise your voice – no matter how frustrated you are.
- Never move directly at someone or offer your hands to them (unless to assist someone) – no matter how innocent your intentions – unless it is done to you first.
- Making direct eye contact is both expected and considered rude, depending on where you are – find out beforehand.
- The clothing that you wear (or don’t wear), as well as tattoos/piercings that you may have may directly conflict with local cultures, beliefs or traditions.
- Public displays of affection are best avoided.
- The oldest male of a particular group is normally the most respected. Don’t piss him off.
- Don’t spit, litter, trespass or eliminate on city or private lands.
- Never do drugs under any circumstances while traveling.
- Smiling is sometimes seen as a less-than-honorable invitation. Find out beforehand.
- If someone bows to you, try and reciprocate in the same manner (eye contact/eyes down, hands together/at the hips/together around the face, etc.).
Like this photo from this journal? Check out the album HERE.
My new book, Insights from the Pavement, is a collection of 101 Travel Oms just like this one. Look for it to be released soon.
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