RSJ contributor Dana Bruxvoort shares her top three tips for overcoming Embarrassing Tourist Syndrome.
It’s an interesting moment of living abroad when you cross the line from feeling like a tourist to feeling like a local. Sometimes it’s a distinct switch; other times it’s a more gradual process. But it’s at that point when you can’t help but look at those who are still clearly on the tourist side of the line with disdain and say, “Really? Are you really doing that/saying that/acting that way?”
Anyone who has spent any extensive amount of time living in another country knows how annoying tourists can be…and how you can sometimes look at tourists from your home country and want to hide your face in embarrassment, hoping none of the locals lump you into the same category as those loud, smelly, inconsiderate, poorly dressed foreigners.
So if you find yourself visiting another country, whether it’s for a few days or a few months, here are a few tips to help you avoid being one of “those” tourists…and to keep other people from judging your entire home country based on one less-than-stellar interaction with a rude tourist. Believe me, your entire nationality will appreciate it.
Tip #1: Learn the language. No, you don’t have to be fluent, but it’s polite to know how to say a few basic phrases, such as “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” “How do I go to…?” Yes, yes, we know English is the universal language and all, but when people come to English-speaking countries, we expect them to speak to us in our language, so it’s only fair to speak to them in their language when we’re on their turf. It’s common courtesy, and the locals will appreciate it, even if you mispronounce the words. (If anything, it will entertain them…in a good way.)
Tip #2: Do your cultural research before you leave. Know the cultural norms before you step off the plane. How do people dress? How do they greet each other? What do they value? Do they speak loudly like the Italians or quietly like Asians? Do they dress modestly or is it okay to wear those short shorts and that teensy bikini? It will already be fairly obvious that you are a tourist, so make it easier on yourself by trying to fit in with the major cultural norms. You don’t want to be that tourist who all the locals look at with distaste because you’re speaking at a decibel far louder than considered appropriate…or because the fact that you haven’t showered in days is an affront to how much they value cleanliness. Believe me, I’ve smelled those tourists. Not cool.
Tip #3: Set aside misconceptions and superiority complexes. Don’t assume that your country’s way of doing things is the only “right” way. Any savvy jetsetter should know better than that. There’s no right or wrong way, just different ways. So yes, other countries drink instant coffee instead of the deliciousness known coffee brewed from freshly ground coffee beans…and they may eat foods that make your gut wrench (fried insects, anyone?), but that doesn’t mean you’re right and they’re wrong. Respect the differences. Drop the superiority complexes at the baggage claim.
So there you have it. Follow those tips and you’re one step closer to establishing a respected name for yourself as a tourist. And maybe, just maybe, people will even mistake you for a local.