When you are travelling the world or dealing with people from different cultures, how important is travel etiquette really? Should we memorize lists for different cultures of dos and don’ts? Will potential relationships be destroyed if we point inappropriately, use a wrong hand gesture or touch things with our unclean feet, or left hand?
I was reminded of this topic recently by the tweeting of a Lonely Planet blog “Travel Etiquette 101: Body Language”
I read the blog which contained many points which I was familiar with, a few points I questioned and some things I had never heard of before. But it was the comments in response to the blog which most stirred me up.
Some comments were from other travelers adding their “tips” and some were from locals from the countries disagreeing with the tips which had been given for their culture “Weird perceptions about my country!”
Other comments were completely negative describing stereotypes and negative experiences of that country or cultural group and reframing them as “tips”.
It’s demonstrated many of the reasons I don’t like lists of dos and don’ts. Such lists give people a false sense of security that if they do these things or don’t do the negative things they will fit in and they won’t offend. The reality is fitting in may be an unrealistic expectation, in many cultures you will never fit in. Or fitting in may be far more a factor of good language skills, or openness to the culture, or observing and adapting to the people around you.
A list may not be accurate and can probably never be complete. Any list of things to do depends on not just the culture but also the environment within the culture. What is acceptable in one situation is not in another, with a different group of people, of different age or education. What is always more important is the motivation behind what you are doing. In cultural intelligence it’s the CQ Drive component. This demonstrates your openness and curiosity toward the culture. And the wrong motivation was definitely demonstrated by comments on the blog.
In many situations doing something wrong but with the right motivation becomes an opportunity for an open and sharing discussion with a local who will correct you if you give the impression you are open to correction and learning.
Don’t get me wrong I have lists in my workbooks when I am delivering country specific training to increase cultural intelligence. But far more time is spent in the training looking at their motivations and resilience -creating CQ Drive or learning the strategies that people can use in any situation to build effective intercultural relationships (CQ Strategy). Or coaching in-country to ensure they are putting behaviors into practice (CQ Action). Knowledge is just one factor in relating successfully across cultures.
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And if you've had advice from lists of dos and don'ts which was helpful - or not so helpful I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.