Traveling has become a regular part of American culture. The idea of packing up, taking off work and loading up for a week of sightseeing and culture is now an American tradition.
Alas, we leave for our prospective country unarmed, ignorant of the cultural norms of the new world, into which we have entered; a world that is not the United States of America.
As Americans, that fact is usually obvious to us, we who are visiting temporarily or those who are touring steadily in our own country, in our attempt to see it all. We shrug past those people and continue on our journeys and roll our eyes at the overly-eager picture taking we see and the oblivion visitors take toward our own culture. Learn the language, we might say in exasperation to those who have yet to adopt the English language. However, we then proceed to advance to other areas of the world, carrying our own values and hypocritically ignoring the traditions of other cultures.
So here we go with a few pointers that may make the transition from tourist to visitor a bit easier.
For starters, make at least some attempt to learn the language.
As the unafraid travelers may observe, it may be difficult to get by in other non-English speaking countries because not everyone, in fact, speaks English.
What the truly observant travelers may also notice is that upon making an effort to communicate in the language native to the country in which you are visiting, the people will give you a break and treat you a bit more nicely.
A big example of language barrier is the currency exchange. Please, fellow travelers, do not approach a counter and scream in clear English, "Hey there, buddy, I'd like to change out my dinero," avoiding any attempt to remove the Spanish word from the thick accent.
It is a near guarantee that the people behind the counter will glare at you, sigh in aggravation or else completely ignore you until they have watched you squirm enough. Instead, pick up a language dictionary and at least use the translated words. From the moment you step up to the counter, they know that you want to exchange your money, so show a little respect for the culture and make an attempt at their language.
When docked in a new country and travailing, recognize that there are different cultural norms to which you should strive to conform. That does not mean that Americans should drop their own beliefs and culture but be aware that there is a different lifestyle pace and alternative frames of mind in other areas of the world.
One instance is almost always in pace. The United States is the most fast-paced culture in the world, aside from probably Japan. It might be surprising, but instead of cramming all 15 tourist attractions into one day, pick two or three and really delve into the culture. Maybe enjoy a relaxing lunch or a stroll in an area park. The difference in how well you come out knowing the country is immense. So to sum that up, when on vacation, drop the frantic sightseeing because if you take it too fast, you won't remember anything anyway (unless by way of cam-corder). Keep in mind the amount of time you have to spend during each vacation and build from there.
Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, and it can create stress for everyone around, whether they are other traveler's or city natives, when frantically moving. The best part about visiting a new place is to meet the people and build an understanding of the way things work in that location.
Okay, just one more thing. The way people in other countries can immediately identify Americans is by the undeniable scale of loudness that comes from the American corner of the restaurant or bar. America is a very large country with a good amount of people all trying to compete for the American dream which, in essence, means that they will go to any length to be heard.
It is not a bad thing to have a good time, but sometimes if the volume level is toned down a little bit, more people can be involved in the conversation because it is no longer a screaming match, plus you might save your voice.
The bars and restaurants are generally quieter in countries other than the United States, so if travelers keep that in mind, they might realize just how loud the conversation has become.
Traveling is a wonderful privilege that all should take advantage of. Making it to new countries and new places is an eye opening experience and will definitely help people get to know themselves a little bit better. Along with seeing all of the wonders the world provides, remember to take in the culture and to respect it. Whether in the areas of language barriers, hustle and bustle, or volume control, keep in mind that cultural recognition doesn't have to be perfect, but the gesture is always appreciated.
-Ashley Devick is the entertainment editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in creative writing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sensitivity crosses borders
Published: Fri Jul 30, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:14 p.m.