If you had to guess, how many different cultures would you say there are in the world? The latest reports claim that there are at least 3,800 unique cultures, but “culture” can simply refer to the way people live. There are likely many more different ways of life to discover, understand, and celebrate around this big, wide world.
Culture is important and can vary widely. In one country, certain behaviors considered polite may be seen as aggressive or confrontational elsewhere. Certain social “norms” in one place may be far from normal to non-locals. Misunderstanding culture isn’t one of the most common travel mistakes, but it is critical to know a bit about where you are going and its people before you visit any destination - whether you are flying across the globe or road tripping out of your neighborhood.
Why is it Important to Learn About Other Cultures?
Our way of life is influenced by our upbringing, our communities, and our belief systems. Aside from having a better understanding about how and why people act and interact the way they do, why should we learn about other cultures? Simply put: cultural sensitivity will make your life better and your travels smoother.
While we may or may not share the same points of view or practices, understanding people from different cultures shows respect and can allow us to more fully enjoy the places we visit.
Modest attire that covers shoulders and knees is required in many temples around the world. Without knowing that, you might wander into a place of worship on your tour of an area wearing shorts and a tank top without knowing that you are essentially thumbing your nose at decency and etiquette. Abiding by the practices of the locale we visit demonstrates that we honor their practices and appreciate being allowed inside their world.
If you’re a first-time international traveler, you will want to make sure your passport and documents are all in order well before your planned travel date (including a means of keeping those documents safe). As the time grows closer, learn some of the language, where to go, and the customs before you head out. This can prevent embarrassing, or even serious, blunders.
Certain behaviors can even get you into trouble. For example, in the United States, we give thumbs up to indicate a positive response. The same gesture in other cultures has a much more offensive meaning.
Benefits of Learning Another Culture
Embarrassment aside, understanding different cultures has a much deeper and longer-lasting impact on your life and the lives of others. Some benefits of cultural awareness include:
Personal Growth – The more we learn about other people with different cultural backgrounds, the better we become as people. It is proven that racism and bigotry decline when we understand each other better.
Increased Knowledge – The more we know about other cultures and people, the better-rounded, more worldly, and, frankly, more interesting we become.
Improved Lifestyle– Embracing different cultures by adopting certain customs we discover on our travels can compliment our own lifestyle right at home.
Embracing Local Cultures While Traveling
Being “well-cultured” involves more than understanding other cultures you visit. Try practicing these eight travel habits to make the journey more fun and less challenging. And remember, exploring new territories, meeting new people, and discovering new ways of life is about finding the beauty in our difference