Swiftly strolling through the streets of Chinatown in NYC, looking for the nearest subway to get out of the unnecessarily crowded streets, something unexpected happen. A school, field trip group was making its way towards me, and what I assume was one of the group leaders, grabbed me by the arm and asked me where I was going. It was clear that any child who dared deviate away from the group would suffer the consequences. Despite the fact that I was about a foot taller than any of the kids in the group (and the group leader herself) and after calmly explaining she was mistaken, she still wouldn’t let go. Long story short, I pushed her into a fruit stand and continued on my way.
Maybe karma would come back around or maybe God would write this off as self-defense. If I wanted to get a rise out of that woman and start a fight, (1) it would’ve been completely out of character for me, and (2) I would have broken the #1 rule of the universe. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Ah yes, the golden rule that is impressed upon us so early in life but one we rarely abide by as we grow up.
On Taking Other People’s Advice
I got food poisoning from something I ate in Iceland so that means the food is awful and you shouldn’t go right? In the ferry terminal in South Korea, there was a guy that kept following me around, subtly finding ways to pester me until I got on the boat back to Japan. That must mean everyone in Korea is rude, creepy, and dangerous, right? NO! One bad experience doesn’t define my entire trip, and the same goes for you.
The internet is flooded with articles written about personal travel experiences and the dangers of a certain place. For those who have never been outside their homeland or don’t travel extensively, those articles are deterrents. It works against what travel blogs try to accomplish and that is to get people out of their comfort zones to see the world with their own eyes.
It’s important to present the good and bad that come along with traveling internationally. But it’s also imperative to present the information in a fashion that encourages people to see for themselves instead of completely dismissing it as a place that should be avoided. Every city, country, and neighborhood has it’s problem areas, but they never affect you directly unless you make it so. In other words, if you go looking for trouble, you’re going to find it.
Everywhere you go, the culture is going to be different than what you’re used to at home. Take it as an opportunity to see the way other people live. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back, but that doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for everyone else. Just because Russia wasn’t my favorite place to visit doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go back or that someone else might not have had the time of their life. After all, we live in a world where experiences can be and are exaggerated to make for good press, am I right?
What I’m saying is listen and take interest in someone’s opinion of a place or experience but understand that they’re painting broad strokes. Go out in the world with a child’s curiosity and a blank canvas and paint it with nobody’s impressions but your own.
On Impaired Cultural Vision
As soon as someone with a loud voice like a celebrity or even a local newscaster adopts a point of view, people choose to see, do, and think the same things instead of changing their impressions, forming their own ideas, or accepting that it could be different.
The best thing I do for myself while traveling is take off the cultural blinders. I don’t judge people based on their government. In fact, I take government, politics, religion, history, and nationality out of the picture completely, and look at my surroundings from a human element. Doing so helps me identify the things we have in common. When appropriate, of course, I certainly show respect for a country’s foundation and principles, and I love learning about people’s different points of view. However, those things don’t define my interaction with others.
Going into Taiwan, I knew nothing about the country other than the fact that almost everything in the USA has a “Made in Taiwan” sticker on it. In a way, I let the locals take reign over my itinerary because they know their homeland better than I do. They tell me what their day-to-day looks like, ancestry, history, religious practices, etc. instead of the other way around. After all, who am I to tell them what is or isn’t about their country? How rude of me it would be to shove down their throats what the clueless American media tell me about a place they’ve never even visited. By listening, asking questions, and showing my genuine interest for their culture, they express the same curiosity about mine. What I get is what I project.
If you’re able to travel without blinders or labels, it will not only change your experiences abroad but the way you live at home.
On Reversed Roles
Whatever happens to you, it’s not the country’s fault. It’s YOUR expectations and perceptions that are different. Countries were built to accommodate its citizens first and tourists second. Whoever you’re talking to or interacting with, put yourself in their shoes for a second. With a strong sense of entitlement and rude attitude, how do you think you’re going to be treated? How does the other person view you? Who would want to deal with someone like that? Radiate compassion, understanding, and kindness.
The reaction and energy you project will ultimately be what you receive in return. If you don’t adapt to customs, you’re going to feel mistreated thereby creating a less desirable experience. Traveling won’t be easy, happy go lucky all the time and that’s okay. If you make a mistake or things don’t go your way, shake it off, apologize, and move on. If you’re wishing for international cooperation as you fall asleep every night, you must remember to set the example. Manners are key no matter how rude or off-putting the other person may be.
Listen, the best advice I could ever give you is to stop watching the news, and go out to see what’s happening in the world for yourself. When it comes to the information you pay attention to, be your own gatekeeper. Live and learn by nobody else’s standards, opinions, or schedule but your own.