It was a hot day, and when the couple spent a morning on the beach, they decided to do a little shopping – in swimwear. They wrapped a transparent, thin scarf around their bikini bottoms, and he put on his flip-flops and slogan t-shirt and they strolled into a small shop on the main street. The spectators gasped and stared. Mothers covered the eyes of their staring children. Mature men and women giggled or shook their heads. "You must be American," a salesman whispered knowingly to another. Unfortunately she was right.
When traveling, whether for business, pleasure or on vacation, it pays to pay attention to your manners. Above all, Americans are increasingly known for their disrespectful behavior abroad. Did I get told? The image of the "ugly American" is already far too widespread. Unfortunately, the stereotype of the loud-talking, clever, inappropriately dressed, wealthy American foreigners who flaunt their traveling lifestyle is, in many aspects, all too real in too many cases. With the global anti-American sentiment growing, international companies ranging from Microsoft to McDonald's and business publications such as the Wall Street Journal have kept revisiting the topic. Here are some tips on how to promote a better, smarter, educated, and respectful image when traveling abroad.
Know the local geography
Are you planning a trip abroad? First Order – get a card and study it. Get an idea of how the city and its surroundings are built. Know important places and sights. Many good guides provide important information about getting around. This can be especially important if a non-Western alphabet is used in the national language. On a recent trip to Colombia, my wife and I listened in amusement as a foreigner told his family the directions – wrong. He had reversed the directions from north and south, although he had the sunset in the Pacific in view.
Dress yourself moderately
It can not be said enough about observance of local dress code and customs. In many countries, it is disrespectful for women to dress casually in public and show naked skin or body parts. Naked, hairy breasts or flared legs, even for men, can be considered offensive in many cultures. If you are not sure what is appropriate, discreetly ask or check local information on informative websites. As a rule of thumb, in public places neither legs nor upper body, back or arms should remain open. Emulate the clothing of the locals to make sure they respect their cultural norms. Embera Indians, who are normally unaware of their culture, wear a colorful hull when visiting non-Indian cities and villages along the South American Pacific coast to respect the social norms of their neighbors. Embera men wear T-shirts and pants outside their villages for the same reasons.
Watch what and how you speak
Your speech reflects who and what you are. It can be a useful tool for merging cultures or a battering rage of dissatisfaction. Do not create resentment by babbling about your "wealth", your power, your business or social status. People are not interested in how "inferior" their lifestyle seems to be to you.
In Part 2 of this three-part series, we'll look at what to say and how to say it when traveling abroad.
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