Traveling or moving to a new country is an exciting adventure, but it’s always important to take note of their diverse cultural customs and etiquette to avoid unintentionally causing offense. Employing cultural sensitivity on your travels will certainly help you when it comes to respecting other cultures.

You might be asking, ‘What is cultural sensitivity?’ In essence, it is all about embracing and appreciating the richness of diverse cultures. It’s about being open-minded, understanding differences, and communicating with respect and empathy to foster inclusivity and positive connections with people from various backgrounds.

To guide you on your travels, here is a list of 10 ways to respect different cultures when visiting other countries. Let’s get started!

1. Use Adequate Greetings and Gestures

A handshake, demonstrating how gestures promote cultural sensitivity
Photo Credit: Ave Calvar via Unsplash

Body language is considered a silent language  – simple unspoken gestures or posture can foster understanding and mutual respect. Smiling, nodding and eye contact are just a few universal ways in which you can speak volumes without uttering a single word! 

Greetings and gestures can vary widely, so it’s useful to familiarize yourself with local customs. For example, in many Middle Eastern countries, it’s common to greet others with a warm handshake, while in countries like Thailand, a slight bow gesture, referred to as the ‘wai’, is customary. Taking the time to learn and practice basic greetings and gestures with locals or friends can go a long way toward respecting different cultures.

2. Learn the Basics to Help You Communicate

While it’s not realistic to become fluent in every language you come across, learning a few basic phrases can go a long way in showing respect and building connections with locals. Learning how to say words like “hello,” “thank you,”  “excuse me” and “sorry” in the local language can make a positive impression. 
Before traveling abroad, look into joining a language group in your local area, or even online. Not only will you be able to quickly learn the basics of your chosen language, but you get to brush up on your social skills by making new connections!

3. Don’t Be Late

Checking the time on watch
Photo Credit: Luke Chesser via Unsplash

While being fashionably late can be the norm in some places, it can be seen as rude in others. Take Germany for example, where punctuality is important and arriving late is considered a serious breach of etiquette. So, set your alarm clock and make sure to be on time for your appointments, meetings, or even casual get-togethers!

Speaking of casual get-togethers, a good way to meet people in a new city and learn to respect different cultures is by joining SPEAK events, where you can spend some time with the local community and people from all over the world, and understand a bit more about their cultures.

4. Participate in Local Customs and Traditions

Every country has its own unique customs and traditions that are ingrained in its culture. Educate yourself about these practices and show respect by following them. Whether it’s removing your shoes before entering someone’s home, participating in local festivals or covering your head at sacred sites, embracing and honoring these traditions will not only avoid offense but also deeply enrich your travel experience.

5. Adapt While Eating

Sharing a cultural meal
Photo Credit: Dan Gold via Unsplash

Food is an integral part of any culture, and dining customs can vary significantly from country to country. In Ethiopia, it is customary to eat with your right hand when eating their national dish ‘injera’ while in China it’s essential to respect chopstick etiquette and avoid stabbing and pointing at food. Embracing the unique customs you encounter will only add to your culinary experience and help you better savor the flavors. Bon appétit!

6. Learn How to Tip

Tipping can be a small gesture that makes a big difference in showing your appreciation for good service. While leaving gratuity is customary in the United States, it’s not always expected or practiced everywhere. Take Japan, for example, where exceptional service is already considered part of the package. So, to navigate the tipping terrain smoothly, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the local customs.

7. Play it Safe With Jokes

A group of of friends laughing, showing humor and cultural sensitivity
Photo Credit: Sithamshu Manoj via Unsplash

Laughter is universal, but what makes people laugh can vary across cultures. Jokes that may be well-received in one country might fall flat or even offend in another. It’s always wise to test the comedic waters cautiously or stick to universally funny topics, like adorable animal videos or puns that transcend language barriers.

8. Bargain and Negotiate with Respect

Image showing payment being made at a food market displaying cultural sensitivity whilst negotiating.
Photo Credit: Alain Gehri via Unsplash

In many parts of the world, haggling and bargaining can be an exciting part of shopping – It’s like a friendly dance where you can find great deals and connect with the local culture. Remember, the key is to approach this practice with respect and a warm attitude. Instead of focusing solely on getting the lowest price, aim for a fair deal that leaves both you and the seller happy. So, put on a friendly smile, embrace the lively exchange, and be mindful of the cultural sensitivities that surround the art of negotiation. 

9. Pay Attention to Photography Etiquette

Woman taking a picture while abroad, showing cultural sensitivity
Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Capturing memories through photography is a wonderful way to preserve your travel experiences, but it’s important to be mindful of local sensitivities. Always ask for permission before taking someone’s photo, especially in more traditional or sacred settings. Additionally, certain places may have restrictions on photography, so respect any signage or guidelines provided.

10. Learn How to Properly Address Elders

In many cultures, respect for elders is deeply ingrained. This can include addressing them with appropriate honorifics or using formal language when speaking to them. Take cues from the locals and observe how they interact with older individuals to ensure you’re treating them with the respect they deserve.

Ready to Set Off?

As you begin your global adventures, remember that cultural sensitivity, awareness and adaptability are key to ensuring a respectful and enjoyable experience. By being mindful of these 10 things when visiting other countries, you’ll be well-prepared to avoid any unintentional mishaps. Happy travels!  

Keep reading more about cultures in our articles Understanding Cultural Variations in Body Language and Building Stronger Connections and A Practical Guide To Chinese Culture Etiquette: ‘客气’.

Author: Daniela Afonso

Daniela is a creative who loves exploring cultures and languages. She moved from Venezuela to Portugal and recently joined SPEAK as a Full-Stack Marketer. Passionate about movies and books, she loves the art of storytelling and finding unique and innovative ways to communicate ideas.

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