Dealing With Culture Shock While Traveling


Culture Shock While Traveling – One of the things you’re likely to face at some point during your travels is culture shock.

These can range from the smallest details to massive moral issues, and even on arranged group holidays it’s impossible to avoid, so it’s crucial to learn how to deal with it whenever it shows up.

I’m far from the ideal person when it comes to dealing with culture shock, but after traveling for so many years I’ve been forced to find a way that works, to avoid awkward or downright horrible consequences.

Here are a few culture clashes I’ve experienced, and how I dealt with them…Rwanda Safari Holiday

Dealing With Culture Shock While Traveling “Smile and Laugh At It” Tradition

A couple of weeks ago I received a very interesting comment on an old post, where this person complained about how angry he gets when there are misunderstandings between him and locals, then they just laugh it off and make fun of him.

He didn’t say which country he meant, but I had a strong feeling that he was talking about Thailand.

In this country, often nicknamed “the land of smiles”, people smile and laugh at everything – especially in awkward situations.

This can sometimes be liberating, but also incredibly frustrating – the Thai people use their smiles and laugh to avoid “losing their face”, or even to help you to avoid “losing your face”.

For example, if you bump your head into a doorway, they point, smile and laugh at you – not in a rude way, but to relieve you from the embarrassment – this in the West usually means the complete opposite, and some people feel offended by it.

Culture Shock While Traveling
Culture Shock While Traveling

How To Deal With It:

Remember why they’re laughing, and the more frustrated and angry you get the more they will try to “cover up” by laughing and smiling.

Don’t show that you’re frustrated, instead work the other way around and smile while you try to get your point across.

The Contradictions Of Hygiene

Japan is famous as the country where burping is encouraged as a way to show gratitude to the chef.

You will find that burping is common and not at all frowned upon in many other countries too.

Whether you take morocco holidays in Africa, or travel east to India and Malaysia, you will be sitting at a restaurant, or walking the streets and almost always hear someone doing a clear, loud and proud burp.

This is not frowned upon at all, but then eating with your left hand is.

Apparently, the left hand is seen as dirty as that is the hand you use when going to the bathroom – and since they mush and mix all of their food with their fingers, they keep the left hand out of the way.

The weird part is that before sitting down to eat, they only ever wash their right hand – no wonder the left hand stays dirty..!

How do I deal with it:

Honestly, I ignore it as best as I can. I’m getting used to the burps and nose picks, and I eat the way I want – just because you’re in a foreign country that doesn’t mean that you have to do everything they do.

Value your own health above “fitting in”, and don’t be so hard on yourself – who cares if someone gives you a strange look for eating with your left hand?

You know better, you know if it’s clean or not.

Oh, and I ALWAYS carry toilet paper around, I’m not getting near those hoses they have in the squat toilets!

Keep Things In Perspective

During my travels I have heard the most offensive and obscene comments thrown at me or people around me, and sometimes this is tough to deal with.

But you have to put things into perspective, and not let yourself get sucked in or bothered.

Because the only person who will be affected is you, besides, what you see as offensive, in their culture could actually be a compliment.

A friend of mine spent a whole year in Rwanda, and while she lost heaps of weight, her friend put on quite a lot.

The locals they got to know said to her friend “you’re so fat!

You have gotten so fat lately!”

Something that’s not very fun to hear as a Western person, but is actually a compliment there.

Finally, culture shocks are part of the travel experience, and one of the things that make traveling so exciting and crazy – see every culture shock as a great experience. Rwanda Safari Holiday

Communing with Nature In a Kimono

Communing with Nature In a Kimono – Regardless of country or nationality, nature is of course a big part of all of our lives.

We are impacted and influenced every day by the weather.

Natural disasters ravage every part of the globe in different forms, and all our modern conveniences are built on, out of, or with natural materials.

The seasons bring different events, customs, and feelings to all of us.

Though our modern lives can seem removed from the natural environment, there is no escaping the fact that we are forever and inextricably tied to and dependent on mother nature. Japan is no exception and is in fact sometimes referred to as a country that is tuned into nature and really reveres it.

We’ll leave that judgment up to each individual.

However, as the recent earthquake and tsunami have shown, the country is battered by the forces of nature quiet frequently and often savagely.

Communing with Nature In a Kimono
Communing with Nature In a Kimono

There are also a lot of festivals and events in Japanese culture that celebrate the seasons.

These include cherry blossom festivals and hanami (literally, “flower watching”) parties in the spring, moon viewing in the fall, and the custom of eating eel in the summer to give stamina and strength during the long hot and humid days (perhaps the last is just a good marketing campaign by a company that sells eel?).

Either way, the interaction with nature is important and gets expressed through various media.

Japan, whose economic performance has been derided for decades, should use this strong link to nature to stand out in the new clean economy.

Whether its often rigid society and inept political system can do enough to support such a transformation is the question.

If you’re in the DC area and want to hear an interesting lecture touching on the theme of nature in Japanese culture.

What on earth do Japanese kimonos have to do with nature and environmentalism?

Well, if you listen to scholar Ann Marie Moeller, she may be able to explain it to you at the Texile Museum in Washington, D.C.

Kimono and Green: The Color of Gods and Youth The color green plays a particularly important role in the nature-oriented culture of Japan.

From the green used to identify kabuki actors to the green of an obi signaling a geisha in training, this color has communicated information about its wearer for centuries.

Plants that remain green throughout the year were considered auspicious since they were obviously favored by the forces of nature.

These plants continue to have symbolic significance on modern kimono.

These plants continue to have symbolic significance on modern kimono.

Join scholar Ann Marie Moeller as she draws connections between the Japanese reverence for nature and the use of green in the nation’s textile arts.

Fantastic ideas to Tap into Your Adventurous Side When Traveling

Tapping into Your Adventurous Side When Traveling ~ When traveling, it is so easy to just lay back and enjoy the moment, let the days go by, often not ever leaving our comfort zone.

Every country around the world is full of adventures, new places to see, beaches to enjoy, mountains to climb.

Why not make your memories last and explore the wilder side of life instead?

It’s never too late to enjoy living life to its fullest and start working on becoming a little more adventurous when traveling.

As you’re planning to book a travel tour, why not go for a mountain hike, give white water rafting a whirl or try your hand at surfing?

Many people enjoy bungee jumping and zip lining when on vacation and there’s so many different countries that have activities such as these.

Go ahead and live a little, visit some fun places where these sports can be experienced.

Adventurous Side When Traveling Zip Lining
Adventurous Side When Traveling Zip Lining

Bungee jumping from a bridge, parasailing and parachuting go hand in hand.

If these adventures are a little too much for you, play it safe and do a little zip lining from the top of a mountain or take a ride in a hot air balloon.

Research some of your destinations to find what adventures fit your needs or work on ticking off a place from your travel bucket list.

Most countries will have tours and activities that can help you bring out the adventure in you.

Rock climbing can be a fun adventurous experience for those who enjoy the outdoors, mountains, hikes or even trekking.

Be prepared to stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone as you head for the mountains.

If rock climbing seems a little too harsh for you, there are always options such as hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing or 4 wheeling.

Adventurous Side
Adventurous Side

There are so many hiking trails around the world for you to seek out, be sure to do your research first and pick a spot that fits your physical condition, likes and needs.

Do you enjoy being in the water?

This can be a great opportunity to seek out some water-related adventures.

You can try your skills at white water rafting or if you’re looking for something less extreme you can go kayaking or canoeing.

If your plan is to visit a beach, seek out fun activities such as snorkeling, diving, jet skiing or surf maybe?

Adventurous Paddle Boarding
Adventurous Paddle Boarding

Paddle boarding is a also a trendy activity, a little adventure but a relaxed sport if you’re not too open to pushing your limits.

Food can also be a big part of being adventurous when traveling.

Many countries have different foods that will certainly push you out of your comfort zone.

Do a little tasting, try something new, it will always make a good story when you’re back home from your travels!

Travel is such a great experience, very often we get caught out regretting not being adventurous enough or not taking that tour, not jumping off that waterfall, not ending that hike at the summit.

Tapping into your adventurous side
Tapping into your adventurous side

Tapping into your adventurous side is much easier than you think, chances are you’ll enjoy your new adventures so much that you’ll keep wanting more.

The perfect motivation for planning your next tour!

(Photo credits: 1 – 2 – 34)

17 thoughts on “Dealing With Culture Shock While Traveling”

  1. In Fiji, it’s the same with the “you’re so fat” comment. They were constantly criticizing most of us for being too skinny (and I’m far from “skinny” back in the US!) and only one girl they told her she was nice and fat… you know she just loved that lol.

    The left hand thing I am worried about if I ever travel in certain parts of the world because I’m left-handed! I’m fairly ambidextrous at writing and doing a few things, but I’m hopeless at feeding myself right-handed…

  2. A ‘culture shock’ that I’ve found ties into your second point where you mentioned table manners. Traveling through Asia I still can’t get used to the very, very loud chewing. Also different standards of etiquette, in particular when it comes to noises on overnight buses/trains – it’s hard sometimes to stop myself getting annoyed at the chatting on phones all night or playing games on phones with the volume up. And one last thing (didn’t realise until now there were so many!) the different standards of personal space. I absolutely love it when we get adopted by a local family, but I can’t get used to the ‘sisters’ I’ve just met constantly hugging me and resting their hands on my thighs and holding my hands.
    Phew! Sorry for the long comment haha. Most of the time these things don’t bother me at all though, and when they do the positives of travel still outweigh any negative feelings.

  3. My Husband is left-handed and when we’re eating with our hands he does his best but sometimes can’t help but use it. For the most part no one seems to care.

  4. I actually love the smile and laugh tactic here in Thailand! It’s an acknowledgement of a misunderstanding, and a resolution to just find the humor in it! It’s much better than getting angry, being ignored, etc. And try as I may, I will always be a little bit queasy when bodily fluids are thrown around without a lot of thought. I never thought I was particularly clean, but now…hand sanitizer and baby wipes are on my person at ALL times.

  5. In Portugal, many, many years ago, it was also a complement to say that someone was fatter. Even today, old people might throw that at you which causes some funny embarrassment but one needs to understand when those people were young, some of them didn’t have much to eat, so if people were thin, it meant they were poorer, hence the “fat elegance”.

  6. Yeah I really like that they’re always close to a smile and laugh easily, but sometimes I have to admit that I miss a simple honest apology as well 😉

    I’ve recently realized just how useful baby wipes are, will never go without them again!

  7. Haha yes the personal space is definitely different in east compared to the west, and even between western countries this differs a lot.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with it, I can really relate to what you’re talking about!

  8. I agree, don’t worry about it. Most people don’t care, at least they don’t care enough to say anything, they can see that you’re a tourist and often that’s enough to understand that we have different table manners.

  9. I really like this site! But I have to agree that you are FAR from the ideal person when it comes to dealing with culture shock. Anglo-Saxons have problems to understand the concept of “world”. You should write an article about it!

  10. great observation Sofia, contradictions of hygiene – you will find almost everyone only washing  right hand before eating a meal but yes if you decide to do something odd in a public place you will certainly be the center of attraction.. try eating with your left hand or talk loudly on your phone while eating or this is hilarious really….. last month I went to a bakery and ordered chicken burgers and coke for takeaway and one of my friends asked for a couple of tissues to be added to the takeaway and the the bakery man said “we don’t give tissues” so always keep your tissues with you 😉 weirdos 

  11. I think the best way to deal with culture shock is to educate yourself about the culture you will be visiting ahead of time.  You might even decide you don’t want to go to a particular place (i.e. somewhere with medieval ideas about women and their place in society).  We lived in relatively rural England for a year when my father was an exchange teacher in 1969-1970.  Every day my mother said, “It’s a different culture.” Interestingly, several years ago, flying across the Atlantic, I read in an airline magazine that the common culture of Europe is American.  It’s true that they watch American TV shows and movies and listen to American music.  They might well think that they know more about you than they do. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “England and America are two countries divided by the same language.”

  12. One way to preempt some culture shock is to educate yourself about the cultures you expect to encounter on your travels. You might even decide to pass on trips to some places—i.e. perhaps somewhere with 8th century notions of how women should be regarded. Even on travels to English speaking countries, remember George Bernard Shaw’s admonition that: “England and America are two countries divided by the same language. We lived in rural England for a year when my father was an exchange teacher in 1969-1970. Just about every day something moved my mother to comment, “It’s a different culture.”

  13. Dropping all preconceptions and attachments to my opinions to how the world “should” be to me is key!

  14. I agree Suzanne, the best way to deal with culture shock is to read up about it before so you know what to prepare for.

    Funny that the airline magazine of all magazines claimed that Europe has an American culture, as even the countries within Europe have different cultures from each other!

  15. It’s refreshing to read a post about culture shock, as this seems to be something that most travelers try to ignore or at least don’t address publicly. I think the smile and laugh behavior that you experienced in Thailand is also common in Cambodia. At least I hope it is, because there were times Cambodians laughed at me, and I hope they were doing it to be kind 🙂

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