Friday, April 14, 2006

Mind Your Manners When Traveling Abroad Part 2: Religion is Taboo, Politics are Out

In part 1 of this three-part series we looked at some advice on how to foster a better, more intelligent, educated and respectful image when you travel abroad. In this article, part 2 of a three-part series, we’ll look at what to say and how to say it when traveling abroad.

Watch what and how you speak
Your speech is reflective of who and what you are. It can be a useful tool for the melding of cultures or a battering ram of discontent. Don’t create resentment by continuous babbling about your “affluence”, power, business or social status. People don’t care to hear how “inferior” their way of life may appear to be to you. Dale Carnegie in his classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, said, “If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive”. While you’re at it, remember to lower your tone and volume. A loud, overbearing voice is considered to be inappropriate or boisterous in many cultures which favor a calmed, controlled form of speech. Control your tone. You want to avoid coming off as a braggart or imperialist.

Absolutely avoid the use of vulgarity, profanity, ethnic or stereotypical jokes of any kind. Refrain from any derogatory remarks or insults as well no matter how “harmless” you may think they might be. “Humor” can be a quick-sand-laden area for the business or casual traveler. Be wary of it.

Slow down
In France, people often eat half the food Americans do, and the French may take nearly twice as long to do it. Many Latin countries too, operate at a much more leisurely pace. True, life is short. But that doesn’t mean you should do everything at breakneck speed. “See 10 countries in only 14 days” the ads claim. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Americans, in particular, may eat, speak and even live at an accelerated rate, but many cultures do not. In France, to wolf down your food can be a great insult to the cook or family. In effect you might be saying something like, “The food was so bad that you hurried up and got rid of it so you could get away.” Slow down and enjoy the foreign cultural offerings. Smell the flowers. Taste the food. Chat leisurely with the locals. Really take some time to learn how others live. Remember, you can always “speed back up” when you get home.

Religion is Taboo, Politics are out
You know the old saw about avoiding religion and politics as conversation topics. Well it’s still true. Today, more than ever before, religion is not a suitable topic of conversation in public. It’s all too easy to stir up trouble much too quickly. To be on the “safe” side, avoid this topic with all but close associates. Another “land mine” topic area is politics. “Do you agree with what your president is doing?” These and other similar “hot button” questions will invariably come up. Avoid an argument at all costs. You can say that you don’t agree with their point of view without getting into dramatics or an unsightly “firefight”. Change the subject and move on. When I’m asked, “Do you agree to the extradition of drug traffickers from Colombia?”, I give a brief explanation of the effects of drug trafficking in major U.S. inner cities and move on to other topics before things ever get out of hand.

An excellent reference site with business and cultural information for 36 Countries is available online. If the country you’re interested in does not appear here try one of the other sites listed. In the final, part 3 of this series, we’ll go to some sites to see just how to get preview in-depth information on speech and conduct before traveling abroad in: “Mind Your Manners When Traveling Abroad Part 3: References for Business and Cultural Information”.

For the free download to read highly informative part 3, E-mail me at your convenience at:

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