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The Big Five: How To Avoid Annoying the Locals When Abroad

19/12/2016 12:28

With the rise of budget airlines and more affordable air travel prices, you can now go anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately, despite its many positives this 'travel globalisation' has created its own problems. Despite good intentions, it has desensitized people towards travel and has encouraged them to pack up their culture to take with them alongside their factor 50. In case you're worried about slipping into the Brit abroad mould, here are a few handy points on how to avoid annoying your host country:

1) Respect local cultures.

This applies everywhere, even if you're on a lad's hol to Kavos and half the strip seems to be composed of British accents. Make yourself aware of any local customs, and don't do anything which has the risk of offending. If you're visiting a site which you know is sacred to the locals or has special importance, act with extra caution. You might think it's a great pic for Instagram, but your 50 likes are not going to be worth the aggro. Make sure you do your research before you arrive so you don't offend anyone - check out the FCO website for info on specific countries.

2) Don't photograph people without their permission.

This may seem like a ridiculous point, but people can be very wary of photography and where the image will end up. No one is going to be overjoyed with a pushy tourist shoving a camera in their face to get an 'authentic' photo. Be aware that some people might also ask you for money in exchange for a photograph. This is more often the case in very touristy areas; for example, Cusco in Peru where women in traditional dress walk the streets and only ask for money after the photo has been taken. The bottom line on this one is that you should be respectful and ask permission before taking a photo of anyone.

3) Don't be a gap yah voluntourist.

This is a case of not avoiding volunteering completely but rather choosing where and what you do very carefully. It's very unlikely that you're going to be successful building a wall when all the experience you have is year 9 Design and Technology, so choose something where you can actually make a difference. For example, consider your degree when considering a project. This isn't to say that you can't volunteer, just to be careful of what you decide to do. If you're going for the cultural exchange side of it, you're probably better off doing a home-stay as part of an eco-tourism programme which is going to provide jobs and revenue. Read up on which organisations actually give something back to local communities and have a think about how useful you're actually going to be. Also make sure that you're being safe in your choices; check out the FCO's list of things to ask before you go to be sure you've got everything covered.

4) Don't speak in a stupid voice if you don't speak the language.

This is one which many Brits fall victim to (often completely innocently and occasionally including my own family members). Just because the waiter's English isn't as good as yours - when it's your mother tongue and not his - don't speak to him in a ridiculous accent. Try learning a few basic words and phrases and don't assume that everyone will speak English. There are thousands of languages spoken on the planet - why do you think everyone should be able to speak English when you can't be bothered to pick up a phrase book and learn the local word for 'thank you'? If you're going to speak English, speaking clearly is one thing, using your voice reserved for idiots is quite another.

5) Accept that this is a different country

Don't expect things to behave as they do in the UK. Things might run at a different pace and if you start kicking up a fuss because your train is delayed, you're not going to win any favours. Again, make a point about doing research before you go - the FCO has extensive information on any country you might want to visit, so check it out before you travel. Chances are, everything is going to be delayed and a lot will go wrong, but this is part of the fun of travelling. Don't travel with a rigid timetable because it'll just frustrate you and the others around you. You're not going to get anywhere if you start having an argument with a matatu driver because he's decided to stop for a mandazi and a cup of tea. Take a deep breath and enjoy the experience as part of the culture of the country you're travelling in. If you're really in trouble, there are plenty of ways to seek help abroad and the British consul will be ready to help you if things go wrong.

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