Tuesday, September 25, 2012

American Tourist, Are You Being Impolite?

This is continuation from Traveling Beliefs: Human Unity and Hospitality. This is the third and the last part of the European Travel Series. After this one I'll get back to passive income topics.

The content of this article is based on my observations and if you represent some of the nationalities mentioned here and you feel that I misinterpreted your culture, let me know.

As you travel, you may find yourself getting a cold welcome from the locals in some countries. It could it be that you do something wrong?

Should You Learn New Languages?

Some guides suggest that you learn a bit of local language. Whether or not that affects your travel experience depends on the country.

I almost always try to do that if I spend more than 3 nights at some country. Being able to say at least "hello", "please" and "thank you" is nice.

You don't do that to survive. It is a mean to make your host feel more appreciated and thus treat you better. In addition, it helps you to connect with the local people and learn more about their culture.

For Scandinavian countries, you don't need to do that. Most people speak English just fine and they are not bothered that you don't know their language. You don't earn extra cookie points by learning to say "hello" and "thank you". You do get an extra smile, but that's about it.

For East-European countries it is not necessary either. People there don't speak English as commonly as Scandinavians, but those who do are happy to practise their skills. They don't really expect you to know their language. So no cookie points here either. Besides, those languages are so damn hard that you'd have problems pronounce them anyway. Try "köszönöm" or "dziekuje" (Ukranian and Polish for thank you).

On the other hand, in the real "old-world" countries just learning some language is not enough. You also need to learn some social customs.

Being You, You Are Being Impolite

People in France, Italy and Spain are polite and formal. If you talk to them like you are used to, you are being rude from the start.

Most people forgive this for tourists, the French being the exception. Spanish and Italian are easy-going enough not to mention it to you - but it affects how they treat you. In general, people are surprisingly nice for rude tourists.

Anyway, learning to be polite when you speak does earn you cookie points in these countries.

The problem is, you cannot use the polite language forms as English does not have them! And even if you know the local language, it is sometimes more safe to speak English if you have problems with the polite forms. Especially in France, where you find people addressing even their lovers with the formal pronouns.

But there is something you can do.

Learn To Greet People Correctly

Learn to greet people politely and they'll treat you decently - even in France.

The magic words are the ones added after "Hello".
Instead of saying just "Hello", you'd say "Hello, madam".
If I would know you better, you'd go "Hello, Jaana" - except if I was older than you or we had a business relationship.
In that case you'd say "Hello, madam Kulmala".

I know it sounds stupid, but it pays off.

Bonjour monsieur. Buongiorno signor. Buenos dias senor.

You might get fooled by listening to the local people. You'll be most probably listening to situations where people already know each other, thus using mostly names and omitting titles. Also, in all of these countries younger people are more relaxed with the language.

I should mention that Germans are super-polite and formal too, but the stuff is baked even deeper into the language. They have a lot of titles, but they are not often used in greetings, so you don't have a similar problem there unless you try to speak German.

Another thing to mention is that all these countries love handshaking. So when you have a chance, offer your hand!

If you got interested, here is a nice article of polite social customs in France. The greetings are just for survival.

You Are Weird Anyway

Sorry to disappoint you, but even if you do the greetings right, you'll be still behaving weirdly by the local standards.

You'll want food at strange times. You'll order wrong type of coffee and then complain that you don't like it. You don't take your shoes off when you come in. You don't look people in the eyes when you should - and you do that when you shouldn't. You don't follow the "Alles Verboten" signs or do something obscene.

In short, local people expect something from you - and you just cannot deliver.

And if you love personal growth, you'll enjoy every moment. I especially love the moments when I realize that something that I previously thought was part of my personality is just a learned social habit. I also enjoy encountering habits that would not be allowed in my culture but are perfectly fine somewhere else.

I wish you happy travels!

Lots of problems and anxiety with traveling is caused by people have too little time. For most people, the lack of time is a direct consequence for being an employee to someone. The solution? Let's get some passive income!

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