Ten young British travelers disrobed on the top of a mountain in Malaysia because they thought it was cool and funny. Well, until some of them got arrested for indecent exposure and might spend three months in jail. The British tabloids are going nuts, many mocking the charges against the youths as ridiculous and extreme. And one of the young men is Tweeting insults at the Malaysian government making matter even worse for those in custody. Did the Malaysian government go overboard considering these foolish kids weren’t even within sight of anyone but their mountain guide (who told them not to take their clothes off as it was disrespectful to the local religious beliefs)? Did their behavior really cause an earthquake that caused the deaths of a number of villagers? Do visitors have to go along with beliefs they consider ridiculous?
Here’s the deal in my opinion. You are a guest in that country. Guests always respect the homes of those they visit. If the host wishes you to take off your shoes upon entering their house, you comply or leave. If they wish to say grace at the table, you participate politely or at least sit their quietly without rude comment if you happen to be atheist or of a different religion. It is your responsibility before entering the home of another to have enough knowledge of where you going to know if you can comfortably deal with the culture you are coming in contact with.
When I am in heavily Muslim countries, I wear hijab. It doesn’t matter if, as in Egypt, a small portion of women do not….they understand what not doing so means; I do not. So, I lean on the side of respect. If I go to dinner at a home in India and everyone eats with their hands, I eat with my hands (unless they insist on handing me a spoon and won’t accept my refusal). When I was on a nontourist beach once in Mexico, I was surprised to see that none of the females was in a swimsuit; they all had on shorts and a t-shirt. I did not strip down to my bathing suit; I kept my clothes on. I do not use swear words in places where others would be horrified at my language. I do not make negative commentary about Christianity in churches I am visiting (even though I am Hindu). I watch carefully to see what kind of behavior is expected of me and I follow suit.
In other words, when in Rome……yes, be respectful and act in a way that makes you a welcome guest. You will also find that when you fit in with the culture, you are treated much more nicely and harassment drops significantly. Along with these positives, you will also actually enjoy feeling a part of the area you are visiting, like you are now a bit Egyptian or Indian or Mexican or Chinese! Personally, for example, I enjoyed my hijab…I didn’t have to worry about styling my hair and the way it was wrapped around my head gave me a cheap face lift! I love wearing my saris in India, to get all dressed up in finery! What fun! So, participating in the local culture should be a part of your experience traveling, not something you fight against.
When you travel with Older Women, Cheap Travel, we will be honoring this code and we won’t be seeing the inside of a jail cell because you or any of your fellow travelers decided can act any way they please, because, after all, freedom of speech and freedom to act as we desire, is a right no matter where we are. Ummm…..nooo…..if you feel that way, stay where you can do as you want…..at home. If you travel, please respect the country you are visiting; you will make others happy, you will have a more enjoyable time, and you won’t give whatever country YOU are from a bad reputation. And always remember, traveling is not a right, it is a privilege.
Learn more about our upcoming trip to Nicaragua in January 2016!
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