Why it is Important to Respect Cultures When Traveling

Not Just Silly, but Disrespectful
Not Just Silly, but Disrespectful

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.

Wearing hijab in Egypt
Wearing hijab in Egypt

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!

Learn more about all our trips, how we travel, and how little it costs at Older Women, Cheap Travel!

9 thoughts on “Why it is Important to Respect Cultures When Traveling

  1. I agree with you, that when traveling a person is a guest in the country they are visiting. Whether you travel to India,France or the United States etc you should be respectful to the cultures.I believe before traveling people should do research not just for hotels and tourist attractions but the culture especially when traveling to a
    foreign country because you should know about where you are going. I always say when people are arrested in foriegn countries that they should have researched the countries cultural beliefs when they whine about being detained by law enforcement.


    1. I like your comment about EVEN in the US because we have many subcultures here as well. When I was a private detective and now as a profiler, when I have gone to interview people in certain areas I have always made sure to respect the local culture. And, by doing so, I got great cooperation! I can talk to ladies on the street or drug dealers in a ghetto or methheads in a trailer park. Simple fact, be friendly and don’t do things that are offensive to them, whatever they may be. You can’t elp being different, but you CAN help being SO different people can’t relate to you or even get upset by you. Running around like I did in a tube top and shorts in Morocco when I was 19 was the height of stupidity and insensitivity. Believe me, I learned my lesson quickly when I was labeled an American whore. Never made that kind of mistake again.


  2. Welcome, Ms. Fatima, to the website. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had respect for each other’s cultures and religions? After all, we all feel our cultures and religions are important to us and we would like others to understand that. After all, this is what makes up our lives!


  3. I agree with showing your respect to all people you come in contact with, whether it be in the U.S.A or any other country. I have not traveled much yet in my life (but I am planning on doing so!) but I do know that by showing genuine respect towards someone by greeting them in the fashion that they accustomed to, I tend to get the respect back. I would imagine knowing a few common phrases in the language that you are visiting would be beneficial, especially Hello, How are you and Thank You.
    I haven’t been to Japan, or China or India, but I do frequent the cuisine of those cultures with my family and we practice talking with the staff who speak those languages. The magical thing about that is that we tend to get better service and are offered speciality items not found on the regular menu, especially at our favorite Mandarin restaurant who bring us the special tea now.

    I agree that all travelers need to know the basic laws and customs of that land so you don’t get a caning like you would if you spit out gum on the street in Singapore. Basically, behave like a decent person right?
    Or face the consequences that would be so much different than in the US!

    I wish you much luck with your new traveling adventures, Pat!

    May the road rise to meet you and may the wind always be at your back.


  4. Thank you, Annie! And I hope you join us in on a future trip! I will be sure to plan one for the summer when you can join!

    Yes, a few words in the language truly do make a difference as does dressing in local clothing. I can’t tell you how many times I have been complimented just because I was wearing a sari or salwar kameez or a hajib. Just recently, I was at the Pakistani Embassy Open House (they were included in the Embassy Tour in DC) and, head covered, I went onto the dance floor and danced to some Pakistani music (which is similar to Indian music). Afterwards, an gentlemen came up to me to tell me how well I danced and he complemented me on my scarf and knowledge of the food (I was chucking down pani puri while we were talking). So, great way to make friends, no enemies, when one travels.


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