Traveling for the first time can be overwhelming, shocking, and bewildering for everyone - even for those from the biggest and most multicultural cities like NYC. Some parts of the world are so different, that people may struggle to enjoy themselves at all while on vacation. The frame of mind and outlook may seem so foreign that it becomes difficult to understand the reasoning of local people.
Cultural shocks can be very disorienting and unpleasant for some people. It can be everything from disgust at what is on the dinner menu, to utter despair for seeing cultures that seemingly don't share the same moral ideals as one's own country. Learning about the dynamics of local cultures can be a core part of staying safe in unusual destinations while traveling.
Examples Of Very Different Cultures
In Morocco is illegal to share a hotel room with a local person outside of wedlock (it's actually illegal to have relations outside of wedlock, but that is waved for tourists - but not if the tourist finds a local Moroccan date).
- Proof Of Marriage: Required To Get A Room In Many Countries
In some parts of Africa, it is normal for the groom to pay the bride price or "lobola" for a bride. This is paid to her family and is often paid in cows (but can be money or other goods depending on the tribe). Often the price is around 6 cows - a lot of money for the local people.
- Lobola: The Bride Price for A Wife (Often Paid In Cows)
Foreign food may not only be different from what one is used to, but it may also include things that one would never have thought of as food. In Vietnam it is common to eat chicken's feet and frogs, in China one can find scorpions on the menu, in Korea a dish is raw marine worm, in some Eastern European countries, beer may be drunk with raw pig's fat on the side, in other countries certain grubs and insects are considered a delicacy.
- Local Food: Can Include Chicken Feet, Frogs, Horses, Raw Pig Fat, Scorpions
- Tip: There Is Almost Always Hamburger Restaurants In Every Country
An Alien Approach To The Law
Many countries have a very different relationship with the law. In many countries, the police are notoriously unhelpful or outright corrupt. It is not uncommon to call the police in some impoverished countries and hear them say that for them to respond, one first needs to send them petrol/gasoline money for their police car. In these countries, it can become a skill to know how to talk to the police so as not to pay a bribe or end up in jail for a night or two.
- Corruption: Sometimes An Everyday Part Of Life
Driving is very often very different, and it may seem to outsiders that no one follows the road rules. When (or if) traffic stops at the traffic lights, one can see as many as 6 vehicles side by side on only 2 lanes. The reality is more complicated. Tourists not used to driving in certain countries really shouldn't drive there.
Don't Drive If It's One's First Time To India or Sri Lanka
Opposite Beliefs On Gender
While the USA and other Western countries may strive for an equal society - one where men and women are equal and can wear what they want, this is not universally true.
In some cultures, it is strange (putting it mildly) for a woman to travel alone without a husband. Some single women travelers find it easier to wear a fake wedding ring and say they are going to meet their husband in the next city.
- Headscarf: Required For Women In Some Countries
In Iran, it is required for women to wear a headscarf and to be fully covered (long sleeves and pants). Even if headscarves are not required in some conservative countries, many women find it better to wear one to avoid unwanted attention. While women are permitted to drive in Iran, it is not permitted for women to ride a motorcycle or bicycle.
Managing Cultural Shock
There are also some ways to mitigate cultural shock in advance.
If traveling to exotic destinations, it is worthwhile to read about that destination. Read about the history, culture, language, social structure, food, and other aspects of the society. One can not take for granted that other countries' populations are going to have the same outlook on even fundamental beliefs.
How To Manage Cultural Shock:
- Manage Expectations
- Read About The Country
- Be Open-Minded
- Be An Observer (it's their country)
The key is to manage expectations and to learn more about the country in advance. One should be open-minded and not think other cultures share the same beliefs and worldview. Also, remember no two countries are the same.