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This is an 'indivisible problem' about travelling. Sometimes what we may consider at home to be normal would be abnormal where we are. So, we need to be selective about the things we say. Keeping quiet and not interacting with locals may make it difficult to get the full experience of the travel/ make the trip more difficult and too much interaction may lead to something offensive being said.

Hence, my question, how exactly do we 'fit in' when visiting different places?

P.s: I do know we should do a quick google search about the place before travelling, but I often feel there are some unsaid/ unwritten rule of topics which are not said that we must pick up on.

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    There can't be a single answer to this question, it's completely opinion based.
    – Aak
    Jul 17 at 5:28
  • There surely must be some general principle which can be applied to anywhere you go @Aak
    – user115493
    Jul 17 at 5:35
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    I feel that the current answer covers the question well enough without going to opinions.
    – Willeke
    Jul 17 at 9:05
  • I don't agree that this is opinion-based, but given there are some 200 countries in the world, it's impossible to give a general answer.
    – Kyralessa
    Jul 20 at 10:28
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There really isn't any general principle besides doing your research, which is a good plan when traveling anyway.

Travel guidebooks usually include a section with general practical and cultural advice about your destination. That may include things like standards of dress, gestures to avoid (there is wide variation here, including some obscene gestures in some cultures that are benign in others), sensitive subjects (there are countries where it may be against the law or just ill-advised to say negative things about the local monarch or religion, and discretion is always a good idea before discussing politics), and customs (there may be particular practices around things like meals, greetings, or gift giving).

A search on "[name of country] etiquette" is usually a quick way to produce this kind of information.

There may be more specialized advice for some situations, such as websites and books with specific cultural information on doing business in certain countries. Certain types of facilities, such as pools or saunas for example, may come with their own local etiquette around things like bathing and clothing, so it's worth researching that if you plan to visit.

All that said, and particularly living in a more global world today, the vast majority of people you meet will understand that you're a visitor unfamiliar with local customs, even more so if they're in the tourism industry, and that if you act with good intentions, may be more amused than offended if you haven't mastered every cultural detail. But the point of traveling is to make positive connections, so doing your best to learn about the local culture and use at least a few pleasantries in the local language can go a long way.

And if you're not sure about something, it's usually best to simply ask.

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  • Also read your countries consulate pages for the country you are going to. They often give tips about no-no's in the host country that are common practice in yours. (If these pages are also in english, read those in your native language since they sometimes contain information that are deliberately left out in the english version) Jul 17 at 13:43
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There surely must be some general principle which can be applied to anywhere you go

I've been to 41 countries (so far) and in my opinion there are few things that make this quite easy:

  1. Be respectful of the other culture. The worst thing you can do is to point out all the things they are doing wrong (in your unqualified opinion) or try to preach your own values or opinions.
  2. No one expects a foreigner to get everything right. As long as you honestly try, you are good.
  3. Be friendly, smile, laugh and/or be apologetic if you think it's needed. Do NOT be demanding or arrogant.
  4. Learning a few phrases like "thank you" "good morning" or "one beer please" go a long way, regardless of how badly you butcher them. It shows respect and that you are trying. Use "thank you" A LOT.
  5. Learn some simple hand gestures. It's good to read up before your trip which gestures may be considered offensive, but even if you get it wrong, they'll probably just laugh about it.
  6. If in doubt ask (by whatever means available). Example: If you want to take a photo of a person or a shop, ask permission. This changes the perception from "why is this foreign weirdo photographing me" to "Great, they really like my stuff".

Most cultures put a lot of value in hospitality and most people are delighted to meet foreigners and help/support if they can. Oddly enough, the most difficult situations for me are "heavily touristic" areas since it's an odd power dynamic and the culture is neither the local nor the foreign one.

One example if I may. A few years ago my wife and I were on a night walk in Dubai. We ended up under a bridge in a fairly romantic spot so we were holding hands and cuddling which was probably more PDA than would be appropriate in Dubai. A boat comes by with a few heavily veiled woman wearing burkas. One sees us and her eyes light up and she gives as a big old heart sign with both hands!

Mutual respect is all that's needed.

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