There is one type of traveler who holidays in different countries but is really just looking to enjoy the familiar pleasures of home in better weather. Another type has some interest in experiencing new cultures but is not prepared to make the effort to understand the nuances, preferring to allow all their preconceptions to be confirmed by the superficial interactions that they find. If you’re planning to volunteer abroad, hopefully you exist in a category beyond these limiting and privileged mindsets. You want to see how people really live, and to live among them for better or worse. You want to share your experiences, but also to learn to look at the world in new ways. And you recognize that while every culture is different, there are fundamental human qualities that we all share – and also some unexpected elements that overlap in even far-flung places.
Our physical relationship with those around us is a good example of this. For example, whether in India, Australia or the UK, you will find that most people prefer to keep a significant area of personal space on order to remain comfortable. In other categories of interaction these cultures differ significantly – for example, compare the solemn Indian bow as greeting with the vigorous handshakes of the Brits and Australians, or the informality and free-cursing of Australians in business meetings compared to the restrained and orderly English way of doing things – and it can seem odd that people from each of these areas prefer to back off once the greetings are done.
Or take the Americas, a continent by itself but with such a rich and varied history of colonization and socio-economic imperialism that it can be tough to trace the customs back to their roots. In the States, for example, it is customary to tip at restaurants, a habit that in fact dates back to the first, post-Civil War American tourists to revisit their ancestral homelands in Europe. They noticed the European tendency to tip, and returned to the US with the custom as a way to show off their middle-class sophistication to others. A century and half later, tipping is the norm – while in some South American countries with European roots, such as Brazil, tipping is still reserved for truly excellent service.
It can be informative to study some of these strange overlaps ahead of your journey, and a good place to begin your research is this new infographic which separates several such places out by process of a flow chart. There’s no substitute for experience and empathy, but a bit of background knowledge is a great first step on the path to understanding.
What Country Fits Your Manners? [Flow Chart] by the team over at Expedia
What Country Fits Your Manners? [Flow Chart] by Expedia.com