As my husband and I have been on a bit of a travel sabbatical lately, I’ve found myself banging my head on the table as news reports have come in the last few weeks about some fellow travelers. Now I have a better appreciation for sidelined athletes frustratedly yelling at their teammates from the bench.
When traveling, one is automatically an ambassador of his or her home country. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want that responsibility, or if you don’t take the role seriously. Much like the raunchy pop stars of our day who decry the fact that young girls tend to follow their behavior, travelers are a reflection of their homeland. Like or not.
After the news of Representative Yoder going skinny dipping in Israel on an official trip hit the press, I became even more convinced that Washington lawmakers should be required to undergo “cultural etiquette” training to teach them how to behave when traveling. And when photos of Prince Harry cavorting nude in Las Vegas were circulated (what is it with naked guys lately?), it came to mind that perhaps Buckingham Palace and the United Nations ought to consider having seminars as well. Anything to prevent more unwarranted exposure for travelers (no pun intended).
Which brings us to travel etiquette. It’s not rocket science to conduct yourself in a foreign country with a bit of propriety. The general rule of thumb is as follows: If you would not engage in a particular behavior at your grandmother’s house, don’t do it overseas. Unfortunately, in the name of “vacation” or “letting loose,” travelers often commit stupid, drunken, or plain rude (or all of the above) actions. More often than not, it leads to personal embarrassment (Facebook and Twitter are a 24-hour ticker tape blasting out many a person’s indiscretions for the world to see), irreversible damage, and a perpetuated negative stereotype of one’s nationality.
Etiquette is unfortunately a dying art, but it can certainly be revived. If more travelers would take seriously the reality that their actions are watched closely by locals, it seems logical to suggest that less instances of drunken disorder, nudity (in any public place), or other diplomatic kerfuffles would take place. It just takes some thought and discipline.
Some thoughts on avoiding conduct unbecoming of a traveler:
–If you would not want your behavior broadcast through social media, don’t do it.
–If you’re not sure whether or not you’d want your behavior broadcast through social media, ask yourself if you would be okay engaging in that behavior at your grandmother’s house.
–Don’t assume, when you’re being loud/drunk/obnoxious, that locals are laughing with you. Au contraire.
–Read up on the local customs of your destination before you go, so you at least have prior warning and can try to avoid committing faux pas (i.e. crossing your legs and showing the bottom of your foot to individuals in the Middle East).
–We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Traveling is an opportunity to listen and learn from the place you’re visiting, not to barge in and announce your presence. Quiet, respectful graciousness never goes out of style.
–Lastly, in the name of diplomatic decency, keep your clothes on. Please.