It is always important to be mindful of where you come from. That is the place which shapes your baseline for norms and how you see the world. As you move along in the world you’ll find new norms and if you stay somewhere long enough you might pick those up but the home base norms you grew up with will often be the ones you fall back on. Before you leave for a new culture you should take a critical inventory of the behaviors you consider normal and if you have time find out about the behaviors of the new place you’re going.
Some things to consider are the following questions.
- Do you come from a Individual or Collectivist society?
- Is there a strong importance on age? Do greetings or how you address some vary depending on age?
- Are women equals or is your culture filled with machismo?
- When greeting some one how touchy are you? Are you okay with person kissing your cheek on greeting or holding your hand?
- How much personnel space do you need to feel comfortable in a public area?
Some of these questions may seem funny but they are important ones to keep in mind. Consider in many areas of Asia age is important and how you address some one is based on your age in relation to theirs. A person from America, Canada, Asia, and North Europe will be more accustom to less touchy greetings which could result in discomfort with the cheek kissing greetings common in Latin America, Mediterranean, Lower Europe, and Middle East. In many Arab countries male to male cheek kissing is common place for people who are well acquainted. These are just a few examples of why it is best to prepare yourself for the norms of other cultures on top of knowing what your own norms are.
This norm inventory can be doubly important for women. As a woman traveling alone in the Dominican Republic I discovered first hand how not knowing the cultural norms can ruin paradise. I was unprepared for the sheer amount of macho behavior of the men there as well as the all the unwanted attention I started receiving when they learned I was not there with a husband. Women from countries with strong feminist cultures traveling to South America or Middle East may find men treat them differently than they are accustom to at home. Several of the women travelers I met in South America spoke of having trouble finding recreational drugs in certain countries. Many times the pushers would only sell to men. When possible traveling with a male friend in macho countries may save you headaches or unwanted attention..
SHORT: You can’t hold different cultures to your norms. This will only create a rift between you and the locals. You’ll have a much better time if you educate yourself in what is normal for the region you are in and accept them as they are.