In a Foreign Country

It’s surprising how, I suppose thanks to air travel which allows us to arrive at airports that look pretty similar to home so soon after leaving, how many people fail to realise how different another country can be…..

Laws, judicial systems, attitudes and honesty of local police, currency, prices, religions, attitudes toward tourists, morality, dress codes… so many misconceptions which can lead to serious problems. People assuming things are the same as at home can come seriously unstuck.

So how can you avoid difficulties in places you don’t understand?

The first point is to make sure you do understand as much as you can before you go. But thereafter, acting as properly, respectfully and modestly as possible according to your own customs will get you through.

It’s never a good idea in any country to get drunk or take drugs, both of which are usually illegal – if not in themselves, then certainly with regard to the behaviour they induce. Dressing to the same standards of modesty as locals also helps – even though this might make you hot. But wear your own clothes; dressing up exactly like a local isn’t a good idea, as you can easily wear for example the colour turban of the opposing faction; and in any case, the locals could think you were making fun of them.

Religious beliefs must be respected, and it’s up to you to know what they are and what you ought to do. Do not enter religious debates or preach your own beliefs. In many countries this will get you in jail, often for long periods.

Do not flaunt your affluence, by dress, with money, expensive cameras, watches and jewellery. If you look like a milkable cow, you will be. Learn the value of local currency, and the ways locals shop for their needs. I always avoid shops catering for tourists; and indeed anyone touting for my trade. Be aware that people who attach themselves to you, to ‘help’ you find your way or anything else, expect to be paid, and will extract commissions from any trader you buy things from. Such people label you ‘cash-cow’, so avoid them.

Keep your money, passports and valuables out of sight and well-secured. Money belts are useful, and you should keep the money you expect to spend that day, separate from the remainder of your cash. Get the bank to break up large denomination notes into much smaller ones. Local shops will not have change, and may ‘adjust’ their prices if you present such a note, which indicates you to be a cash-cow. Carry an emergency cash supply, well hidden.

But if you adopt the right attitude when travelling, you will meet the real people of the countries you explore, who will be interested in you and can be astonishingly hospitable. If you are from an English-speaking country, many will be keen to practice their English – so you can make many genuine friends. If you can carry a small collection of inexpensive gift-souvenirs from your country as return for hospitality, this will be greatly appreciated, but most such hospitality is invariably freely given.

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