For almost a year now we have all been stuck in our homes and unable to travel. What better use of our time than to educate ourselves on cultural differences around the world? Every country and every culture is different. Before traveling anywhere I highly suggest you learn about the destination so you can be fully prepared. This will also help you avoid offending locals or getting in awkward situations.
Below you’ll find advice on cultural differences from travel bloggers who have been to these destinations and know first hand what it’s like to explore these countries.
In November of 2019 I visited Chiang Mai Thailand. It was such an incredible experience for me. I was so nervous before my trip because I had never been anywhere in Asia. I did a little bit of research prior to my trip just to ensure that I wasn’t going in completely blind. Luckily I was also visiting a friend that was backpacking across Asia and she had already been in Thailand for 10 days and was able to give me some tips before my trip.
The first thing to be aware of is dressing properly. I honestly wouldn’t have thought about this prior to my trip if my friend hadn’t warned me. In my mind I was planning on bringing lots of clothes to keep me cool in the heat, because in November it was 90+ degrees and humid! However, if you plan to visit any of the temples, which you will want to, then you need to cover up! Basically I reverted back to my middle school days. You can’t show your shoulders or knees. I brought a short sleeve jumpsuit and it was perfect. I wasn’t too hot in it but it covered up everything.
Another cultural difference that’s very common throughout Asia is to not leave leftover food. We went to an amazing elephant sanctuary that was run by a local family and after we had played and bathed the elephants they served us a homemade meal. We were starving after hiking and playing all day so it wasn’t hard to finish our food, plus it was delicious! One thing that is very different about eating in Thailand rather than somewhere like the US, is it’s meant to be enjoyed. So don’t devour your food, take your time, socialize, and slowly eat your meal.
-Yours Truly, The Hoppy Flight Attendant
Cuba is known for its vintage American cars, but what is it like getting around there as a visitor? Understanding the complex and varied system of transportation in Cuba is just one of the many cultural differences for visitors to be aware of before visiting this Caribbean bucket list destination.
Havana, Cuba uses a mix of public buses, coach-style buses, collective taxis, and private taxis. Running on routes between neighborhoods, many of the old American cars you see on the street here serve as collective taxis called “máquinas.” These collective taxis are a great way to split the cost of private transport but on a route to get you close to where you want to go, and much faster than waiting for the bus.
Waving down a “máquina” with an open seat along its route is all you need to do, and fares generally cost the equivalent of just $1 USD. Make sure to ask the driver or your fellow passengers to let you know when you’re near your destination to get out in the easiest spot. It might take some getting used to, but this method of transport is one of the best ways to get around the city.
The biggest piece of advice for navigating this confusing system is to plan ahead and ask a local! Asking your casa particular apartment rental host or hotel staff for the best way to get to where you want to go will help you determine how to best get from one place to another and navigate the shifting transport system that can be different from day to day.
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First thing our tour guide did when we arrived in Ecuador was lay down some ground rules. The most important one was to always make eye contact… and don’t be afraid to smile. He said laughing. He went on to explain that Ecuador is a very safe and friendly country. There is no need to avoid eye contact like Americans are so used to, and usually get a reputation of being rude because of. It’s one of the smallest things but I’m so happy he explained it. The people of Ecuador are friendly and enjoy small talk and just a friendly smile. Don’t get me wrong, there was the occasional person that smiled a little too friendly that made it awkward. But overall being more welcoming and making eye contact made navigating the city much easier when I needed to ask for direction or where the local pharmacy was.
Bali is home to many different traditions and customs. First-time visitors to the island might be surprised how different it is from the rest of Indonesia. While Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country Bali is actually home to a unique form of Hinduism that can’t be found like this anywhere else in the world. This religion comes with a set of rituals and traditions that you won’t find in Indian Hinduism or other countries around Asia.
One example is the flower offerings you will see everywhere around Bali, especially in Ubud called Canang Sari. Every home and every business in Bali makes these by hand every morning. Then they place them in dedicated little shrines, on the sidewalk or even the middle of the street. Sometimes streets are covered in them and unsuspecting tourists frequently step on them not knowing what they signify. Bali’s religion is very nature-based and these offerings are meant to thank the Gods and keep away evil spirits. They mostly consist of differently-coloured flowers but also coins or sometimes even cigarettes. Watch out for the Canang Sari when you visit Bali and appreciate these little gestures of thanks.
Then there is the Balinese silent day held every year in March. Everything will be shut on this day and no one is allowed out on the streets. In some cases, the electricity and internet are even switched off which is very important to know if you’re arriving at this time. Make sure to stock up on food and enjoy a relaxed day by the pool.
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Hi, I’m Chay from The On The Goers. These are a few things you should keep in mind when you go to Morocco. Morocco is often considered as one of the most laid-back MENA countries. However, Moroccans are still quite conservative in some aspects. What this means for you as a tourist is that you’re going to have to adjust to their culture. For instance, Moroccans dress in a rather modest way. Men wear djellabahs which are long robes that go up to their ankles with pointy hoods. Women also wear long robes or at least keep their legs covered up. So maybe try to blend in and keep your tank tops and booty shorts for another occasion. Doing this will spare you some judgy looks and lingering stares.
Another way their culture may influence your trip to Morocco is if you are going there with your significant other. You should know that public displays of affection are highly frowned upon. Something that may seem innocent in your country, such as holding hands or giving a hug will cause eyebrows to raise. The locals will glare at you. In some cases they will even come over to tell you to stop the disturbing behavior.
The largest city and capital of Colombia is Bogotá. Traffic is so intense that there is “pico y placa.” This allows cars ending in certain numbers to drive on certain days. Because of this, and many other reasons, a lot of people use motorcycles and bicycles as a form of transport. There are 362 kilometers of bicycle lanes however people still ride on the roads. This is important to know if you are driving, walking, crossing the street, or anything outdoors. Our eyes are not accustomed to looking out for motorcycles or bicycles on the road depending on where you’ve been. For example as someone walking, it’s crucial to check for bikes between lanes before walking through traffic.
Having so many bikes around is also a security risk. Locals warn foreigners about being on your cell phone in the car with the window down. Also standing or walking around with your phone exposed. Someone on a bike can easily pass and snatch your phone. However, a benefit of the bicycle culture is that every Sunday between 7am and 2pm is “Ciclovía”. This is a recreational activity where roads are closed for bike riding and family activities. The government has several stations where there are exercise activities in the closed roadways. And of course, many streets vendors where you can buy fruit with cream, fresh orange juice, salpicon (juice with fruits), and a wide variety of items. Remember these tips whenever next you’re in Bogotá.
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Japan is an incredible country on the bucket lists of many tourists. Before visiting Japan, it is important to learn a bit about the cultural differences and local customs that might be different from your home country.
When visiting Japan, you can almost guarantee that you’ll be taking public transportation. Taxis and Ubers are pretty expensive in Japan. The Japanese train system is one of the most efficient in the world (plus, they’re affordable!). When taking trains, it is important to follow the local train etiquette. When boarding a train, allow everyone departing the train to exit before boarding. While on board, you’ll notice that most locals remain quiet and respectful to their fellow riders. To fit in with the locals (and avoid getting dirty looks), speak quietly and avoid eating, drinking, or talking on the phone.
Another major difference between Japan and other countries (especially the United States) is the attitudes around tipping. In Japan, it is not customary to tip at restaurants, bars, taxis, or most other places where you would typically give a tip; in fact, doing so can seem rude. One exception to this is if you take a tour with a guide.
These are just two of the many cultural differences in Japan that you should know about before your trip. Planning ahead and doing a bit of research on Japanese customs will help prepare for your trip while avoiding any potentially embarrassing faux pas.
Singapore is a fascinating country to visit. While this city-state only became an independent nation less than 60 years ago, it is vastly diverse. It is not only influenced by the West, but it is made up of three main ethnic groups, those being Chinese, Malay and Indian.
As such, do not underestimate the number of things to do in this tiny island nation! While it is true that a stopover in Singapore is often enough time to see a few of its top sights and attractions, you should consider spending at least three to four days in Singapore to make the most of it!
Before visiting, some things to keep in mind are that Singapore has some bizarre laws, the most notorious of which is no chewing gum. You will not find any stores selling gum anywhere! It is also illegal to spit in Singapore, including some more common ones, like not littering.
Most importantly, though, do not even think about bringing in even a tiny amount of any drug, marijuana included, as you could face the death penalty. They have a very strict stance on this, and it is a very serious offence!
On a less serious note, do make an effort to eat out as much as you can at the local ‘hawker centres’. These are outdoor food markets filled with small individual stalls serving up a variety of super affordable, authentic and tasty Asian dishes under one roof. You will find a couple of Michelin-starred hawker stalls, too!
The very thought of travelling to India can actually be quite overwhelming to a lot of travellers. Because there’s not just one or two, but too many cultural shocks that await them! While it can all be too much to digest and comprehend, visiting India in itself is an experience, a journey that tests your resilience, a sojourn that pushes you out of your comfort zone and a total eye opener that transforms you into a different person (positively!!).
The chaotic traffic, crowd, non stop buzz of horns, beggars and stray animals on the street, the smell of different kinds of food, dirt and garbage everywhere, people staring at you (and perhaps pointing at you!) – all of it can be intimidating. But beyond these uncomfortable moments, you will experience warm smiles and friendly faces, incredible cultural immersion, delectable food, and a wealth of memories.
If you are looking for real piece of advice, or rather heads up, here’s top 5 things that you need to know before travelling to India.
- Take off your shoes when entering a holy shrine or someone’s home.
- Always – Always, use your right hand. Whether you are eating, or giving money.
- Greet elders with respect – Touching the feet, or saying namaste
- A big NO to public display of affection.
- Dress modestly.
Things may not go as you planned. You will experience delays like never before. The biggest cultural acceptance is the ability to go with the flow. Embrace the chaos, immerse into the culture and traditions, befriend the people, and don’t be scared to try the food!
Although Brazilian culture is pretty similar to the American on many fronts, there are quite some cultural differences one should know before visiting the country.
For instance, don’t weird out when you meet someone, and this person greets you with a cheek kiss right away—if you’re a woman, of course. We Brazilians are quite touchy-feely, and it is pretty normal to cheek kiss everyone and casually touch the other person’s arm while engaging in a conversation.
Beyond that, being part of a community is very important in Brazil, hence why most people have a high level of social involvement. And since most Brazilians are quite open and light-hearted, showing up at someone’s place unannounced or texting when you’re just 5 min away is definitely not unusual.
Still, one of the cultural differences that most tourists don’t understand is the lack of punctuality in the country. If you receive an invitation to a party that begins at 9 pm, feel free to arrive around 10-10.30 pm. You will notice the first guests will be coming by that time, or later!
Finally, the weirdest cultural difference is how we handle toilet paper. The local sewage structure can’t handle it, which is why nobody ever throws it into the toilet. Every house, café, and hotel has a trash bin for used toilet paper. The more you know…
When traveling in Pakistan, one of the most noticeable and important cultural differences to be aware of is modest dress. While it’s completely normal and acceptable to wear short shorts, crop tops, tank tops, and bikinis in the US and other Western countries, such clothing items are strictly forbidden in Pakistan.
While there are not any official laws on the matter, Pakistan is a conservative Muslim country. As such, wearing any of the above would be incredibly disrespectful and would also bring about very bad attention.
Short sleeves are also uncommon in the country. Although in major cities like Lahore some men and women do wear them with jeans. Personally, I had absolutely no problem with this whatsoever as I absolutely love the Pakistani clothing item of choice: the shalwar khameez. The shalwar khameez consists of comfy, flowy pants and a long tunic that comes down to the knees or lower. The entire outfit is extremely soft and perfect for keeping cool while exploring in boiling temperatures.
Wearing a shalwar khameez also helps you blend in, and shows locals that you respect and appreciate their culture. While women are not required to cover their heads in Pakistan (aside from when inside of a mosque), there are certain regions where I felt more comfortable doing so, such as when I was traveling in the conservative city of Peshawar. I absolutely loved traveling in a country that doesn’t utilize Western clothing, especially since such places are rare nowadays. Entering Pakistan knowing this important cultural difference will ensure that you make the most out of your trip, and will help you keep cool too!
What a wealth of information from all these travel bloggers! I hope you’re able to use this article to start planning your future adventures. There are so many customs, habits, quirks and cultural differences around the world, this is just the beginning! It is so important to take the time to appreciate and understand other cultures, especially when you’re visiting their country. For your next vacation, take the time to do some light research and plan to really immerse yourselves in their community. I also encourage you to take a step outside your comfort zone and not just stick to the touristy spots.
-The Hoppy Flight Attendant
*Huge thanks to all these bloggers for making this post really come together!
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