Picture the stereotype of a bad tourist; loud, obnoxious, asking questions about things that seem obvious to everybody else, and probably dressed a little funny for the setting as well. They are not displaying the best social skills, the ability to pick up on what’s appropriate to their setting and situation and act accordingly. Take it down to another scale, have you ever gone to a restaurant or bar that catered to a group you didn’t feel you fit in to (think a punk club or a super-ritzy place)? That discomfort comes from not being sure exactly what to say and how to behave.
Learning how to navigate these fish out of water situations is a learned skill that gets better with experience. For some of us these experiences can trigger some anxieties and fears, so you may have to go a step to further to dig in to those issues.
So, how can you do this, now, before you even embark on your next out of town adventure?
- The next time you’re eating a meal out spend some time observing how people interact; eye contact, body language. Mentally note what patterns you see and how people react when patterns are deviated (as described in Vemkat’s article).
- Look at different groups of people where you work and consider the codes in dress and speech that differentiate them (men, women, executives, service staff…)
It’s these exact observation tools that help you adapt to a new culture or setting. When traveling abroad, if I ever begin to feel a bit overwhelmed or like I’m being very conspicuous my best bet is to stop for a minute and just watch everyone. Taking a moment to assess the situation always reveals a good next step to take.
Read this great article on Fluent in Three months for more perspective.
If you’re already living or traveling abroad can you identify an experience you had that should have been simple, but you seemed to have done everything wrong? Mine would be the time I tried to hug someone goodbye in Thailand (our lovely host on a village stay). Don’t do that. If I had just paid attention to the action of those around me I could have easily avoided that embarrassing situation. I wonder if that guy still looks back on that moment with horror! Haha.
This article was prompted by an excellent, in depth article on Vemkat’s Ribbonfarm blog that you should read here.