Visiting a new country is always a fun way to learn about other cultures. No matter how much the voice in your head says to keep it cool and not be an obnoxious tourist, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to buy all the souvenirs and document every minute of it.
Traveling is a privilege, so the excitement manifested in taking those fierce OOTDs is nothing to be ashamed of. Think of all the rich and diverse culture! The mouthwatering food! The beauty of places you’ve only ever read about in books and seen in movies! Surely, all of these are things that deserve a permanent space on your social media feed.
What isn’t cool, you ask? Of course there are the little things, like saying a word you think means chicken but is actually something nasty, or doing what you think is pointing, but what the locals see as you flipping them off. These kinds of no-no’s often occur due to ignorance.
Then there are the giant, usually intentional forms of cultural insensitivity. Like maybe doing the Nazi salute at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Or posing wearing communist China Mao hats in Tiananmen Square — a site where thousands of civilians died at the hands of communist Chinese troops. It’s worse when you’re aware of the history behind the symbols, a fact that becomes apparent when you caption the photo with the phrase “inappropriate as always.”
Traveling comes with responsibility. You also have to keep in mind that you’re only visiting, and that being a visitor doesn’t entitle you to do things that could offend the locals. Remember that different cultures come with their own practices and customs, and lots of places are sites of rich history that isn’t always about bunnies and rainbows.
Knowingly making insensitive gestures or wearing inappropriate souvenir items for the ‘gram reduces these politically charged symbols to mere aesthetic elements. Very, very bad. It’s disappointing to see that there are people who still don’t understand this given how politically sensitive times are nowadays.
As visitors, you have the responsibility to be aware. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned one, it’s always important to remember the basics for traveling responsibly. Here are a few tips to be a responsible tourist.
We’re not talking about a whole day of memorizing dates and names — at least a light Google search about the background of the location will do, especially if you know that your destination has a rich history. Aside from serving as a starting point to map out the spots that you want to check out, this will also help you gain a better understanding of its significance.
Gestures and words that could be normal for us might just be offensive in other places. It would be best to do a bit of research on cultural taboos to avoid disrespecting the locals. Case in point: the foot is considered unclean in many Southeast Asian countries, so it is considered offensive to use your feet to move objects or point.
Lots of places have signs and guides for visitors that make what is or isn’t allowed very clear. This one might seem like a given, but some people surprisingly need reminding that those signs mean that you have to obey their rules. Think of that American student who was imprisoned (and later died) in North Korea after attempting to steal a poster.