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Cultural Travel Comparisons: Judge Me Not

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When visiting countries outside our native one, differences become apparent in the way people live and interact, which can affect even the smallest element of our day to day routine.

There are many similarities too and it’s really the discovery of HOW others live (not necessarily the differences or similarities) that makes travel deeply interesting; if the world’s population was, instead, homogenous, perhaps tourism wouldn’t be such a huge draw.  And let’s not forget the delicious local cuisine on the table of discovery.

We argue that culture is what puts the unique spin on the world’s destinations.  Understanding this should make intercultural communication and immersion easier right?  Not always.

With the many differences and similarities between cultures it may be difficult to avoid what could be called the “comparison complex”.  Looking through the lens at each element you see and comparing to how you’re used to doing things or the way other cultures do things and then going so far as to make a judgement about that element.  Is it better, worse, more or less effective or efficient, harder, easier, etc.  This is a way of experiencing the world that could lead to a lack of understanding of the culture and more of an attitude towards it, which will likely lead to less enjoyment of it.

thailand taxi stand

At first, constantly being asked if I wanted a taxi was a bit of a nuisance, but you get used to the forward selling and negotiating in Thailand – it could even become a fun challenge!

Examples of this comparison complex are everywhere and to show how it plays out we’ll give you an example from Thailand.  First, to understand, the shopping malls in Thailand have food courts, some of which are massive in size.  In Bangkok, the famous shopping mall, MBK, has a large food court and it uses a system of payment by tokens, which is common in Thai food courts.  The tokens are purchased at a central desk and then you pay at whatever stall or restaurant you like within the food court.  Any unused tokens can be instantly refunded at the refund desk.

I can think of some benefits to this centralized money system, and some drawbacks, however we didn’t think much of it, bought our tokens and ate our lunch.  Another foreigner, however, proceeded to loudly tell the tokens clerk about how complicated the system was, complaining while purchasing his tokens.  He was obviously comparing to the way he is used to things and making a judgement about the contrasts – which he also went as far as conveying to the natives in the country of which he was merely a visitor in.  Benefit of the doubt – maybe he was just having a bad day?

Certainly, contrasts and systematic differences may get us down at times while traveling.  Naturally, as creatures of habit, we’re used to things being a certain way and have particular expectations.  Even though we might expect to encounter diversity in our travels it can surprise us and shock us, as well as amaze us.  Perhaps the key is to stay humble and open-minded as much as possible, and a sense of humor can’t hurt!

How do you enjoy the quirks of culture around the world? Comments with interesting experiences and any tips for cultural travelers are invited below. Read more on adventure travel experiences.

About DNTM Editor

Digital Nomad aims to bring you quality adventure travel information. All photos and videos taken by us are under the CreativeCommons ShareAlike licence, unless otherwise noted. Please provide a link to the page where the content is posted to attribute credit. If we find a great product to recommend, which happens to have an affiliate program we won't hesitate to use them because, well, why not?! :) We only recommend products we would use ourselves.

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