Although I had traveled to New York without my parents when I was only 18, living in Asia was a massive culture shock and one that I welcomed with open arms. I was excited to lose myself for a while (or find myself?), let go of my normal responsibilities and splurge the money I had saved on buckets of cocktails, remote island boat trips and full-moon parties. However, with my excitement of letting loose, I had totally forgot to research what is was actually like to live in Asia!
Looking back I feel kind of disappointed in myself for not respecting other cultures, I had noted down everything from visas to bus times and hostel prices, but forgot the day-to-day behaviours of others. I just assumed they would be like me.
I’ve outlined a few times that I was ignorant, although not intentionally, towards other ways of life and hopefully you can take something from it that you never knew before. Maybe even stop yourself from making the same mistakes.
Thailand: Women must cover their shoulders and knees when in a sacred place
Thailand was one of the first places that we visited during our trip, and it made me quickly realise that I was out of my comfort zone. The first day we arrived we booked a day trip to the Wat Trimitr, Wat Po and Grand Palace but not before stopping off at the floating market for a little shopping trip. Being mid-July, the weather was hot and sticky with high humidy, naturally I stuck on some short shorts and a vest top (still sweating profusely!). Our tour guide was quick to ask me if I had spare clothes to cover up; luckily I had a cardigan to keep me warm in the -5 air conditioned bus, but had to buy long trousers from the floating market to complete my wacky ensemble.
Singapore: No drinking water on public transport
We traveled around Singapore in March, and again it was because of the weather that caught me out with this one. Every day we would go to the local shop outside our hostel to buy a large cold bottle of water to accompany us on our outings. And again, just forgetting local rules, I was caught out a few times with sneaking a sip on the monorail. My friends would remind me though and I was put it away, luckily I wasn’t fined. Read about the crazy Singapore laws that could land out in trouble: here.
New York: Minimal chatting on the subway
Going to New York at age 18 wasn’t anything I had planned, it was a spur of the moment thing (I was on a temporary contract at my local supermarket for goodness sake!). In the lead up to the trip, the only thing that I was worried about was getting lost (hello Macaulay Culkin!) and offending service staff by not tipping enough. Neither of these things were an issue, it was our over-hyper-activeness on the subway home from a Mets game that got us dirty looks. It was only afterwards that a local told us it was kind of an unwritten rule to not be loud on the subway – I guess I was just thinking it would be as hectic as a good ol’ Glasgow subcrawl!
Well that’s three main times I felt ashamed of my ignorance while abroad. Reading up on other cultures, traditions and ways of life is certainly something that I prioritise after booking a trip now; I’ve learned from my mistakes. I would hate to think my ignorance in a foreign country would change the locals’ views on my own country’s behaviour and attitudes.
Have you ever found yourself being ignorant of a culture or foreign rules?