How to deal with difference around the world

by Lexa Pennington /
Lexa Pennington's picture
Oct 01, 2013 / 0 comments

If you have travelled abroad, you may have experienced what you consider to be culture shock. The English breakfast is not up to standard and the waiters are painfully slow at bringing the next round of drinks. This can be classed as culture shock, but generally speaking, the further you travel from home the more extreme these changes in the ways things are done become. Travel insurers Columbus Direct have an advertising campaign “if you’re happy enough to go there, we’re happy enough to insure you” which, when it comes to culture shock, should tell us that it’s something to enjoy and experience in all its brilliance! With that in mind we look a little deeper at how to deal with (and understand) difference around the world...


It is a fact that culture shock should not be brushed off as trivial; it is real and can make or break your trip. The first thing you should understand is that you are the problem. The millions swarming around you in Mumbai are not having any issues - it’s just another day to them. The machine gun toting ‘security’ outside every shop in Manila is just getting on with his job - it is you that is the alien, it is you that has to adapt to what is around you.


There are a million strange things that go on around the world that seem to make no sense to us, possibly because they make no sense, but far more likely because you just don’t understand what is happening...or the reasons why.


Perhaps the biggest single shock of all is the fact that the vast majority of the world’s population do not live in what we would consider a house. In most countries around the world, people live anywhere - including sewers, as famously many children do in Bogota, Columbia do. Many others live on the streets, untold millions live in tin shacks, and many more live 3 big families to one tiny apartment.


In many places, not drinking the water unless it comes out of a bottle is an essential. In some countries, you really do need to open the bottle yourself to be sure. In Nicaragua you can buy a nice cold bottle of coke or other soda, but that will be transferred into a plastic bag and a straw will be provided, as you cannot take the bottle with you.


In many countries, you grow to learn that the basics of life are not endless. In many parts of the Philippines, for example, brownouts where the power is switched off for 2 or 4 hours a day, every day, are the norm, and you may also be the victim of blackouts. In other countries, it is clean water that is in short supply; this should serve as a warning to travelers that this may be the way things may become in our countries if we do not conserve resources.


In some countries, life can be very cheap. Being the wise westerner settling disputes between ‘natives’ or being the tough guy because everyone around you looks so small and skinny has resulted in many a ruined trip for travellers, even those with seemingly good intentions.


In many countries, fireworks are used to mark every event and non-event imaginable,  these ‘fireworks’ are often little more than explosives - they are designed to give a huge bang, far bigger and louder than anything you may have experienced at home. Some of these events can be very dangerous indeed, so you should keep that in mind when considering attending a firework related event.


Dealing with the police can work for or against you depending on the country and very much on your attitude. Police just about everywhere; expect and demand respect. If you think you are above the law because you are a westerner, you may find yourself in some trouble. The same goes for assuming that all police in these places simply want $10 to make everything go away.  Not all police are crooked just because the pay and conditions are sub-standard.


The bottom line is that you are the outsider, you have to adapt. Six million Nicaraguans or a billion Indians are not going to change their ways or alter their culture because it does not suit your needs.  It is essential that you learn patience and understanding wherever you go; you need to be able to slow down or speed to the pace of life around you.


Accept the way things are and adjust your ways accordingly; trying to push back the tide of an entire culture is never going to happen. So to ensure that your travels are enjoyable, you need to adapt and accept what is going on around you, rather than trying fruitlessly to butt your head against it. Go with the flow!


Culture shock - go with the flow!