Interactions for Americans

I was just reading an old travel journal and came across some important realizations to keep in mind while traveling.

One of my favorite parts of traveling are the interesting characters you meet while on the road.  Here are a few things I like to keep in mind during small interactions:

  • If someone is talking to you, stop what you’re doing. It sounds easy, but I find myself and many other Americans are accustomed to fidgeting or multitasking during conversations.  Give your acquaintance the attention that they deserve.
  • Eye contact is key. On a similar note, I’ve found that other cultures often attach a higher value to eye contact.  It may seem uncomfortable at first but as you become more accustomed it will give you a newfound confidence.
Photo credit Flickr user Alaskan Dude

Photo credit Flickr user Alaskan Dude

  • Eat well with others.  Sit down and take the time to enjoy your food, your company and your surroundings.  Eating while walking is a definite no-no.  Multitasking is not on the international skills list.
  • Say hi first. Whether you’re talking to a waiter or a vendor in a street stall, treat each one first as a person and then as a worker.  This is especially true when interacting with people who have a sense of ownership in their work, i.e. an artist selling a painting.
  • Give it away. The ideas of hoarding and “getting your money’s worth” don’t exist in many cultures.  If you’re cooking or eating and someone arrives, offer a bite.  Even if you think you don’t have the resources to share, act as if you did.  Think something is owed to you? Try giving it away.

This is just the tip of the iceberg but I find it helpful to repeatedly remind myself of these points.   With awareness, with practice, it becomes natural.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Hehe those sure are good advices for travelers 🙂


  2. Splendid advice. Of course, I’d like to see a little of that brought home to the US. It’s amazing that any communication ever takes place (and I wonder sometimes if it does) given how distracted most people are by things other than connecting with the human in front of them. I go out of my way, even here, to connect. And while it’s vital overseas, it works pretty well here, too.

    Related to “give it away,” I’d add that you don’t really have to bargain to the very bottom dollar. I can remember in Ulaanbaatar, my guide telling me I could get a painting I liked for $7. I replied, “No, I can’t.” I’d just been talking to the artist, he was 40, had a family, had been to art school, and here was on a street corner in UB, trying to make a living. I gave him $12. Still a bargain, but enough more than lowest possible price to make his day. And be prepared to buy from people. One of the moments that returns to me often, and drives me to be more generous in poorer countries, was on the beach in Cochin, Kerala, in southern India. A man was trying to sell me little embroidered purses. I was not interested. But he said, with a deeply emotional voice, “Please. I have a family. We’re hungry.” So I bought two purses for $10. He vanished into the nearby market, and returned shortly with a large fish in each hand. He held them up triumphantly, with a big grin on his face, and said, “Tonight, we eat.”

    I suspect I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s just one of those things I keep thinking about when I’m traveling. I don’t make a lot of money, but I make a lot more than they do, so I spend what I can — little amounts here and there. It can make a bid difference.

    Happy travels.


    • Posted by snordq on 5 November, 2009 at 4:03 pm

      Splendid advice from you as well!
      I couldn´t agree more. I love shopping in little markets. Whether it´s for food or goods, it´s worth it to go to the actual source. It may cost a little more than the more mass-produced version, but it comes with the love and the pride that that person put into the item.


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