When you are traveling, you will almost certainly meet people from all over the world. That is one of the greatest joys of traveling. You get to learn about new cultures, make friends from all over and have a great time.
Unfortunately, when different countries and cultures collide, disaster can strike. People tend to become a little sensitive when they feel that someone else might be attacking or making fun of their homeland. I’m not saying that a good natured debate is out of the question. I would merely suggest refraining mentioning any of the following until you know the person a bit better.
Did you ride a (insert animal) to school?
For Australians it’s a kangaroo. For Norwegians, a polar bear. For South Africans, a lion. Everyone thinks that it is extremely funny to ask this silly question. You can tell that the ones who do ask this question, don’t come from a country that has very distinctive fauna.
Once and for all, the answer is a firm, resounding no. I know that you think you are being clever, but in all honesty, these types of comments make you look very naive and ignorant. This is definitely not the impression that you would like to give when meeting someone for the first time.
Mention anything about a country’s past problems.
Every country has had a period or event in their past that they wish that they could erase from the history books. Atrocities happen and there is no point in denying it, but throwing it in someone’s face when you first meet them is not going to make you any new friends.
Don’t mention the Holacaust to Germans. It might be best to not bring up Apartheid to South Africans. Don’t remind the Belgians about what King Leopold did in the Congo. All of these things happened, but you’re trying to have fun remember.
Asking questions that display your ignorance
“OMG! You’re from Argentina? I’ve always wanted to go to Africa.”
“You’re from Australia? You speak English really well.”
“I don’t want to sound ignorant, but where is Souvlakia (the person was actually from Slovakia. Souvlakia is not a country). “
“You’re Vietnamese. Do white people smell like milk to you because you smell like soy sauce?” (This one bordered on being racist, but the person asking was generally curious and not trying to be mean at all. )
I kid you not, these are questions that I have heard over the years. They are just mind boggling. My advice is if you think that you might have a slightly less than well developed knowledge about a country, stick to generic questions. Less appalling inquiries might be,
What city do you come from? What is it like?
Tell me about your country.
What is life like there?
What is the weather like?
These are all very innocent questions that will get the other person talking. This will give you the opportunity to see whether or not you need to keep your mouth shut.
Mimicking someone else’s accent
I can’t stress this enough. You sound ridiculous and horribly condescending. Just don’t do it. Not even a little.
The people that you meet along the way will make or break your trip. Make sure that you get off to a good start and avoid any of the above.
Written by Joseph Ramsey for The Essential Destination
Photo courtesy of LeeGillion/Freedigitalphotos.net