I have discussed some ways to respect other cultures in many of my posts. It is definitely on the forefront of my mind when I discuss culture and traveling. I am usually willing toe bend my comfort in order to respect another culture, but by no means am I perfect at it. Through my travels I have learned a couple of things, and I wanted to share them so that maybe you could have easier travel internationally and be better equipped to respect other cultures.
6 Ways to Respect Another Culture
- Do not make assumptions based on your own culture.
Not making assumptions is much easier said than done! It is hard not to project our understanding of the world onto others. When you read about another culture or go to another country, remember that you have more baggage than just what you packed. You have cultural baggage, baggage that has impacted your view of the world since you were born. You have beliefs and values that affect what you think about everything. Simply being aware of that is a big step, but it takes practice for that baggage not to affect your view of others. Remember not to impose your cultural background on another culture.
- Do not make assumptions based on limited knowledge.
You have limited knowledge of the world. That statement is more humbling than I want it to be, but the truth of the matter is that we are limited to what we know and what we understand. Unfortunately, what we know and understand is not everything. I am so thankful I traveled to other cultures early. I learned quickly that I was not as knowledgeable as I thought. (Of course, we all go through the teenage years of thinking we know everything, but that is a different topic of discussion.) The reality is … you don’t know what you don’t know until you start to learn something new. The more you open your eyes to the vastness of knowledge able to be learned, the more you realize how little you know. This concept is certainly true for seeing another culture! Overall, do not walk into a culture thinking you know everything.
Along with this, be willing to ask questions. Since you have limited knowledge of the vastness of other cultures, ask about what you do not understand. For many, being able to explain their culture and why they do things is exciting. We all have pride for our backgrounds and homes in one way or another. Give them the platform to discuss their culture from their perspective. Giving them the time and attention is respectful and shows you are investing in them and trying to understand their ways.
- Do not assume that others know where you are coming from.
Expanding on the idea of assumptions: You cannot assume you know what other people are thinking or that they know what you are thinking. When you and someone you are talking to are coming from different backgrounds and different mindsets, miscommunication happens. It may not register to them that they offended you or hurt you. You may not be able to realize you offended or disrespected them. Do not make the mistake of thinking you know what they are thinking or why they are acting the way they are. The takeaway from this point is to double-check communication and be willing to let things slide when miscommunication does happen.
- Be willing to be very patient.
There is patience required when there is miscommunication, but when you are bringing two different cultures together, patience goes beyond verbal communication. You may have issues with body language or clothing. You may have issues with how to respect others in that culture or how to compliment. Being patient is key to being able to respect other cultures.
- Be willing to be the one respecting them.
This point is a hard one to sell to certain cultures. Some will automatically think that they are to be willing to be uncomfortable to make sure others are always happy. Others will have a much harder time with this. One thing I always tell my kids is that we can only be responsible for our actions and not the actions of others. Thus, if you are interacting with another culture, eventually one of you will have to give up your side of things; otherwise things will get difficult. Of course, I cannot give up my preferences every single time; that would be emotionally exhausting. However, I can be willing to give up my cultural preferences sometimes in order to maintain peace and respect toward someone else. That can look like giving them patience when they say something offensive to you or going out of your way to ask for an explanation for something they do that is confusing. Be the one willing to be respectful first, and be willing to humbly learn how to do that.
Show respect even to people who do not deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.
- Be willing to deal with the consequences of your actions.
When dealing with another culture, the hard time will come when you really hurt someone whether you mean to or not. The impact of your actions will be real. I have seen some lose friendships and others get yelled at. I always recommend doing research into how your actions could have consequences legally in other countries, because big legal consequences are a bit harder to deal with. However, small repercussions are going to be part of the learning process. Learn from whatever happened and move on. Coming from the other side, make sure you understand that people unfamiliar with your culture are going to make mistakes, even some you feel should have consequences. In those cases, I want to remind you again of my fourth point: Be patient. They are learning and probably just need to have explained to them what is going on or why what they did was wrong in your context.
Take the Time
This list for respecting other cultures is general and not comprehensive. However, it is a good starting point for entering a culture you are unfamiliar with. As you start asking questions and paying attention for understanding, you will begin to learn other ways to respect the specific culture you are in.
Respecting a different culture can be a challenge, but when you take the time and effort to learn what is going on, you can expand your view of the world. This new perspective is refreshing and brings such depth to life.