I really enjoy traveling, especially abroad, and consider myself an appreciative tourist.

What do I mean by that?

In addition to planning the basics — choosing a nice locale, selecting lodging with amenities I prefer, checking airfare costs and budgeting — I put quite a bit of time and attention on researching the people and the culture where I will travel.

A few questions that usually come up:

  • How I can get a sense of the culture and lifestyle during my visit?
  • How can I cope with language barriers? Where can I learn a few essential phrases?
  • What historical and demographic facts can I find?
  • What food do they eat?
  • Where can I find any hints on their business or social protocol?

How can I find out what they do and how they do things?

I follow this approach to intentionally enhance my travel experience, become aware of the social norms and increase the likelihood of connecting with people.

As I explore my new surroundings, I observe whatever I can to help me fit-in and adapt. If I have done my homework well, I usually have great experiences and people see that I appreciate what they have to offer.

For example, if I have the requisite clothing and attire I give a good first impression and feel comfortable going about anywhere. I have seriously blundered though on occasion. The problem was not with the selection of clothes, but with the amount of clothes I packed and had to carry around. If you have traveled quite a bit from the U.S. to other parts of the world, I am sure you may have experienced this. Taking too much baggage is a burden!

I traveled to Europe last year – part business, part vacation. I took two pieces of luggage and a backpack. One suitcase was so heavy, I could have told people I was in training for Olympic weightlifting – and people would have believed me with no question. I took up too much room in the taxi, on the trains and really had to put forth effort moving around when everyone else I traveled with were very mobile. I recall a friend who made an attempt at putting my heaviest suitcase in overhead bin on a train. Unfortunately, the lift only made it halfway and luckily, we were able to work together to safely redirect the suitcase to a safe landing place back on the ground without knocking a passenger unconscious. What a laugh we had after that!

On these tours, I do my homework in order to prepare myself to experience the culture. I am also learning that with less baggage, I have the ability to be ready for opportunities when they come up and can go where I need to go without a burden.

My premise is…I believe Culture is hidden.

What I see is only some of the behaviors.

With limited language, I gain a limited appreciation of the values and attitudes.

Understanding what they do and how they do things requires direct experience.

So, traveling abroad and working with a business to understand their culture and what they value is very similar.

The behaviors and norms, language, values and the way they do things are unique and have significant influence on the performance of that organization. Consequently, to serve a client I must become an appreciative tourist. I observe and attempt to learn the language to get a sense of the values and attitudes.

I survey.

 

Most importantly, I make myself available to directly experience what they do and how they do things.

Respecting and taking cues from the local culture is important.

Minimizing the baggage I bring – is critical.