Five local customs we just can’t follow

Travelers are a pretty tolerant bunch. Travel actually breeds tolerance because it gets rid of the ignorance on which tolerance is based. There are times, however, when we can’t bring ourselves to follow certain local customs. Here are five things a lot of people find a bit too hard to swallow, in one case literally.

Using your hand as toilet paper
Using the left hand to wipe your posterior is a time-honored tradition in many parts of the world. It’s probably more common than toilet paper, and is certainly more ecologically sensitive and effective. With a bit of finger work and some water, your bum will be sparkly clean. As a Pakistani friend explained to me, “Imagine you were covered in shit. Which would you rather have me do–wipe you down with paper towels or hose you off?” Impeccable logic. I’m still not going to do it.

Eating dogs, cats, and rats
Exotic dining is one of the great pleasures of adventure travel, but sometimes it can get too exotic. We’ve been trained since birth that certain animals are food, and certain animals are cute and cuddly and should be named Pookums. It’s hard to rewire the brain after such training. I’ve never been offered dog, although considering some of the places I’ve eaten I may have had it without knowing, but I’d have some trouble downing a Doberman or chomping on a Corgi. There are other animals we’ve been taught are unclean, like rats and insects, yet rats and insects are popular food in many cultures. I’ve tried pureed ants. Not bad, but I’ll skip the rat soup. User heyduke2009 over at Gadling’s flickr pool was brave enough to order it, but his photo doesn’t show any bite marks!

Disrespecting women
Call me politically correct, but I happen to think women are equal to men and should be treated accordingly. Some cultures think of women as property or sex objects. While parts of the Middle East can be bad with this, northern India consistently ranks at the top of the list of places where women travelers are harassed. One favorite trick is to “accidentally” brush against a woman in a crowd. Women can expect to be felt up on a regular basis, like once every few minutes in some places. This treatment isn’t just reserved for Western women either. I complained about how my wife was being treated to a female Indian friend and she just sighed and said, “Yeah, it started happening to me when I was about ten.” Strangely, when my wife went to southern India for three weeks, it didn’t happen once!
And yes, our culture has a way to go too, but at least in the West a woman can go shopping without getting groped.

Mentioning God every other sentence
This is an annoying custom we find right here in the good old U S of A. “I’d like to thank God for helping me make that touchdown.” “I missed my bus and it was in an accident. God saved me!” “This can won’t open. God damn it!”
OK, assuming there’s an all-knowing, all-powerful being who created the universe, I really doubt it (not “he”, there is no Celestial Penis) gives two hoots about some football game. Yet we constantly bring God into the most trivial aspects of our lives, and the not-so-trivial too. Good luck getting elected to public office if you don’t mention God in your campaign speeches. The only other place I’ve seen this custom get so rampant is the Middle East. There should be a survey of political speeches of Arab and American politicians to find out which ones invoke God more often. Much of the rest of the world, especially Europe, finds this habit of ours weird and a wee bit creepy.

Talking during movies
Spain is my adopted home. I love the Spanish–they’re attractive, funny, and know how to party, but they commit one cardinal sin–THEY TALK DURING MOVIES!!! Why would you plunk down good money to go to the cinema and then not pay attention to the film!? A friend of mine who likes opera says they do it there too, so this isn’t a class thing. Once some people sitting near her got into such a loud argument that she couldn’t hear the singer, yet nobody told them to shut up. It’s considered completely normal. This noise pollution is made worse by the fact that when Spaniards are in a group they all yammer away at the same time, only half listening to everyone else.

Are there any local customs you just can’t follow? Gripe about them in the comments section!

Hair Around the World

Let’s take a moment to touch on personal spaces. I’m not the type of person to throw a punch or lunge out at another individual if they get within a certain range of my personal bubble, but it shocks me how comfortable people are at poking, prodding and sticking their hands where they just don’t belong. Sometimes people ask permission, but for the most part others just plop their hands down where they have no business being. Don’t tell me its never happened to you! Okay, let me just get to the point here – I have an afro and unless you’re my hairdresser you shouldn’t be patting my hair. Yes, it’s soft and fluffy looking and all those other things, but please don’t paw at my head! Sure -I’m down for letting a bright-eyed young Romanian child who has probably seen few African-Americans or Africans in their lifetime experiment with touching my funny looking hair, but some of you Americans know better!

Breathe, sigh, relax. Now that I’m done ranting I saw this cool little children’s book called Hair Around the World and in my own personal opinion I think a book like this should be read by adults as well. These are cultural jewels and reads at their finest. The book highlights children’s hairstyles from all over the world including places like Ghana and India. It also helps in letting children see how others live their lives in different parts of the globe. I say pick up the book, understand what’s going on in the world of hair and then think about some of the hairstyles seen here in the states. Oh, and don’t feel as if someone is going to curse you for wanting to understand the differences in texture and style, but just remember the bubble and to ask before touching.

The book can be purchased at Oxfam Publishing.