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How to be Annoying Abroad

Travelling can be one of the most rewarding experiences one can have, but it can also be annoying for some of the locals in the country you're visiting. Especially if you ever catch yourself doing the following:

1- Taking pictures of locals without their consent

Let's face it: Those of us who've been abroad, we've all done this. It doesn't mean it's right though. Imagine a tourist visiting your town. You don't know this guy. All of the sudden, he takes his camera out and starts taking pictures of YOU and other random people. Would you be OK with that? I didn't think so. It's perfectly fine to want to illustrate the uniqueness of different cultures abroad by photographing its people. But at least have the decency to ask the person if they are OK with it first. 

 

2- Taking pictures of random kids without their parents' consent

Here's another scenario. Your kids (or kids in your family if you don't have kids) are playing outside. You notice a stranger taking pictures of them. Do you carry on with your day dismissing this tableau as "normal"? OR do you freak out on this stranger photographing the kids? Sometimes when we travel abroad we like to take pictures to show how differently kids grow up in other countries. How these kids can have a great time without being mesmerized and burdened by a video game or electronic device. How much simpler life can be. Just be aware that you might upset the children and their parents. And it can turn ugly. 

If you are volunteering abroad, and working with children, make sure there is a media release form or any similar consent coming from their parents before snapping those pictures!

 

3- Expecting everyone to speak English

BREAKING NEWS: This just in... English is not the most common language in the world! Did this surprise you? Probably not. In fact, Mandarin claims that bragging right with more than 955 million speakers! Spanish comes in second with 405 million speakers. English comes in third. After English there's Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian... You get the point. If someone you meet overseas doesn't speak English don't be upset. Instead take this opportunity to learn some words in another language. 

 

4- Being loud

For some reason tourists get a bad rap for this. Sure there are instances where visitors are loud and obnoxious, but sometimes they aren't even louder than the locals. And they still get a bad rap for this. C'est la vie.

So how loud can your voice be without breaching the limits of what's socially acceptable? What's the right decibel for your tone of voice? Honestly, no one knows. When it comes down to it just use your common sense. Here's a good rule of thumb: if you see someone looking at you sideways every time you speak, just tone it down a notch.

 

5- Complaining too much

One thing to keep in mind is that there is absolutely not a perfect place that exists in this world. Every single country has its flaws. If you ever find a place where everything is unicorns and rainbows, you have somehow stumbled into an invisible vortex that transported you to a parallel universe. Travelling to another country is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone, and having an open mind to experience life in a different way. Things may get done a little slower than you're used to (especially anywhere in the Caribbean with what's known as "island time"). Driving might be a frightening experience, mostly in areas where local drivers seem to have little regard for traffic laws. The food might not be to your liking. Etc, etc. etc. Many things can go wrong. But at the end of the day, it's all about being introspective and learning from new life experiences.

 

6- Telling everyone how better your country is

Sure, you might think very highly of your country. You might even think it is the best country in the world. And you have every right to your opinion! However, when you go around telling people how things are much better where you're from, you might rub some people the wrong way. You may not even be trying to be condescending, but trust me, your point will come across that way. Let me put it this way:

Imagine that someone is visiting your house for the first time. It is by no means a palace but it is where you live and you are happy with it. Your visitor starts pointing out flaws in your home. How dirty it is. How tacky your furniture is. And what a hideous color on the walls. Then your visitor starts describing their own house and how much better it is. So much bigger. "And we have stainless steel top-of-the-line appliances". Would you be tempted to punch that person in the face? I know I would.

 

7- The "savior cOMPLEX"

Someone with the "Savior Complex" believes they have been chosen by a divine force to save a community. They tend to be very self-centered and self-righteous. They also love the attention and crave the positive feedback they get when they post on social media very detailed accounts of how great they are at helping people abroad. 

If you see someone on Facebook posting something like this: 

"I am so blessed. Yesterday I spent the whole day teaching children about the environment. Today I am working with moms teaching them how to foster learning at home. I am sooo grateful I was put on this planet with a purpose to make a difference. Everyone in developed countries is so worried about material things when all they should do is help more people in need. #blessed #PayItForward #helpthoseinneed #yolo"

Then you might have someone with the Savior Complex. 

To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with helping people abroad, or bringing awareness to different issues on social media. But when you help someone, it's not about you. You can't make the experience about how many "likes" or comments you'll get. 

And if you believe that you were chosen by a bigger power to assist a community, (who knows?) you might be right. But you have to stay humble and open to learning from the experience. The people you will be interacting with can definitely tell if you're being too full of yourself. And that can be a big turn-off and also very annoying. 

 

8- Trying to argue with the locals about their country's politics

Oh politics. People can be very passionate about them. Think of the last time you've had a civil and calm conversation about politics with someone you didn't agree with. If you can think of an instance where you've had a political conversation without any confrontation, then congratulations on achieving something most people can't. But for the rest of us, having a conversation about politics (or religion) will mostly result in hard feelings. 

When you're traveling abroad, be very careful about bringing up politics. Of course it is OK to ask the locals how they feel about their current political atmosphere. But ask to learn and not to argue about it. Unless you both agree, try to remain diplomatic on the subject. Just listen. 


9- Not showing interest in pronouncing people's names right

Butchering someone's name can be an insult to some. But if you make an honest effort to pronounce it right, people will appreciate that. Whatever you do, don't give someone a nickname, or a name in English. Don't go: "Hi um..., you know what? I'm just gonna call you Bob."

 

10- "Flashing" Money or Expensive Stuff

Doing this anywhere you go can be like holding a big bright neon-colored sign with bold red letters that says: "I have expensive stuff. Rob me!". It can also make the families you're volunteering for uncomfortable. You wouldn't want to do a home visit or volunteer in a community center with a Rolex and $200 shoes. It is not recommended to bring any valuables to a volunteer abroad trip, but if you must bring something (like your laptop or your camera) just be careful. 


11- Not knowing how to say "please" and "thank you" in the country's main language

Good manners are important in any culture and in any language. Before your trip learn these two very important words. People will appreciate you for that.