tourism 6 - Culture watch
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Date: 12 October, 2002
Tamil Nadu, Southern India - red for posterity & green for fertility. Photo:
destination has its own cultural identity, so it's always worth swotting up pre-departure.'
the final episode of her six-part surefish.co.uk series on eco-tourism, Andre
Shine encourages responsible travellers to do their cultural homework, so as not
to cause offence.
No longer do you need to fly to Bangkok to seek out an authentic Thai batik, head
for Istanbul to buy a genuine Turkish rug or make your way to Accra to discover
the real McCoy in African woodcarving. Global influences are rapidly converging
on our domestic markets.
I've wandered into a café in Meknes, Morocco, and been entertained by American
artist Prince, on video. For better, or worse, Western paraphernalia has crossed
many borders - most notably Nike, McDonalds and Coke.
where does cultural convergence cross the line of disrespect?
Women's status differs considerably between western and eastern cultures. Women
are often conspicuous by their absence in many parts of the Middle East - therefore
outsiders tend to attract disproportionate levels of attention. This can, on occasions,
western-minded individuals may perceive dress codes to be prudish - and a hindrance
to the tanning process - they are part of the local culture. And breaching such
codes can be offensive - particularly where religious customs are concerned.
two cultures meet
Each destination has its own cultural identity, so it's always worth swotting
up pre-departure. The following are just a few cultural norms that you should
be comply with - 'when in Rome'.
- Bear in mind
women may be prohibited from entering a mosque. Alternatively men and women may
be permitted to enter - but through different doorways. Women may also need to
cover their heads. See religious sites below.
- Although some
Muslim nations widely accept alcohol, Islam prohibits it. Where consumption is
illegal penalties can be harsh. Check local protocols before you arrive. Alcohol
permits may also be an option.
sites & customs -
Avoid excessive displays of flesh. Shoulders and knees should always be concealed
when visiting religious sites - shorts and sleeveless tops are taboo. Public demonstrations
of affection may also be considered offensive.
your shoes at the entrance of religious sites and private homes. In Southern India
it is common for a footwear tender to guard your shoes for just a few rupees.
some cultures the head is considered sacred, therefore patting someone on the
head could unwittingly cause offence.
- For many individuals, without access to state social security, begging is often
the only option for survival. Almsgiving is also one of the pillars of Islam,
and is accepted as part of the Muslim culture. Nevertheless in some places sheer
numbers can be intimidating. Plus there is always a concern that beggars may be
part of a more sinister set up.
short it is your call. But small change is likely to be gratefully accepted. Concealing
cameras and watches may help to divert unwanted attention.
- In some places
tipping - Baksheesh - is used beyond a gratuity for good service, it is essential
to get things done. That visa request that was going to take a month might suddenly
be completed within 24 hours! Culturally it's impossible to generalise, but in
developing nations - where travellers are perceived to be wealthier than the average
person on the street - there is likely to be an expectation that a tip will be
This article is part
of a series - use these links to view the other eco-tourism articles