Top Ten Crossing-Cultures New Year’s Resolutions

The most important cultural resolutions we need to keep in 2018.

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Here, almost without preamble, are ten resolutions you should make — promises to yourself — if you are traveling anywhere in the world in 2018 and encountering cultures different from your own — which really means, everywhere. You’ve already taken care of “lose weight,” “stop smoking” and “exercise more”; it’s not too late to add these resolutions on living more effectively in a global world…in any order you like.

#10: Be Humble. No one culture has an absolute lock on right or wrong, your culture or theirs. Resist judging what you see, hear, taste or experience until you have all the facts about why things are the way they are in their culture. Now, go renew that passport!

#9: Be Curious. Work to get outside the tourist bubble; stay open to the different and unknown; expect the unexpected. Take a deep breath, jump in, and remember there is a hotel room to return to at the end of the day to return to…if you really need to.

#8: Be Changed. Experiencing the sometimes uncomfortable aspects of culture shock is absolutely normal; in fact, it means you are living the cultural differences that make going abroad so rewarding. Managing the discomfort of culture shock is a far better strategy than putting energy into avoiding it. No change, no gain.

#7: Be Informed. There is always more to know, and the more you know before you go, the richer your travel experience will be when you get there. Now, download that book on understanding their culture! You know, the ones written by Dean Foster (The Global Etiquette Guide to Europe; The Global Etiquette Guide to Asia; The Global Etiquette Guide to Latin America; The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa and the Middle East; Bargaining Across Borders).

#6: Ask Questions. Stuck for how to strike up a conversation abroad? Ask about their culture: food, weather, practical tips on getting around, how the local football (soccer) team is doing, current events (non-judgmentally, of course), etc. Everyone loves to talk about their culture and help foreigners understand them better. Too many travelers simply don’t ask. So, ask away! (But don’t opinionate, unless you are clearly invited to do so).

#5: Be an Ambassador. When traveling abroad, you are not just a tourist or businessperson, but a representative of your home country, and you are the face of your country to your hosts. Do it right. Present the kind of person you want your hosts to know, respect and enjoy being with. Now, go build those bridges of understanding.

#4: Be a Teacher. Most people do not know nearly enough about life and work in your home country, even if your home country is a big player on the world stage, like the US or China. Therefore, always be a teacher when it comes to helping your hosts understand you and your home. Share information objectively, and help them to overcome the inevitable stereotypes that people with limited information of experience typically rely on.

#3: Be a Student. Admit that you don’t know enough about their country and culture, and seek their help to understand what life and work is like in theirs. When it comes to being a good guest, be a good student.

#2: Enjoy. All cultures have elements of good and bad, but your hosts typically don’t appreciate hearing about the difficulties you’ve experienced while abroad in their country. They do, however, enjoy hearing about how much you’ve enjoyed their country (food, sports, climate, people, etc.) While you might eventually get to discussing that nasty bug you picked up over a local meal, nobody wants to hear it first time out: they’d much rather hear about how much you enjoy what their culture has to offer.

#1: Don’t Over-simplify. A dangerous tendency in an increasingly global world is to assume that superficial similarities, caused by globalization, mean deeper similarities: they do not. That your hosts abroad may be speaking a version of English, or dress and eat as you do, or work in offices with technology as you do at home, does not mean that their culture is any more similar to yours. In fact, in an increasingly globalized world, those deeper cultural differences are precisely what cause problems. Stay open to the fact that there is a widening dichotomy between growing superficial cultural similarity, and growing fundamental cultural differences.