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Make The Most Of Luxury Travel - Understanding Local Customs And Etiquette At Your Destination

Jun 4, 2008
Until recently not many would've thought of luxury travel as an agent of world peace and understanding. Even now this aspect of travel hasn't quite rung a bell, generally speaking. Are tourists responsible for more than their luggage when they travel? Yes, of course, a whole range of things from toddlers to passports. But, world peace? Surely you can't hold them responsible for something so intangible and more at home in the realm of political diplomacy, especially when all they want is to leave responsibilities behind and have some unrestrained fun. Well, luxury travellers are certainly not expected to transit in the Middle East and start negotiations before they continue to the warm tropics to work on a tan. The point here is that an understanding of the people and the culture you would be interacting with at your luxury travel destination is a great way to enhance the trip.

These are the days when luxury travel to exotic foreign locales is a matter of routine for most people. Oddly enough the search for the exotic often takes one to far flung corners of third world cultures totally alien to the visitor in terms of language, customs, and etiquette. Some take it in their stride and blend in effortlessly with an open mind and have the time of their lives. They are eager to learn more about the host culture and come away enriched and enlightened in more ways than one; go native, as it were. There might even be an invaluable exchange where the host steps out from behind their cultural curtain and greets you with a hand shake as you bow with a wai greeting. Worlds meet and a relationship is born. It might not be a momentous occasion marked by clashing cymbals and trumpet calls. But from the perspective of luxury travel this may easily be considered an achievement that bodes well for us human beings who sojourn in troubled times.

People are different. What makes them different is not colour or creed, but customs and culture. This is indeed a difference to be celebrated. How horribly boring would it be if the whole world had toast for breakfast and wore black suits? It is the unique customs and culture of a people that gives them an identity and sets them apart. It is an understanding of these mutual differences that bring people together. The easiest way to achieve this would be to wise up on local customs and etiquette while browsing for top attractions and things to do at your luxury travel destination. It can be quite a revelation.

Differences in culture and customs become more pronounced as your luxury travel presses eastwards. With the changing landscapes come strange etiquettes which will certainly throw the first timer. For instance, in Thailand and in most Southeast Asian countries which are popular luxury travel destinations, it is considered awfully rude to touch anyone on the top of the head. Even brushing against a head by accident entails profuse apologizing. Same applies to pointing your foot at anyone while seated. It is an insult; plain and simple. Thais shake hands as greeting, but it would be a loose, limpid clasp rather than a warm grasp. Any form of aggressive hand shake is considered extremely rude; think arm-wrestling. So think twice before you grab hold of a Thai hand and pump enthusiastically.

Travel broadens the mind as well as your circle of friendships. Chances are high that while on vacation at your luxury travel destination, you might come across some individual or family who went out of their way to help you, befriend you, or save you from dire straits. It is only natural that you want to show appreciation by presenting a gift. An expensive watch, perhaps, or a bottle of wine? An exquisite leather handicraft should do nicely to convey warm appreciation. Think again. You do not gift clocks, watches, or any time pieces to Chinese people; it's supposed to bring bad luck. You do not gift wine to Muslims; they do not imbibe. You do not gift leather to Hindus; the cow is sacred to them. Well, there's always chocolates!

Often luxury travel isolates tourists from local culture or presents them with a highly sanitised or anglicized version that might lack authenticity. This can only be considered a huge loss as far as cultural enlightenment is concerned. You have been fed a bite-sized version of what could've been a delightful gourmet experience. The chance to learn and understand various cultures and why they do what they do is invaluable and to be grasped with both hands when available. It is a chance to lay down prejudices and see with new eyes. For beneath the various skin tones, we're indeed driven by the same needs, foremost among which would be the need to be understood.
About the Author
Justine has been a journalist for 20 years and is a contributor to Just The Planet, the online luxury travel magazine for independent travellers. Read more articles about peace through tourism and discover more luxury getaways here.
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