When you travel please leave your culture home

So the story happened a couple of days ago. I was waiting for my baggage at Manado Airport (Indonesia) and my attention got caught by a conversation happening next to me. A group of five six tourists were talking so loudly that I think it was impossible for anyone not to hear them. They were speaking english…by their accent I can tell they were not from Great-Britain but nothing more. But that’s not the point.

So they were talking about their experience on this trip and I can tell by their words and intonation that they were quite shocked. Shocked by what ? The state of streets and pavement, the poorly lighted streets at night, the food, the kids in the streets, people drinking alcohol at bars without being IDed, people smoking, animals in restaurants, cows, buffalos, goats, and roosters freely moving in villages and along roads, buffalos having their throat cut in public for funeral ceremonies (I think they were not comfortable with the blood gushing out), foof being too spicy, not healthy…I can’t remember the whole list but in less than 15 minutes it was like a real indictment.

At the end the conclusion came, obvious : “these people have a lot to do to make their country comparable to ours”. Then my baggage was delivered and I left so I have no idea of the (surely brilliant) plan they were about to work out to manage the transformation.

Oh wait…

When we do travel, what is it for ? To feel like home ? I don’t think so. It’s about meeting new people, cultures, histories. Not to compare but to learn. Yes not every country is equally developed. But what being developed means ? It’s not a question of developement, it’s a matter of culture. Nothing is right or wrong in people’s behaviors, in a society : things are what they because of the joint effect of tens or even hundreds of factors.

So yes things may be different abroad. Some could be improved but some are just what they are. Period.

When you encounter new lifestyles, things that are not like at home, you can either regret it and wonder how to make it look like home or try to understand why, what will make you dive in a country’s history and culture.

We’re not there to fix their life according to what is our model, but to understand why they’re different.

Paris, London, Saigon, Jakarta, Makassar, Miami, Montreal…just to mention a couple of cities I’ve been these last months : none of them look the same, and you don’t have to travel far to see that even people are different. So you’ll always find reasons to say “it’s better at home” if you consider that different means worse. You can consider that different is not worse or better : it’s just a matter for learning, becoming more open minded and go back home with more inputs to understand the word we live in and eventually fix yours, not theirs.

If you think that you get the “one and only model” that should apply worldwide or are incapable of surviving when things does not look like home please consider this advice. Surf on the web, watch photos on flickr, buy a DVD about the country, read guides and stay in your sofa. You’ll see what you want to see without having to experience the discomfort of difference. Without having to piss off people who did not came here with your state of mind.

So please, when you decide to take a plane to go on the other side of the globe, please leave your culture home. Travelling is a way to bring a piece of foreign culture and history back home, not to bring yours abroad.

Also try to be humble : I’m not sure that some side of our occidental lifestyles would look so civilized in the eyes of many people on this planet. And they would even be right to some extent.

I’ll end, one more time, with Lamartine :

Alphone de Lamartine :

There is no man more complete than the one who travelled a lot, who changed the shape of his thoughts and his life twenty times

Funeral Ceremony (Palawa - Sulawesi) - 05


  • Ivan

    Nice post (as usual)

  • Ivan

    As usual, a hearty & well thought out post (who would have guessed). Just one note:

    Don’t leave your culture home. On the contrary : Bring it with you! Traveling is about cultural *exchange* – Share your own culture with the people you meet, and you will be surprised how many friends you can make by *sharing*. They too will be amazed with how different your culture is from theirs.

    What you should be prepared to do is to leave behind your own cultural (or personal) taboos – and accept they might do things that are taboo to you and/or your own culture. On the other hand – Do NOT offend their own taboos – YOU are the guest ! You have been invited there. And if you succeed, the experience will probably be unforgettable.

    • http://www.duperrin.com/english Bertrand Duperrin

       You’re right. I should have said “bring it, don’t sell it”. Anyway, the message is clear :)

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