Whenever we travel away from home, it’s likely that we’re going to encounter people who live, think and act differently than we do. This applies not only to when we visit foreign countries, but could also be the case when we travel a just a few towns away. Recognizing that fact, it seems to automatically follow that travelers should know to keep an open mind about how other societies operate and, most importantly, to respect the people whose home we’re visiting.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me to hear travelers complain about things like how they weren’t greeted “properly” at a restaurant, how their beach towel wasn’t placed just right on a specific beach chair for them, and how a local company didn’t conduct business in a manner that met their (the visitor’s) expectations. One person’s way of thinking is not everyone’s way of thinking, so we have no right to expect others to conform to what we feel is right.
For instance, in Anguilla and much of the Caribbean, the concept of “island time” is widespread. Things just don’t happen as quickly as they might in the States or other more fast-paced places. A lot of things simply don’t happen “on time” or according to a very accurate schedule. This is often true of business dealings as well as more personal interactions. If you go to a place where “island time” is the norm, and you expect things to happen quickly, you’re only going to frustrate yourself. Your best bet is to relax and let things happen when they happen. This is simply the way things go in certain places, and as visitors, we have no right to expect otherwise from locals who have a different idea of what is normal.
We should also take into consideration that the way we act may be seen as impolite too, even if we don’t intend to offend anyone. As I mentioned in a previous post, in Anguilla, it is customary to greet people with a “good morning”, “good day”, or “good night” before jumping into conversation with locals. Even saying “Hi” isn’t always seen as a sufficient greeting before asking directions, asking for help in a store or ordering food at even the most casual restaurant. Luckily, a lot of (but not all) locals in places like Anguilla are considerate enough to recognize that visitors are not always aware of local customs and will forgive you for not abiding by them (a courtesy that we should extend to them as well). But they always appreciate it when visitors take the time to observe and learn the way they do things and when visitors respect their way of life.
It’s also important that visitors treat the people who work in the service industry (hotels, restaurants, transportation etc.) with a lot of respect. It can’t be an easy job to cater to the whims of the most demanding customers, but they are often required to do so with a smile. One could argue that they could always find a different job if they don’t like it, but especially on small islands where tourism pretty much IS the local economy, that isn’t always as easy as it sounds. They can’t read your mind, and if you throw a hissy-fit about how something wasn’t done exactly to your liking, it really reflects more poorly on you than anyone else. You may think that because you pay “good money” for service, that everything should happen “perfectly”, but no amount of money gives you the right to disrespect another human being.
Please, when you travel, do your best to keep an open mind. Not only will your vacation be more pleasurable and relaxing, but being accepted by locals as a respectful visitor can open up more amazing opportunities for you that you never knew you were missing.