Do you want to arrive in a new place and blend into the new culture? While it is fun to be a tourist for a little while â the one walking down the street with a map or asking (too loudly) if someone speaks English, it can also be incredible to blend in with the locals and become one with the culture.
If you are 6 feet tall and blond, you will stand out in a crowd in China. But how well you fit into a new culture is less about your skin, hair, height or other genetic features and more about your inner attitude, and the way you present yourself.
This is especially true of spiritual travel, where you will be visiting some of the most important and sacred places for the people of the culture you are visiting. Never fear: height, weight, and hair color have nothing to do with it â these tips will help you blend in â and understand deeplyâ any culture.
How to Blend Into a Culture That is Totally Foreign
Start with respect!
The first step to blending in is approaching the culture with total respect. This means not just accepting that they do things differently, but embracing it as though itâs important and youâve known that your whole life. Really embrace it!
The specifics of the culture vary. It can be removing your shoes before entering the house, as is done in many Eastern cultures. Maybe they ask you not to visit temples or places of worship while you have your period, as is common throughout Asia. Perhaps they belch loudly at the end of a meal to show appreciation. In that case, why not join in?! Or maybe it is customary to slurp noodles with gusto, as in Japan. Perhaps you should eat with your hand, but ONLY your right hand, as is customary in India.
All of these are examples of superficial cultural traits that will help you blend in. They are not the essence of the culture. Think of them like the keys to the lock, letting you into the heart of the culture.
Respect means rather than identifying with âI am thisâ you decide that, for that time, you are a part of that culture. You embrace the differences as your own. Isnât life more fun if you get to slurp noodles, eat with you hands and walk around barefoot from time to time? Travel is a great opportunity to embrace it!
Ask the locals to learn the superficial cultural customs
In most parts of the world, the locals are thrilled to help you wear their traditional clothing, learn their customs, and blend in. This is especially true for solo female travelers. The local women will sweep you into their fold and make you part of the group. They will dress you, feed you, and instruct you in how to act.
This can be a great way to wear a sari in India, a sarong in Bali, or a kimono in Japan. It is also a wonderful way to start lifelong friendships and connect with the hearts of people.
Ask with sincerity about spiritual aspects of the culture
After the superficiality of clothing and food, if your real aim is understanding the spirituality of the culture, and being guided to their most sacred places, then you need to ask about those with sincerity and respect.
Itâs good to do your research ahead of time, as they appreciate educated questions and the sincere seeker.
If you want to visit a holy temple ask them everything: what should I wear? Where should I leave my shoes? Can I make offerings? Where do I get them? Which part do we see first? Can we hire a priest or pandit to help us? When you come for a special occasion what do you do? The more sincere, simple questions you ask, the more you will be able to enjoy the full experience of your new culture.
Take the time to blend in
While you can apply all these tips even in a day long visit, if you have the time it is easy to settle into the rhythms of daily life in a new culture. Visit the market when the local people visit the market. Join in loud singing in the evenings. Play soccer in the pickup group that gathers on the beach on weekends.
Come with openness to learn, and to play. Focus on giving your heart and your openness, rather than trying to impose your culture. This will enrich their lives, and also help you absorb the culture, enriching your life too. Whether you have a week or a couple months, joining the daily rhythms can make you one with the culture.
On the foundation of connection, when it is time to visit the temple or meet the wise sage, they will be ready to take you and absorb you as one of them. You will not only blend in, you will have embraced all the culture has to offer, and become one with them, even for a short time.
Until next time, cheers!
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