The ability to travel is such a blessing. I love experiencing new places and exploring other cultures. I believe visiting another place is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I always leave with such a sense of how little I know.
Yesterday, on a Cathay Airlines flight from Japan to Singapore I stumbled across two articles on travel etiquette that suggest not everyone shares this respect for traveling. Such a fun read! Is Nothing Sacred? by Giles Milton outlined several examples including a British student who chose to post nude images of herself on the top of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia, a Finnish tourist who hacked an earlobe off one of the Easter Island statues and a young man who decided an Egyptian temple was the place to etch his name. A modern form of hieroglyphics, I’m assuming. Of course the offenses are not all this drastic. There are the common courtesy infringements such as loud phone conversations or the guy who sat next to me on the entire flight from Hong Kong to Singapore watching movies on his iPhone without using earbuds. And then there was the time a woman opened a package of tuna on a flight. Yes, tuna. It is impossible to learn all of the idiosyncrasies of a place before or even while traveling (such as the “ok” sign used in North America being the equivalent of giving someone the finger in South America) but there’s something to be said about making an effort toward common courtesy.
I think the issue is a combination of self-centeredness and being in a rush. There’s the mountain to climb, food to eat, a selfie to take and not nearly enough time to do it. We’re in such a hurry and we don’t take the time to observe the subtleties around us. We’re busy being focused on ourselves (attentional blindness, the article called it) that we don’t think about how our actions might affect someone else. Technology also plays a role. There was a great quote from Berkeley sociologist Claude Fisher. He said, “People generally meet new technologies with a period of bungling exploration toward a manner of proper use.”
Steps are actually being taken to educate people on some basic (and maybe not-so-basic) ways to behave when traveling. According to The New Etiquette by Mark Jones, Sapporo launched an etiquette app for smartphones, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority ran a “Courtesy Counts” Campaign and China’s National Tourism Authority published a 64-page guidebook on civilized tourism. I’m not sure if it’s sad or hilarious that this is necessary. And while I’m not suggesting we all go read every book on travel etiquette published, I do think we could slow down, take a look around us, and try to be more aware of the beauty and uniqueness we are so privileged to be exposed to.