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Cultural Taboos: Part Two Of What Not To Do

There are a few constants in travel and one in particular on which we often reflect. This constant appears no matter who you are, where you go or how long you stay. It can slap you in the face the moment you arrive or slowly creep up as you immerse yourself for longer periods in a particular country. This constant is the cultural differences and norms you’ll experience or at least, the discovery of those norms and taboos present across the world, albeit taking on different forms, every where you go.

A while back we asked several fellow travel bloggers to share their experiences with cultural taboos. We’ve also written about cultural taboos and customs in Malaysia and shared a guest post about dining etiquette in the Sudan. Since there are so many countries, cultures and norms, we thought we’d send out another request and give you information on even more countries to help guide you on your travels!

From personal experiences and stories to general lessons learned, here are some more cultural taboos and customs you should know before going!

Pardon, Please Don’t Do in Peru…

By Gemma & Craig of Two Scots Abroad

two scots abroad peru

Peru was a priority country on our list of places to visit during our 18 month career break. Craig was desperate to trek to Machu Picchu after watching numerous documentaries on it. The Lares trek to the seventh modern wonder of the world was interesting, not only because we felt we deserved to see the manmade town in the mountains after trekking twenty miles but also because we found out lots of facts along the way.

One thing that resonated with me was the photography situation. We all love to document our trip and I am still raging that I never got a selfie with a llama but did you know what many Quechan (the native Peruvians) do not like you taking photos of their livestock? This is particularly true of those who live in small villages, those who do not see many tourists bar the rogue anti-Lonely Planet backpacker now and again. These Peruvians believe that the act of taking a photo puts a curse on their animals and would result in a poor season and no money.

That brings me on to my second point. Ask before you take pictures! We witnessed an extremely awkward exchange on the touristy Uros Floating Islands. One tourist passed her camera to her partner, walked behind a Quechan couple and crouched down next to them. Their body language screamed I AM UNCOMFORTABLE! Instead of reading this, the tourist pulled them in closer for her shot. Why did you then take a photo of it Gemma? Good question! I wanted to share this with travellers to tell them to be sensible and respectful in future.

I asked if I could take a photo of two children on our trek to Machu Picchu and I gave them some fruit to say thanks. The little boy developed a massive smile on his face when he saw the image on the camera screen. I wish I could print it out and send it to him.

There are set-ups for tourists to take photos and this brings me on to my third point – pay the money! Wander around Cusco and you will see women and girls dressed in gorgeous, bright traditional clothing with llamas and alpacas. Sometimes they have baby llamas and alpacas too * COOS *

This set-up is for you. Pay them a small fee and they will happily get their photo taken with you and sometimes you can hold the baby llama. Obviously I questioned why the children were not at school, there is an issue with child labour in Peru according to our Spanish tutor, but if you want a photo of Peruvians in their traditional gear, this is your opportunity! Please do not zoom in at them from a distance; it’s cheap and disrespectful.

Two Scots Abroad (Gemma and Craig) have downed tools as teacher and tradesman and are traveling The Americas on an 18 month career break. They are currently living it up on the Sunshine Coast of Canada after four months in North, South America and Cuba. Follow them as well on Instagram

Dining Etiquette in Switzerland

By: Paula & Gordon of Contented Traveler

switzerland taboos

I will tell you how this story arose. The delightful lady had taken us to the Kornhuaskeller from Bern Tourism. This is one of the most beautiful underground restaurants in the capital city of Switzerland. As Gordon and I chatted away with Michelle, I noticed that she was not eating. Every time we spoke she put her cutlery down. We kept eating and talking. I asked her if we were offending her by talking and eating. This was when she told us, that like us, she and her family talk, eat and laugh during meals. However, the Swiss, particularly at a business dinner as this was, do not eat when the other person is talking. We are Australian, and we talk and eat – I think we are more like Italians.

She was very relieved that she didn’t have to stand on ceremony, and she caught up fairly quickly on her entree, which would have been totally cold.

As we all talked, ate and drank through the main meal, she told us about the dining etiquette in Switzerland. Most families do not talk while eating; her family was a rarity. Another was that punctuality to any meal was expected. I am punctual so that would never be an issue, but some people are late a lot. Don’t do it in Switzerland. Apparently pointing your index finger at you head is an insult, but I am yet to figure that one out.

On a subsequent business dinner in another city in Switzerland, we found out another very enjoyable dining etiquette expectation. You are supposed to keep your hands on the table at all times during a meal and not in your lap. Your left hands must always be visible. Switzerland has a very high ownership of guns, just behind the U.S, with the number of guns per capita. Now that is something I didn’t know. I did look around the restaurant and wondered who was packing heat. You should not put your elbows on the table but can rest your wrists.

At the end of the meal, place the knife and fork next to one another to indicate that you have finished eating as if they were hands on a clock at 5:25. This is what we do in Australia, but we know that other countries don’t.

So be on time, keep your hands visible especially your gun hand, eat and don’t talk unless you have dinner with someone like our lovely friend and enjoy.

Paula and Gordon of Contented Traveller regularly travel to Switzerland. They have been travelling together for 12 years, and independently for a lot longer than that. They are Experiential Travelers and love experiencing a country, city or place by connecting to its history, people and culture. Follow them also on  Instagram.

Jive With Locals in South Korea

By Alice of Teacake Travels

cultural taboos in south korea

South Korea is the wonderful land of kimchi, K-pop, unbelievable amounts of plastic surgery, endless hiking and enough karaoke joints to last you a lifetime. Whilst you’re having the time of your life here, here’s three things that will keep you in the locals’ good books.

Dress like a nun on top and a 60s Barbie doll on the bottom: South Korea is all about the legs.  For all you ladies out there, feel free to show as much of your pins as you wish.  No one will blink an eye and in the summer you’ll easily be able to keep yourself cool.  However, flash one bit of your cleavage or show your bare shoulders and the oldies will not be impressed. They’ll think you’re working the sexy night shift so to speak.

Keep your voice down. No-one needs to hear your ramblings thank you very much: There’s a very clear rule that if you’re on public transport, you need to keep a lid on it. Whether you’re on the bus, subway or train, don’t talk with your travel buddy like you’ve both been to too many rock concerts.  Koreans speak incredibly quietly in these places, to the point that they will cover their mouth whilst speaking on their mobile phone. Look over this rule and you will most certainly be shushed immediately.

Accept food and drink like you’re not going to be fed for a week: Koreans love to eat and share food with others so please accept everything you are given.  To decline it is very disrespectful. Even if you know you can’t finish it, still take what is given to you gratefully and try your best to take a couple of bites or sips. When it comes to alcohol and the infamous Korean liquor ‘soju’, it is impolite to decline it. Do what others have done before if you can’t stomach it: throw it over your shoulder, swap it for water or whatever your creative mind can think of to keep the locals happy. Follow these rules and South Korea will be super happy with you!

Teacake, of Teacake Travels is a British chick travelling around the world for as long as she can get away with it. Willingly throwing herself into anything outside of her comfort zone, she’s rocking girl solo travel one stride at a time! Follow her as well on Instagram

What Your Gestures Say in the UK!

By Margherita Ragg & Nick Burns of The Crowded Planet

london skyline

When I was leaving on London, I learnt that in the UK signing ‘V’ with your index and middle finger pointing the knuckles away from you is a derogatory sign – kind of like giving the middle finger. I had no idea! In Italy (and I’m sure in many other countries) that simply means ‘two’.

One day, when I was working at a café, a customer asked me for two cappuccinos. ‘Two’, I asked, doing the infamous reverse V sign. What are you doing!? Are you telling me to F*** off? he replied, visibly angry.. I was totally shocked and unaware of what was happening – luckily a coworker came to my rescue. That day I learnt it’s actually an offensive sign – keep it in mind if you’re travelling the UK!

Margherita and Nick, of The Crowded Planet, are a writer and photographer from Italy and Australia, long-term travellers and lovers of nature, wildlife and the outdoors.

How To Meet ‘n Greet in Hanoi, Vietnam

By Kach & Jon of Two Monkeys Travel

cultural norms in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the most culture and tradition rich countries we have ever visited, which is why we chose to live in Hanoi for 9 months. This modern, thriving, bustling and chaotic metropolis is still heavily infused with long-standing traditions and social rules of conduct. One of my favourites, as it incorporates several customs in one, is incredibly important to know when invited to dinner – The order of drinking!

Upon sitting down on the floor for dinner with a group of Vietnamese, you must immediately scan your surroundings, looking for the oldest man in the room. This will usually be the grandfather of the house, or an older uncle, which is your next challenge, as the way to respectfully greet a person in Vietnamese depends completely on their age relative to yours. A man of similar age or slightly older is addressed as ‘Anh’ (ine) – brother, about ten to twenty years older is ‘Tu’ (too) – Uncle and any more than that must be addressed as ‘Ong’ (omg) – Grandfather. Be careful though, as although age is a sign of status, a ‘Tu’ may still take offence at being called an ‘Ong,’ but call an ‘Ong’ a ‘Tu,’ or even worse an ‘Anh’ and you’ll be devaluing their social status. Have fun with that one, I know I did!

Now you need to say hello – Xin chao! (sin chow!), plus their title. ‘Xin Chao, Ong!’ Extend your right hand, with your left hand resting palm down on your arm, just below your right bicep. This is the proper way to show respect while shaking hands, anything else might be deemed casual and flippant.

It’s now that you’ll probably be offered a drink, in the form of a shot of home-distilled spirit, called either Rượu Mạnh, or Zio, depending on how it’s made. Raise your glass and say cheers – ‘ZO!’ – then knock it back and try to keep a straight face! Shake hands again, just like before and say thank you – ‘Xin Cam on’ (sin gahm un), or simply ‘Cam on’. And you’re done!

Yes, I know, that’s a lot to remember just to introduce yourself, but the good news is that as a foreigner, every man in the group will want to drink with you (and some of the women too!), so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice! Just try to keep up, as it’s considered bad manners to refuse to drink with a man, regardless of whether you’ve just stopped for lunch in the middle of a 12 hour motorbike ride. (That was a hell of a day!) Then again, passing out in the middle of dinner is probably equally frowned upon!

Kach Medina and Jonathan Howe of Two Monkeys Travel are working-on-the-road couple from the Philippines and UK. Having each decided to quit their jobs and set off around South East Asia to start their new lives, neither imagined they would end up traveling the world with someone they met in a backpacker’s bar in Laos. But that’s what happened! Follow them as well on Instagram

Three Golden Rules of Travel in Dubai

By Mel of Footsteps on the Globe

dubai desert

Dubai is an exciting and glamorous place to spend some quality sunny holiday time. Less than 50 years it was a small fishing village on the edge of a desert, now it is one of the fastest growing cities in the world breaking world records for the tallest building, the biggest mall and the fastest roller coaster. But at its heart it is still a traditional and highly religious place so travellers take note not to offend any local people with these three golden rules.

Couples, don’t be over affectionate in public. In recent years there have been some horror stories coming out of Dubai about public displays of affection gone too far, resulting in the couple in question swiftly being asked to leave the country. The social codes are not as strict as they are in the other Emirates such as Sharjah however the rules still apply. Be respectful and aware of your surroundings. A peck on the cheek and loose hand hold are generally fine when out in public but be conscious of who is around you and whether it really is appropriate.

Dress appropriately. This goes for everyone however particularly for the ladies, be mindful of what you wear out in public. As a general rule, women should have their legs and shoulders covered and men should always wear a shirt or t-shirt. Although the most liberal of the Emirates, Dubai is still in a Muslim country and therefore anything short or low cut in public is a big no no. If you’re heading out for the night and are a little dressier, take a scarf or a pashmina with you just in case.

Don’t eat or drink in public during daylight hours in Ramadan. During the holy month of Ramadan you cannot eat, drink, chew gum, or smoke in public during the day. Nothing is permitted to pass through your lips between sunrise and sunset during this month, and foreigners must abide by Ramadan in public areas in which time locals fast during daylight hours for 29-30 days. The beginning and end of Ramadan is dictated by the Islamic Calendar but usually falls between June and July every year so make sure to check dates before booking your flights if you’d rather not travel during this time.

Mel, of Footsteps on the Globe is a British travel blogger who loves nothing more than immersing herself in different cultures and exploring new places. She shares her latest adventures, travel inspiration as well as tips and tricks on how to make your money and holiday allowance go further. Follow her on Instagram as well!

Finding Your Southern Charm in the USA

By Jennifer of Made All The Difference

southern usa

Don’t call a Southerner a Yankee.  It doesn’t matter that during the Revolutionary War all Americans were Yankees.  To a Southerner, a Yankee is from the North.  Be prepare to run should you call a Southerner a Yankee.

Order an unsweetened iced tea.  Iced tea is meant to have sugar in it.  It is impossible to get the proper ratio of sugar to water without dissolving the sugar with boiling water.

Do not try and tell Southerners that Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey are the same thing.  They are different and we don’t want to hear why you mistakenly believe they are the same thing.

Don’t assume we only like country music.  The south is the birthplace of much of the USA music scene.  From rock and roll to jazz, the South helped develop the music and provide many of the founding stats.  Do not forget that the “King of Rock and Roll” was a good ole boy from Tupelo, Mississippi.

Jennifer, of Made All The Difference, is a young American female who dreamed of moving away from her small town in Tennessee and getting to see the world.  She is travelling the world for work and using her free time to explore.

The Dos & Don’ts Down Under

By Vera of The Flash Window

Australia customs

Do not be too affectionate. This might not come as a surprise as Australia has always received a big influence from both the United States and Great Britain, and neither they’re famous for that. So, when you meet somebody, they will barely give you a handshake, if not only a little tilt with their head in order to ‘acknowledge each other presence’. Don’t even go to the two kisses as in Spain or three as in France, especially if it’s the first time you meet someone. And don’t even think about hugs. DON’T. You might be sent some awkward looks. This fact of course may be different for every Australian, and you might run into a big hugger, but just remember to be careful not to cross the line too soon.

Although not being strictly a costume to break, it’s essential to know that they drive on the left side in Australia – AKA the wrong side. Besides keeping to the left side while driving, keep this fact in mind when you are a pedestrian too. If you come from a right-driving country do remember that if you are walking through a busy street, you shall go to the left in order to keep two ordered tracks. If you cross with somebody who is going the opposite way, you are meant to move over to the left (on so does he/she) so you both don’t bump. If you are using the mechanical stairs, you shall take the ones in the left –or otherwise you won’t be going up. And before crossing any street, do remember to look to the other side your common sense tells you to. You’ll thank me later.

Do not break the rules. Ok, don’t never break the rules, but especially if you are in Australia. They are not there to play around. When they tell you they are closing at 5pm, they are. When they tell you not to cross, don’t. And do not try to push those boundaries. There aren’t many rules but it is essential to follow those few.

Extra: don’t mess around with football. If they say football – or footy – they mean Australian football. Soccer and American Football are two completely different things. And Australians love their sports, so you better get this fact straight from the beginning or they won’t hang around trying to explain it.

So you see, there aren’t many weird traditions you shouldn’t be breaking when you are Down Under, as most Australians come from various backgrounds and they’re pretty open to every culture. But please, remember to make sure you follow the few costumes they have or otherwise they could get pissed off.

Vera, of The Flash Window, is a curious girl who was born in Barcelona, yet she considers herself yo be a citizen of the world. Her biggest passion is to travel to awesome places and discover incredible things along her way. Follow her on Instagram as well!

 

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Tour of Seoul: This is KOREA!

The piece of tentacle I had placed in my mouth squirmed a bit as I furiously chewed, hoping to still the movement and get this painful episode over with as quickly as possible. Sitting at a makeshift table at one of the many sannjaki vendors in Korea’s Gangjang market, I realized that despite the fact that all eyes were on me, chuckling at the absurd faces I was making and how I was flailing my arms in an attempt to do I don’t know what to ease the process, I had found myself at the end of what was one of the best days I had experienced in the entire three months of our time in Korea. Yes, I thought, as the name of the tour company popped into my head, this IS Korea!

one modern couple in seoul

 

During the past year, we’ve not really gone for tours. We’ve had a boat ride down the River in Chiang Mai, an excursion to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary with an overnight stay at the Karen hill tribe that runs it, and an amazing day of snorkeling with a picnic through Island Gem Picnic in Koh Samui. But we hadn’t done the full out, day tour complete with guided stops at various ‘hot spots’ across the city.

Not that we think there’s anything wrong with them. Each person’s method of travel and exploration differs from the next, and we believe you should do you, whatever that may be, but we’ve kind of worked out our style of travel. For one, we take a lot of photos and videos, because well, it’s what we do for One Modern Couple, and so it can be excruciating for anyone travelling with us.

The other reason is that neither of us are very good at taking orders and following direction when it comes to timelines and strict orders on where and when we need to be at various places. But when we came across This Is KOREA! and discovered their unique approach to providing private tours in Seoul (they provide tours all over South Korea as well), we knew it was something we had to do and that it would provide an opportunity to experience the Seoul we knew we had yet to see!

A Freestyle Tour Experience

this is korea tour of seoul with gene

This is KOREA! has tour guides that are knowledgeable locals providing a freestyle tour experience. By freestyle we mean we were able to choose what we wanted to do, spend as much or as little time at each place, alter the plan as we went and keep our cameras snapping and rolling to our hearts content.

We were picked up by our tour specialist Gene who quickly began to feel like a new friend showing us around town, rather than a guide. By the end of the day we had hit up some major highlights on our tour of Seoul, learned a ton of information about the city, the country and the culture, and had one of the best days during our time in Korea.

The Palace and The Blue House

 

Our first stop on our tour of Seoul was Gyeongbokgung Palace to watch the changing of the guards ceremony. This is the main palace and though it was initially built in 1395 it was destroyed by Imperial Japan and has since been rebuilt albeit, Gene tells us, to only 10% of its original size! Since it is such a massive property to begin with, it was a surprising fact for us!

We probably wouldn’t have made sure we attended the 10 am changing of the guards ceremony. Chances are we’d stroll in for one of the other guard changes that are apparently shorter and less impressive and not get the full effect of this incredible procession so it’s a good thing we had Gene to tell us that we absolutely had to make it on time for the first change of the morning!

seoul korea changing of the guards

 

seoul palace changing of the guards

Gyeongbokgung Palace guards in seoul

changing of the guards seoul Gyeongbokgung Palace

 

We got a detailed tour around the grounds to see the main gates and the various buildings of the property like the building used for banquets and celebrations and the King’s secluded gazebo on the water where he romanced his queen, er, queens!

seoul palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace seoul korea

Gyeongbokgung Palace banquet hall

We then headed to a view of the Blue House (think White House but blue) which is the presidential home and heavily guarded not just by security, but also mountains. We were able to take some shots of it from a lookout point but we’re fairly certain that’s the closest anyone is able to get!

Blue HOuse Seoul Korea

Did You Know?

Though you can take all the photos you want of the Blue House, video is not permitted! Not too sure why but Gene was told that we had to stop filming, perhaps it was the rising tensions between the north and south during that time.

The Hanok Village

traditional hanok village seoul

After the palace, we headed to a traditional Hanok village, something we were both hoping to get a chance to see. Bukcheong Village is all hills and stone walls with traditional style houses and quaint shops. We loved walking through and seeing the old architecture, strolling past souvenir and jewellery stores, cafes and even a puppet shop! It’s definitely a worthwhile place to explore and if you get a chance, trying on a hanbok (traditional dress) and walking through the streets is a common and popular tourist attraction!

Bukcheong Village Seoul puppet shop

Bukcheong Village Seoul

Bukcheong Village Seoul

 

Did You Know?

Not only are Hanok homes traditional on the outside, they usually retain their traditional layout as well and much like centuries ago when Bukcheong was home to high status members of society, it is still home to the wealthy as prices for these properties are not cheap!

Insadong Shopping District

Insadong shopping seoul south korea

Not too far away, we stopped at Insadong, the biggest traditional shopping area. With a bustling main strip of stores and narrow, winding side streets filled with more shops and pedestrians, Insadong is a vibrant and popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

We had heard about this place over and over again by many people during our time in Korea but hadn’t managed to get to visit until our tour with This is KOREA!

We especially enjoyed visiting ssamzigil, a complex we definitely would have just passed by if we were on our own. This multi-storied centre is the main shopping building in Insadong with a spiraling path up each of the floors rather than stairs and a variety of shops along the way.

Did You Know?

Insadong used to be two towns – ‘In’ and ‘Sa’ – divided by a stream and home to government officials.

Traditional Korean Lunch

seoul ssambap wellbeing restaaurant

 

One of our favourite things about being guided around a city is the chance to try new restaurants and food that we normally wouldn’t know to look for and to learn more about the food culture of an area. Gene took us to Wellbeing Restaurant for ssambap, which is a style of Korean food where rice, meat and other ingredients are wrapped in green leafy vegetables. As usual, a variety of sides come with your order and with Gene’s guidance we got beef bulgogi and spicy pork. It was absolutely delicious and we loved the glazed mini-potatoes that accompanied the meal, something we had not had the chance to try while in Korea.

Wellbeing Restaurant is a place we wish we had found sooner as it had delicious food and was really reasonably priced.

Did You Know?

Ssambap literally translates to “wrapped rice” as Ssam means ‘wrapped’ and bap is ‘rice’.

‘N’ Tower, With A View


seoul n tower bottom view

From the first day we arrived in Seoul we could see the N Tower, or Seoul Tower, and we kept talking about going to actually see it up close. We got our chance with This is Korea! and had the added benefit of being driven almost all the way to the base – something that is only possible when you are with a tour! With Gene we were able to skip the cable car, or the lengthy uphill walk!

love locks seoul n tower

The area around the N Tower is actually quite scenic with incredible views over the city from the base of the tower. We opted not to go to the top as we were told we’d get a similar view, only higher, and explored more of the area around it. There were many restaurants, albeit expensive, but also a love lock wall and various other areas that would be absolutely perfect for a picnic!

While this was our very first love lock location, we didn’t leave a lock…perhaps at the next one!

n tower view in seoul

Did You Know?

The ‘N’ in N Tower is often thought to stand for North, however it actually stands for Namsan after the mountain on which it stands.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

seoul cheonggyecheon

The day was almost done, but Gene still had a few more stops for us before we’d be heading home so we made our way to a popular spot for locals to relax – Cheonggyecheon stream.  This stream is almost 6 km (or almost 4 miles) long and was only finally restored a mere decade ago. It is now an incredibly frequented spot where students go to study, families go to enjoy the day and couples go to spend time together. We had already stopped by here once before but wanted to see it again since we were already so close and had the added benefit of a guide who could tell us more about the area and the restoration project.

seoul korea cheonggyecheon stream

Did You Know?

The stream used to be used for laundry and had many shanty houses lining it’s waters after the war. While restoration initially began in the 50’s it wasn’t completed until 2005.

Gwangjang Market

seoul gwangjang market

After a quick detour for some coffee, upon our request, we made our final stop of the day. the traditional Gwangjang market. Over the previous few months we had ventured to several markets but had yet to explore this popular one that we kept hearing about. The narrow aisles were lined with food stalls, small shops of souvenirs, fabric, clothing and a variety of other traditional products.

gwangjang market food seoul

Gene told us it was famous for three different foods: mandoo (or dim sum), mung bean pancake and live octopus. When we entered we were fairly certain we’d be grabbing some of the first two, but were dead set against trying the last. Live octopus was just not on our list of things we wanted to try and hadn’t been since we landed in the country.

live octopus korea

Unfortunately, we could not have predicted a kind offer we had no clue how to politely refuse….and ended up with a mouthful of squirming octopus tentacle…

If you’d like to spend some time exploring the city with us and watch how the offer of live octopus turned out, take a look at our video of our tour of Seoul with This is KOREA!

Did You know?

Gwangjang market is one of Seoul’s oldest and largest markets and was started over 100 years ago.

A Day To Remember in Seoul

this is korea seoul

The entire day was filled with history, tradition, culture and fun and by the end of it we were left feeling like we hadn’t truly experience Seoul until that day. The tour of Seoul with This is KOREA! was an amazing way to learn about the city and get a chance to have a guided exploration of areas we really wanted to see.

The entire process, from first contact to arrange a tour to the moment we were dropped off by Gene at our accommodation was smooth, efficient and professional. We could not have asked for a better tour guide, a better schedule or a better day!

You Can Do It Too

If you’d like to plan a tour in Seoul, or elsewhere in Korea, contact This Is KOREA! and let them work with you to customize a schedule that works best for you! And if you happen to get Gene as your tour specialist, tell him we say hello!

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Cultural Encounters of the Unexpected Kind

We’ve taken a particular interest in differences across cultures as we’ve travelled and decided to reach out to fellow travellers and travel bloggers to hear about what cultural customs and taboos they’ve run into during their travels. We compiled our first post on what not to do in 12 different countries and are prepping a follow-up with even more countries and their interesting customs.

While it’s great to research and learn what to do, and not do, before entering a country, it’s not possible to learn it all and oftentimes this can lead to some awkward or unexpected encounters. Mar from Once In A Lifetime Journey had a particularly interesting experience in The Sudan. She was kind enough to share with us the full story of her run in with the cultural customs she encountered. You can also read more about her incredible time in the country and her “Memoirs of Two Springs in the Sudan”

A “Once In A Lifetime Journey” In The Sudan

By Mar of Once In A Lifetime Journey

the sudan desert

I had been working in Sudan for a very long time when one of the Sales Directors at my client invited us for Iftar at his home.

He wasn’t part of a team that I had much interaction with, I was mostly involved with the Marketing and Network departments of the largest mobile operator in the country but, as part of the consulting team and, as the most senior person, I was also gracefully invited.

As we drove to his home after work, the sun started to come down. Iftar marks the end of fasting every day during Ramadan and Muslims around the world gather together with their families to break the fast, usually with some water and dates first.

The time for Iftar changes every day, as it moves with sunset, so theres is usually an announcement on TV playing Allah’s message.

We arrived at his modern mud hut in the outskirts of Khartoum dressed as we usually did, with our suits, laptops and, in my case, as the only female in the team, in my high-heel shoes.

My male colleagues, who were interacting daily with the client, followed him into the house and I walked behind. But, as soon as I stepped inside, he gestured for me to go right as they disappeared to the left. I was not sure what he meant, but he was engrossed in conversation with my colleagues so I didn’t pay much attention and did as I was told.

To the right of the house, through a couple of corridors, I walked across the kitchen and onto the courtyard where the wife, the teenage daughters and a baby were waiting for me.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Was I meant to help bring the food out? Was I sent there to feel more comfortable surrounded by the women?

After a few seconds it became obvious that I was expected to eat there, while the men sat in the comfortable sofas in the living room and enjoyed their food.

His family was lovely, but the situation was awkward at first. I was wearing a suit and a jacket and we were outside, under the heat of the summer Sudanese desert with only a mat for table and chairs.

ethiopia-559130_1280

I took my jacket off and tried to sit on the floor as best I could while food and more food was placed in front of me, on the mat. Initially, conversation happened in hand gestures and looks. My Arabic is limited and their silence told me their English was too. I am not sure when Iftar time started, but I was given lots of food, no cutlery, no napkins, just my hands and a large tray from where to make little morsels of rice and meat and eat. All of the cultural tips I had read about were finally useful. Do not use your left hand, do not finish all the food you are given, and so on.

The girls were amused and extremely curious and, despite the fact that they had not eaten all day, waited for me to eat before they started to tuck into the feast that was laid in front of us.

We eventually started talking. It turned out they could speak a little English and were fascinated by the fact that I was not covered and working with men all day. Sudan was much more open minded and less conservative than most of the Gulf. After all, Sharia Law was only imposed in the 70s with Bashir. Before that, the country was one of the most liberal in the Middle East and so women continued to wear their colorful African inspired shawls and too many UN and air workers set the tone for the average Western woman. I dressed conservatively, always with long sleeves and no sign of cleavage, but I never had to cover my hair.

The girls wanted to travel and to see the world but, above all, they wanted to go to university, to study business and be like me. We had fun, took a few selfies and enjoyed a delicious meal.

After we finished eating, we joined the men in the living room, gathered in front of the TV, to enjoy a warm and sweet glass of tea and watch Bab al Hara, the soap opera that is played every year across the Middle East and Northern Africa during Ramadan

The experience was unique and enriching. More than anything, it was heartwarming to be welcomed into their house. The girls were excited to meet a foreign woman who worked, but I couldn’t help but feel inferior, despite being the most senior person in the group. In that home, my seniority, experience, salary or education did not matter, all that mattered was my gender.


once in a lifetime journey

Mar is an ultra-frequent traveler. In the last decade, she has lived in six countries and traveled to almost ninety. Almost two years ago, she started documenting her experiences at www.onceinalifetimejourney.com. But she is no regular traveler. Her curiosity usually takes her to out of the ordinary places. From overlooked destinations like Djibouti, Sudan, Pakistan or North Korea to remote Pacific islands, luxury resorts and extraordinary journeys. In her spare time, she hoards travel books and frantically plans her next adventure

 

 


 

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The ‘Gentle Monster’ of Korea’s Fashion Scene

Shopping in Seoul offers a lesson in the diversity and complexity of the Korean culture that straddles traditional values and beliefs with modern commercialism and practices. There’s the low hanging, plastic tarp ceilings of the traditional street markets, where the smell of food being sold along narrow aisles wafts as you walk and old shops line the corridors selling random products or fresh produce like fish and fruit. There’s the cobble-stone, modern walkways of other ‘markets’ where name brand shops have staked their claim and the only interruption to the flow of the crowds walking is the centre lane of food stalls. And then there are the shopping centres and popular districts, like Gangnam, where designer brands aren’t just a luxury, they are a necessity.

Shopping In Seoul A Draw For Tourism

shopping in korea

Seoul is essentially a large playground for shoppers and tourists alike, looking for anything from designer brands to underground (literally, underground at almost every subway station) bargain shops. Tourism is booming here, and much of it revolves around the accessibility to products and brands people in neighbouring countries, just have to have. In fact, South Korea is now the top destination for Chinese tourists, now the largest body of tourists world-wide, who are drawn here for the luxury items they can find.

One such luxury item is the brand of sunglasses, Gentle Monster. This South Korean sunglasses company is a pride of the country and has taken the fashion industry by storm in just three years, breaking onto the European fashion scene and making its way to shield the eyes of celebrities world-wide. In fact, it was a K-Drama actress that made this brand so notable when she chose to wear several of their sunglasses onscreen. Immediately fans of this popular show in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Singapore hurried to make Gentle Monster sunglasses a part of their own fashion statement.

Gentle Monster Blends Art with Commercialism

thin framed gentle monster sunglasses

We’ll be honest, we hadn’t heard of this brand but as we walked through the trendy, hipster-esque streets of Garosu-gil, we were told by our friend, and impromptu-guide, of their popularity and some of the unique aspects of the company – like their business model of “innovative experiment” and their attention to their showrooms and displays. It should also be noted that their prices are considered more ‘reasonable’ by some as you can find a pair of these trendy, vintage-inspired modern shades for as low as 200,000 won ($170 USD). Not what we would consider cheap, but what most who are looking for designer brands would call affordable.

While in Seoul, you may look to find a tourist-worthy destination like an art gallery or museum and you may also look to do some shopping. At the showrooms for Gentle Monster, you can do both. We stopped by the Sinsa-dong location and got much more than we expected when we were told we’d be visiting the showroom for a brand of designer sunglasses!

If you’re in Seoul, a visit to one, or more, of these showrooms is a unique experience offering you a journey into the contemporary art scene of Korea and also letting you participate in one of the favourite activities of tourists to Seoul – shopping! Don’t forget to climb to the top-floor-turned-cafe for some refreshments.

 

Pick The Pair Of Sunglasses That You Want By Clicking Them

 

If you’re not into any of the sunglasses above check out more Gentle Monster Sunglasses style=.

 

Gentle Monster Showroom – Home & Recovery

If you can make it to one of the showrooms in Seoul, we highly recommend it though we haven’t decided if it should be considered more than an art gallery or more than a designer store. If Seoul isn’t on your list of next travel destinations, we’ve got you covered with this photo tour of the Sinsa-dong location. The theme is “Home and Recovery” and throughout you’ll see an amazing blend of the artistic with the commercial in the designs of both their showrooms and their sunglasses.

An interesting looking front entrance did nothing to foretell what we would find inside!

Gentle monster home and recovery showroom

Are these what you think they are? Yup! But let’s take a closer look…just in case.

gentle monster first floor showroom

We were a little surprised by the first display of hanging IV bags/lights. Though once we realized the theme of the showroom was ‘Home & Recovery’, things started to make a little more sense!

gentle monster showroom home and recovery

While there’s an explanation of the inspiration for the displays, like any artwork, it leaves everything up for LOTS of interpretation.

The First Floor: A ‘Gentle’ Introduction

gentle monster showroom first floor

gentle monsters first floor

gentle monster first floor clay

gentle monster shoe making room

gentle monster sunglasses Korea

cloth making machine gentle monsters

The Second Floor: Sleeping in Style

gentle monster second floor showroom

A bedroom for sunglasses?

Gentle monster bedroom of sunglasses

 

gentle monster mirror display showroom

stack of chairs in gentle monster showroom

The second floor also had a ‘bright room’ that was so bright, it just wouldn’t photograph, a room of cupboards filled with sunglasses, and a small curtained off area showing a very artistic silent film.

The Third Floor & Fourth Floors: From Vanity Room to Bathroom

Gentle monster 3rd floor showroom

gentle monsters closet showroom

The white made quite a stunning background and display for the various styles of sunglasses and frames.

gentle monster white wall
gentle monster showroom closet

 

gentle monsters sunglasses vanity

This was one of our favourite displays. There was just something about the vanity table and the perfectly suited glasses.

whisky room gentle monsters

What’s a house without a whiskey room? The sunglasses probably come in handy for the morning after!

gentle monsters sunglasses bathroom display

gentle monsters display with scissors

Couldn’t resist trying on at least one pair!!

carolann trying on gentle monster sunglasses


Shop For Gentle Monster Now! Don’t Miss These Great Deals!


Is this a direction more brands should be moving in? Would something like this influence your opinion of a brand and your likelihood of buying the product? Comment below and let us know! Or, if you’ve found a hidden and unexpected gem like this during your travels, let us know about it!