Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Do's and don'ts of Laos (and Australia)

Copyright unknown Image taken from Champa Holidays magazine 2012

Cultural differences can mean that when we travel in a foreign environment we can easily offend our hosts without even knowing we are doing so.

I still cringe when I remember my friend Gai's words on her arrival in Luang Prabang (two days after my own), 'you do know you cannot touch a monk or his robes, don't you'?.......I had realised this by the time of her arrival but her confirmation just reiterated the faux pas I had unintentionally made.

I'm positive some of you are saying to yourselves, surely anybody would know this, you don't go slapping your local priest on the back at your first or second meeting!

Let me just say, these were not big bear hugs of a mistake (and they don't need to be to offend), but a simple touching of my friend Monk Sichanh's robe while speaking of it, or a slight brushing of his arm as we chatted together. They were at the time innate human responses of mine to a friendship that was very new and growing, but they are definitely on the list of DON'TS, and need to be respected.

Only seconds after having done one of the 'dont's' I realised that it may not have been the 'thing' to do, but it was done, and to this day I am still apologising to Sichanh for any discomfort I may have caused him. He just smiles sweetly, knowing there was never any ill intent or disrespect on my behalf.

The following are some cartoon images of do's and don'ts for Laos, I found them in the Lao airlines inflight travel magazine 'Champa Holidays'. (I imagine they would stand you in good stead in other southeast Asian countries as well).

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

The Lao word for Hello is 'sabai dee' usually said with a smile. Touching or showing affection in public will embarrass your hosts.

Lao people traditionally greet each other by pressing their palms together, although it is acceptable for men to shake hands.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

Kissing and hugging in public is 
impolite. Please be discrete.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa holidays 2012

Remember, your head is 'high' , your feet 'low', it is polite to gently crouch down when passing someone who is seated. Never, ever step over someone in your path.

Coyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

In Laos your head is 'high' your feet 'low'. Using your feet for anything other than walking or playing sport is generally considered rude.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays 2012

Lao people speak softly and avoid confrontation.  Please do not shout or raise your voice.  Before you take a photo of someone ask if it is ok.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays
Touching someone's head is very, very  impolite. Lao people appreciate clean and neatly dressed visitors.

Copyright unknown image taken from Champa Holidays

Please do not distribute gifts to children as it encourages begging, but give to an established organization or village elders instead.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

Bathing nude or in bathers in public is impolite. 

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

Try eating delicious Lao food whenever you can, it helps local business and Lao farmers.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

Monks are revered and respected in Laos. However women should not touch a monk or a monk's robes

Please help keep Laos clean and beautiful by not leaving litter. Picking up rubbish sets a good example for Lao youth.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

Please show respect and dress neatly while in temples and when taking photos.  There are many other sacred items and sites in Laos. Please don't touch or enter these places without permission.

Copyright unknown, image taken from Champa Holidays

Laos loses a little of its heritage every time an antique is taken out of the country. Please do not buy antique Buddha or other sacred items. Instead, support local craftsmen by purchasing new, quality handicrafts.

Fellow Australians (and others), you may be interested to read below some of the do's and don'ts that I found published on the internet for foreigners visiting our shores.

 The following are pretty much all news to me!

They are from the  Travel Taboo Guide

Do not be offended being addressed by your first name.  In Australia, first names are used both in personal greetings and business correspondence. Professional titles are not prominent in Australian business culture, and are sometimes dismissed as pretentious.

Do not touch, pat or hug other men in public which is considered socially unacceptable.

Do not visit without an appointment. Unannounced visits are not part of Australian culture, always make a call before you wish to meet the people.

Do not blow your nose in public, it is socially unacceptable.

Do learn some knowledge of major sports and how the local team is getting on if you want to associate with Australian males.  Sport is supreme in Australia.

Do feel 'at home' when invited to an Australian house. Australian hospitality tends to be very informal,and you will be encouraged to serve yourself.

When I read the first piece of advice from this list I immediately thought of an incident which happened many years ago in the Channel 10 green room in Melbourne.

One of our guests for Good Morning Australia that day was a Mr Ocscar de la Renta (I'm sure you have all heard of him).

Now I think I can safely say that Mr de la Renta would never be greeted by 'Hi Oscar' in either Spain, France, or New York (well at least not by people he has never met before and certainly never by someone younger than himself to boot), but that is exactly how he was greeted in the green room on this particular day...with a 'Hi Oscar'! 

When I heard this, I held my breath and waited for the reaction, none came....he's a gentleman (and a very handsome one at that), but in that split second I was terrified for the young segment producer.

Familiarity can be very disconcerting for many visitors to Australia and often considered rude, in this particular case I would have to agree (although I'm sure it was not intended to be).

As for me, I clearly need to brush up on my sport, keep my hands to myself, stop hugging men in public and remember to sniff not blow!

Have a great Tuesday

Millie x

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