I think we should learn about cultures by reading the books, watching films, and following the news about other countries. The world is ours, not alien's. We need to understand differences. When traveling, do you study the culture of the places where you will visit?
I have a minor in history so I like to think it helped me greatly in having a good general understanding of the places I visit, and also inspires where I want to travel to. I know people travel without much knowledge of the places they go but I just can't fathom it, although going there is a great way to learn! We shouldn't expect others to be experts when they visit our country and they shouldn't expect us to be either. As human beings we should really try to give some people the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that some errors you make abroad could be dangerous. If, as travelers, we are expected to "understand" differences, that should be a goal for everyone, not just those traveling. Generally I've had great experiences with this so far however, which is nice.
Of course. For me it's actually part of a general plan - to meet and hang out with local people, and try to eat only local food.
I try to learn in as much as I can in advance, but also let great conversation with the people I meet along the way be part of my learning.
Although you can not truly get the feeling of a place until you have been there, it is good to prepare. Search the internet, which is full of good and bad comments from travelers. You have to keep an open mind, because some people enjoy picking out what is wrong with a place, while others enjoy emphasizing what is good and outstanding. When we traveled to Egypt, my mind could not wrap around the rich history of this ancient land. I do not think anything could have warned me about the traffic in Cairo or the Mansheya Nasir with piles of garbage where people make their living out of recycling the trash. Nor could I have understood the importance of the Nile which brought life to a desert land. Do your studying, but do not let it box in your dreams about a destination. There is so much to learn from watching the people, hearing the language, and observing every day life.
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Always--before, during and after my trip. I don't see how people can resist doing that--it's practically the whole reason I travel. It gets me so juiced up to read a book or see a movie about the city I'm visiting that I can hardly wait to get there and afterwards I love being in on so many of the little subtleties that make a culture interesting. There's something exhilarating about reading in a novel about the citizens of Bangkok stopping in their tracks each night when the national anthem is played after having seen it in person. Or watching a movie in which someone worries about bringing wine to a Frenchwoman's party knowing it's against protocol. I just love that kind of thing.
Yes! I couldn't travel without reading a lot about a country first. It's very important to me to have a better understanding of a country's history, customs, and culture. Even something that seems as simple as body language, a smile, or understanding a greeting, is crucial to making sure you don't offend someone else. Not knowing these details or having a sense of the history or customs can get you in trouble.
Oh ABSOLUTELY! I gobble up as much information as I can about the people, the history, the cuisine, the music, the art, and the Religion. I took a crash course in Catholicism before visiting France/Italy, and right now I am trying to absorb as much about Muslim culture as I can before going to Morocco. I love Rick Steve's Europe 101 book on the art and history of Europe. It was a great guide while backpacking there!
Just as Ruth, Ashley, Ryan, Nicolette, Courtney, Seoulsfgirl and you, I always prepare my cultural travels by reading about the destination (and its history). Nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life. Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you (back in time) to the place…
(Lady Georgiana's bedroom, Castle Howard, Yorkshire)
I find nothing more captivating than reading a literary work on the actual site that served as its inspiration. Certain historical novels, poems, theatrical dialogues or even philosophical essays have an extraordinary power to whisk us back into another era, immersing us in a forgotten context or drama-ridden atmosphere where humanity is called into question. And the pull is even greater when we are physically present on the site enlivened by such writing.
Conversely, an authentic historical setting breathes life into the words, gives ideas resonance and imbues metaphors with poetry. Flagstones ring with the sound of boots, surfaces flicker into life through moving shadows caused by candle flame, the fragrance of wax polish on antique furniture, enriched with forgotten perfumes …
I started to list some historic accommodation in Europe with reading suggestions.