Turn Your Cultural Appropriation Into Cultural Appreciation

In today’s global atmosphere, diversity and multicultural exchanges are celebrated more than ever! Learning about another culture’s practices can be enriching, and it is easy to fall in love with all the new things you can learn from them. However, this global atmosphere has also sparked the controversy of cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation. You’ve probably seen recreations of stereotypical sombreros, native American headdresses or geishas on Halloween. But there can be more subtle displays of cultural appropriation in your own country – and even more so when abroad. The key to cultural appreciation is to try to understand another culture and to respect and celebrate its values.

When staying in a foreign country, it is crucial for many travelers to experience the authentic local atmosphere. As a visitor and tourist, it is challenging to find the balance between genuine, non-touristy activities and not actually being native to the country.

It is particularly difficult because you may have the intention of seeing all a country has to offer, but you do not want to exploit or disrespect anything about it in the process. In this article, we’ll offer some tips for how to appreciate another culture but still behave appropriately and not overstep any boundaries that might be considered offensive by locals.

 Different, Not Wrong

The most important thing in my opinion is to be open-minded and respectful of the traditions and practices of another culture. Participating in non-touristy activities requires the traveler to be accepting of new things that may seem very strange and exotic. You are a guest, so you are here only to observe, not to judge.

Yum, Not Yuck!

A huge category of interest in a foreign country is the native food. In order to truly experience the way the locals live, you must know what they put into their bodies every day. While many travelers might be picky eaters, I think it is most rewarding and authentic to still try the food, as you never know if you’ll like it until you try it.

Dress to Blend

An insider’s tip is to dress how you see everyone else dressing, not how you project and imagine they should dress. Overall, just consider whether you are wearing certain things out of respect and the desire to live truly like a local, or if you are exploiting the stereotypes of what you think the country’s natives are like.

Tattoos, Not Taboos

Tattoos have become a very popular and trendy piece of art in many parts of the world. However, in certain cultures, tattoos can hold very specific meanings, so it is important to research and be informed about what certain tattoo designs might signify or symbolize for another culture. For example, many westerners have tattoos of Chinese characters that celebrate the language and culture.

For some cultures, though, such as the indigenous people of New Zealand called the Maori, tattoos are highly sacred and are meant only for other Maori people. The tattoos originated in Polynesia and traditionally contain spiral shapes or other similar designs. These are part of a ritual for the Maori, which is often started during adolescence. These tattoos symbolize status in their culture, and for a foreigner to receive one would be taboo.

However, as a traveler, if you really appreciate and want to commemorate the culture on yourself, you could consult with the local people and gain explicit permission to do so.

Ask for Consent Before Point and Shoot

Receiving consent from locals is important when doing anything in a foreign country. For many people, photography is a huge part of travel, and for some, it is important to take pictures not only of scenery and yourself, but to capture the moments of authentic interactions within a community.

With this in mind, it is disrespectful to use people solely as props in your photos. So, when visiting a community, be cautious of the types of pictures you take and how you take them. It is always best to ask people before taking their picture, or if you need to take a picture right away, tell them afterwards and see if it is okay to keep the picture. Otherwise, taking pictures so that people’s identities are concealed can be another route to take, where you only take pictures of peoples backs or with their faces covered.

The greatest rule is to first observe, and then imitate. Manners and practices are implicit within the community and can only be learned and appreciated by paying attention and being mindful. Even things like sitting on a table, looking for too long into someone’s eyes, or speaking too loudly can be considered extremely inappropriate in some cultures.

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Morgan is studying at the University of Auckland during the spring of 2017. Follow her adventures as she crosses oceans to spend five months in New Zealand!

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