I’m a traveler.
Because of this, I like to be connected to other travelers as much as possible. In fact, on any given day, most of my Facebook statuses are from the several travel groups I’m in – some female travelers, some travel bloggers, etc. – posting about airline deals, cool things they experienced, and places they want to go.
Something I’ve seen a lot of lately in several of my travel groups is discussions about the idea of cultural traditions – specifically, controversial ones – and how we, as travelers, should respect cultural traditions first and foremost.
I’ve always said, here at The LITMO Life, that what it truly means to live the LITMO life is to find your fit and your happiness and then take that fit and happiness and use it to help make the world a better place. Not everyone’s LITMO life is going to be about traveling full-time, like mine is, but I suspect there are a lot of people out there who would like to make travel a bigger part of their lives and figure out what makes them happy in the process.
This whole discussion of cultural respect, however, has really got me thinking. And I’ve come to the conclusion that most of these travelers are wrong: traveling isn’t about first and foremost respecting other culture’s traditions.
Let me tell you how it started: in one of the female travel groups I’m in (one that tends to be very much about positivity – there’s nothing wrong with that, it just often eliminates the possibility of any real discussions taking place), someone posted a video about a dish called “balut.”
Now, balut is a dish served in the Phillippines and Southeast Asia, but the video posted was of a journalist in the States, I believe, trying the dish at a restaurant. What’s balut? Here’s the interesting part: balut is a fertilized chicken or duck egg (the video only referred to duck eggs) with an almost developed embryo.
The original poster commented that she was dying to try the dish. A series of comments thereafter included “ew,” “disgusting,” and “I would never try this.”
By the time I saw the post, a moderator had turned comments off. Why? Largely because a vegan had made a few comments that had riled up the other members. While some of the group was posting “ew,” others of the group believed it was wrong to comment “ew” on a dish that’s from another culture. The vegan girl, from what I saw, was arguing it didn’t matter who was saying what; it was wrong from an ethical standpoint. Someone else commented that she would never say that if someone posted a picture of a hamburger (i.e., a dish from her own culture, as I believe she was from the States) and she commented back that if she had seen a picture of a hamburger with the same “I can’t wait to try this” in the group, she would have certainly commented the same.
I, as mentioned, couldn’t comment, but if I had, my comments would have been in support of the vegan girl.
Many travelers, it seems, want other travelers to respect cultural traditions – but only the cultural traditions they agree with.
For example, if the video posted was about eating dogs, I highly doubt as many such travelers would be posting about respecting cultural traditions. Or, let’s move away from eating animals completely – as I don’t believe this is just a vegan concept – what if they video was about child marriage in India? Or what if it was about rape victims having to marry their attackers – as they do in certain parts of the world to avoid being dishonored? Or what if it was about kidnapping a female and making her your bride, as some gypsy cultures have been known to do?
The reality is, most travelers only want other travelers to respect cultural traditions when it’s specifically cultural traditions they are okay with. In other circumstances, however, no one would argue that it’s worth preserving and respecting the “cultural traditions” that are harmful to women and children (as they are in many parts of the world).
So what are we to do? Stop treating the harmful, antiquated, and downright dangerous traditions of other cultures as venerated just because they aren’t our own.
If someone was marrying children off in the States, progressive citizens of the States wouldn’t (here’s hoping) argue that we should continue this activity because it is “tradition.” (Conservatives might, but that’s a whole other story). But yet, those same progressives go to other countries and feel they have an inability to criticize other cultures’ harmful traditions simply because they are other cultures.
I call bullshit.
The point of traveling – the point of being global citizens – is to see the world to realize we’re all part of it and we all share responsibility for making it better. Blind respect to another culture’s traditions isn’t helping anyone – not the traveler, and certainly not the culture.
To make it clear: I’m not talking about traditions from other culture’s that we simply find unusual. People have different ways of doing things all over the world – some of those fascinate us, some of those confuse us. It doesn’t matter, though, because as long as the activity isn’t harmful or dangerous, it is our duty to respect it. For example, many Indians don’t like to have shoes in their home. So if you go to an Indian’s home, it is your duty to remove your shoes. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with it, you are in their home, so you must do it.
I’m not talking about cultural traditions that are simply different: I’m talking about cultural traditions that are, unquestionably, harmful or dangerous. I’m tired of the dance around political correctness from so many otherwise forward-thinking and progressive travelers.
Especially as a citizen of the States, this kind of blind loyalty without question really bothers me. I would never blindly accept – without protest – what’s happening in the States right now with a Trump presidency, because I see how harmful and dangerous it is. Why would I keep my mouth shut about something like that just because it’s happening in another culture?
It’s not our calling as nomads and wanderers and travelers and global citizens to blindly follow or respect anything – it’s to question, to help, and to treat other cultures as we would like our own to be treated: with respect, yes, but also with an eye towards stopping practices that are truly harmful.