Please sign in to post.

Advice/Anecdotes for dealing with racism/sexism/etc while abroad

Hello!
I recently experienced an unfortunate situation where my tour guide made some rather homophobic remarks. While I did say something to counter what he was saying, I didn't also want to engage further in discussion because the reality is, no one's mind is going to change. However, the experience left me with some dissatisfaction that I didn't do more.

I was wondering if travelers have had other situations where they faced/or came across racism/sexism/ homophobia or other oppression/social injustice, and how you have handled yourself in that situation? What advice would you have for other travelers who find themselves in the same situation?

Thanks for your responses!

Posted by
1256 posts

I have the same policy toward that as I to toward traveling in countries that supposedly have some political reason not to visit - I just ignore it. Sorry. It's not my place to be saving the world when traveling, nor would it change anything. I have pretty much heard it all, from guides in Laos and Thailand joking about the "lady boys" to some really ignorant and racist things in multiple places.

Posted by
2403 posts

While the temptation may be strong to voice my own opinions, I just don't engage. Other than giving them " The Look" (aka The Mom Look). Direct confrontation is futile in most cases.

Having said that, I hope you wrote to the tour company about the guide's behavior.

Posted by
329 posts

naraekim7 - good for you for speaking up. While you are probably right you would be unable to change a bigot's mind, you let it be known those comments are unacceptable. What is that quote about evil flourishing if good men do nothing? You did something at the moment and you are doing something now by giving us something to think about how we would react. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by
1256 posts

Jvb - this is called cultural imperialism. I personally think sexual orientation is not a choice, and shouldn't be made fun of. But who am I to go to Russia, Bulgaria, Jordan or Turkey where this is outside the bounds of acceptable and snipe at a tour guide for making comments that are in line with their culture? And on the other side with cultures like Hawaii and Thailand that are far more accepting of transgender people (mahu and ladyboys, respectively) than mainstream America, would it be ok to snipe at a tour guide who had no problem with what until extremely recently was considered a mentally ill, aberrant lifestyle? How about cockfighting? Bullfighting? Indians who are disgusted by people who eat meat? Muslims or Jews disgusted by pork eaters? Should we all express our disgust at the deeply held beliefs of others? Or should we experience the world and keep our mouths shut?

Posted by
3580 posts

No matter how attractive a country seems, I actively avoid visiting places where I would have to be "careful" while being a women. That sort of cultural sexism exists, but I don't have the energy for dealing with it. This problem exists at home, I admit, but I am used to dealing with it.

Posted by
20569 posts

When we have run into obnoxious behavior, we ignore it and try to turn away. I am not there to educate them about their ways or attitudes. Remember acceptable behavior and attitude is defined by the culture. And some of your attitudes could be just as repulsive to them. I am there to learn.

If it occurred in my home community, that is a very different situation and I would not ignore it. I think it is important to know when and where to take your stand. No point in adopting a Gen Custer attitude.

Posted by
837 posts

Slightly related....
I regularly see "handicapped" and "disabled" used on this forum in subject lines or in questions.
I work on ADA-related issues for a federal program. We use people first language, and I use the word "accessible" whenever possible. As in "accessible parking" or reduced fare for "people with disabilities." I cringe at what I see written here at times, yet, I'm not going to tell a person who uses a wheelchair, "Hey, you shouldn't say 'handicapped.' If that person chooses to self label, that's their choice, but I think all of us can make a difference just in how we talk and write. I try to use the most current language and terminology when I talk about issues of ability.

Posted by
7109 posts

It's not a black and white issue for me, there is a lot of grey area. Depending on where I am, the situation, and what someone said I may very well speak up and say something. In some situations, I believe staying silent means agreement. In some situations, staying silent is wrong.

Posted by
329 posts

An excellent movie on whether to say something or not when faced with bigotry is "Gentlemen's Agreement" from 1947. It's on Netflix.

Posted by
3931 posts

If it's a case of the guide not realizing something is offensive, I think it's okay to gently say so. Many non-native speakers simply won't know what's culturally sensitive, or even offensive. We saw this quite a bit when we lived in Poland; even very fluent English speakers would use racially offensive terms - that they got from older books, often - or obscene language. We had one acquaintance who used the f-word in almost every sentence, and always inappropriately. He thought he was showing how colloquial his English was. Um, no; especially since this was 30 years ago when the word was not used as much as it is today.

Posted by
686 posts

I appreciate the comments here on this topic.
What I do depends a lot on the circumstances. If my RS guide (or a guide that I was going to be with for more than one site) made a "ist" comment and the situation allowed I would try to say something that was respectful but that reflected my view. I would definitely pull that person aside and explain why I found the comment distasteful and that I would appreciate the person's tact and kindness in the future. I think this would be good to do even if it was a cultural situation because it would be helpful to the guide to know that his/her clients from a different culture may have trouble coping with that or similar statements. "Joe, I just wanted to make you aware that a lot of people in Ohio don't think it is funny to make jokes about {insert topic here} and this is why.... I understand our cultural backgrounds are different, but it may be helpful to you to understand this." If the person made the statement in ignorance it is a respectful way to educate them and if the person is just a pr**k, it still gets your point across without escalating anything. A meaningful conversation may or may not follow.

On a related topic, I experienced two different situations on my recent guided tour with my culturally similar tour mates. The first was a conversation about the opiate crisis. I had a viewpoint that was different than my mates. I expressed it and explained my reasoning. The next day a person thanked me for expressing the viewpoint as it provided a different perspective and changed the way she looked at the situation. At a different time and a different topic with different folks on the same tour I grinned and nodded and said nothing because I knew my comments would not really be considered and it was just easier that way.

Any time that there is a chance that I think I can positively influence someone or just get them to see that there are varying views I will step out on that limb. But hopefully only when I am not angry, can stay calm, and use reason and logic to state my case.

Posted by
3904 posts

These days it's impossible to do or say anything without somone being offended, much of it however is faux outrage and has more to do with virtue signalling than anything else.

Posted by
686 posts

JC
What you say certainly has some truth, but it doesn't have much to do with this topic. This topic is about when someone makes a comment based on ignorance/bigotry. Generally, most of the posters here are hoping for a day when judgments are not made based on gender, skin color, height, eye color, place of origin.......etc. At least I am.

Posted by
1256 posts

And on the other extreme you have people going out of their way to offend others and be controversial, which is itself a reverse form of virtue signalling.

Posted by
273 posts

First, I would never subject my husband to the dangers we would face in Russia. We could be arrested there for even saying something positive about our orientation. I doubt that any citizens would attack us because we are rather intimidating, strong mature men but I would be unable to keep my silence about Chechnya.

Second, we only purchase services from organizations such as Rick Steves' tours where their stance regarding LGBT issues is well known and tour guides are expected to comply. We have had wonderful experiences with both his guides and the groups. Usually the rest of the tour group enjoys the diversity we add. Single women often value us because they feel safer when we accompany them. Before money is exchanged I make it clear that we will not tolerate ANY disrespect from any tour guides. We will respond with an icy look on a first offense. If that's not effective, a private aside will be attempted. A louder public discussion will be conducted if necessary. I will also be sure to notify their employer about the unacceptable experience and demand recompense. This is not cultural imperialism. We have a right to get what was agreed to when I paid. My employer expects certain behavior from me when I represent them the business world. I expect tour guides and tour participants to comply with the directives of their employers.

I do not travel as a crusader and I avoid confrontations with private citizens. For instance, I would ask to change tables in a restaurant rather confront a native about homophobic native words or actions. That said, I do believe we should "be the change we wish to see in the world." Silence is enabling the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya. It's wrong no matter how sincerely the belief is held.

Posted by
6695 posts

During dinner at a shared meal in a rural farm setting in France, we did have mention of an ethnic group by a very unpleasant, Swiss German woman. My husband let her know right away we had open views about this group. However, if a guide were "ist" about a group, I'd speak to him or her privately to give the guide the opportunity to know his/her views weren't shared, instead of only writing about it afterwards in a post-tour survey

Posted by
5817 posts

JC I manage to get through many ( not all) days without offending people. Maybe you aren't trying hard enough?!
No "faux outrage" here. It's all genuine.

Posted by
1835 posts

Silas Marner, well said. I specifically choose Rick's tours because diversity is always welcomed.

Posted by
4866 posts

Its been my experience that attempting to educate adults against their will is futile and sometimes dangerous. However, a paid guide should be told that remarks might be offensive to some customers, as a favor to the guide for future reference.

Posted by
10707 posts

I get slammed on this subject all the time.

In the broadest terms I agree with jvb

What is that quote about evil flourishing if good men do nothing? You
did something at the moment and you are doing something now by giving
us something to think about how we would react.

In my work culture so, so many barriers were brought down when the diversity of the work place increased. Everyone finally got to meet people different themselves and understand that in reality they weren’t so different. We had a major shift in attitude on bigotry of every description. Now, I know walking into a less progressive country and expressing my views through act or word may have the most marginal of impacts, but if everyone did it, maybe there would be change.

So walking through a country with a cultural barrier around you in such a way that you neither present yourself as a positive example of your values or learn a truth about their values isn’t the right answer in my mind. You would have to have some sort of belief in relative morality to have an attitude like that.

Then there are places where the culture is so counter to my norm that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable being there and/or I wouldn’t want to be seen as treating or accepting the activities as normal or tolerable.

Posted by
13 posts

I usually experience problems on the airplane to Europe. I'm more than likely the only black person flying business class. I got up once to go to the bathroom and was blocked by a flight attendant telling me I could not use this bathroom. I had to prove to her I was in business class, this was not a good experience and I did inform her I would be reporting her to the airline. Another time was sitting in business class again, I saw the flight attendant hesitate when I sat down. She didn't want to ask me directly for my boarding pass stub, I knew she would ask me if I wanted my coat hung up. When this happens you give them your boarding stub, I knew that was her way of checking. I just smiled at her. Last year I did not have any problems in business class. I love Mark Twain's quote: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, ...".

Posted by
1934 posts

On our trip to Spain last month, we had 4 small group and/or private guides who gave us their views on Catalonian independence. We asked for their opinions. But if someone I hired as a tour guide made homophobic comments apropos of nothing, I would definitely let him/her know that s/he needed to STFU, and I would probably keep the money intended for his/her tip.

With that said, in 2015 we met a couple of Russians on a train trip. They really wanted to engage us in conversation and I was trying to converse with them. One of the Russians mentioned that she did not like Muslim people. I just froze. I was in my "Perestroika" mode, and this Russian woman made an offensive, if honest, comment to me. Luckily, the conductor came up at that moment and kicked them out of first class.

Posted by
3931 posts

Trayla, that would have been the point at which I asked "Really? Why not?" Nicely, not snarkily. A possible learning moment. For both sides.

Posted by
6073 posts

I was in my "Perestroika" mode

Say what? I think you mean "glasnost". In any case, Eastern Europeans are very blunt (no sugarcoating of politically incorrect sentiments) and I wouldn't be surprised hearing something like that. It's a real cultural difference when compared to the US.

Posted by
10707 posts

In the East there tends to be a fair degree of ignorance based in part, i would imagine, on 50 years of isolation. It would be a shame, with the right people and in the right circumstances not to share your views. How else does the world change? Of course some people are just evil; walk away.....

Posted by
686 posts

In any case, Eastern Europeans are very blunt (no sugarcoating of politically incorrect sentiments) and I wouldn't be surprised hearing something like that.

I have a question about statements such as the one above. It seems harmless and very well may be true. Awhile back I challenged a poster who stated that Indians travel too fast through Europe and don't take enough time to really see things. The response I got is that I am too sensitive and it is a true statement.

I try to avoid these types of statements as it may reinforce a behavior. The following statements used to be "accepted as true": girls are.....sensitive, emotional, weak, prone to hysterics and suited for feminine jobs like nursing, teaching, filing, typing. Hopefully, now most agree that women are a bunch of things and suited to a variety of things and are not limited by their gender. (Will leave in so that you know what James E is talking about, but agree the argument would have been made better if I had left this out.)

The next time I meet an Eastern European I hope to take them as they come without too many preconceived notions. I hope to be able to converse (gratefully if they speak English of course) in a positive manner whether they are blunt or not.

Posted by
10707 posts

Then again, assuming it’s a true generalization, it could give rise to the opportunity to recognize a cultural difference that that might otherwise be seen as rude. I guess the only notice I would place on the statement about Eastern Europeans is that it’s a big region and such statements become difficult when you lump Albanians with Czechs. I will have to say I haven’t noticed the generalization to be true, but I am sort of blunt myself so maybe I’m not a good judge. I did note, 15 years ago, that the older people I met in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc, tended to be a bit reserved by the standards of my home community; but every bit, if not more, kind and welcoming once you broke through the ice.

As for your comparison with generalities concerning women, the first couple of words I think have some accurate basis in terms of a generality; then you throw out a lot of irrelevant nonsense to create straw men to discredit the entire statement. Generalities are just that, ultimately you judge on the character of the individual. Among fair people the two concepts, generalities and individualism, can coexist and complement each other and increase understanding. Granted, the evil use the generalities to gin up bigotry and division, but I dont throw out the baby with the bath water. And yes, Indians do rush through Europe too fast for my taste. All, except for those that don’t.

Posted by
2 posts

"...Eastern Europeans are very blunt (no sugarcoating of politically incorrect sentiments) and I wouldn't be surprised hearing something like that. It's a real cultural difference when compared to the US."

I have to disagree with the second sentence of this quote. "Culture" in the US may be sensitively refined in some places, but if you spend just a little time wandering around the region of the US where I live now, you will be horrified by some of the sentiments you will hear not only openly expressed, but loudly and proudly. They will be just as blunt, un-sugarcoated, and politically incorrect as they purportedly are in Eastern Europe. Given this state of affairs at home, I find it more useful, constructive and enlightening to wonder and question than to criticize or condemn.

Posted by
10707 posts

That's Agnes perception and the sharing of perceptions is healthy. I don't even see anything negative or critical in her perception. And if it were critical, the he's-not-wrong-because-someone-else-is-wronger attitude isn't one i prescribe to.

Posted by
6695 posts

Given Agnes’ background, she would be very aware of cultural differences.

Posted by
6073 posts

I wasn't trying to criticize or condemn anyone, just offering my experience as an Eastern European (by birth and family). Of course I can't speak for all Eastern Europeans. I didn't say this very well (or at all) but different cultures have different taboos, so it's not surprising to me that someone experiences culture shock when a person of a different culture says something that's just not that common or expected to be said so casually and bluntly in their own culture (e.g. political opinions or opinions about groups of people). Cultural norms are developed in a variety of social, political, and economic contexts and proximity of alternatives or counterbalances that can serve as a check to one's assumptions. Not every European city is as multicultural as London or Paris. Some are quite monolithic. Some have been closed off for years (Iron Curtain and the like) and have developed their own world view and grievances, say toward immigrants or refugees (Eastern European countries have been largely adamantly against resettling even small number of refugees in their countries). You have to understand their historical development to understand their outlook on the world and their view of themselves and outsiders. Some use stereotypes about groups of people very commonly and casually, and less sparingly than what one may be used to. Some don't filter things that others may find offensive because it may not be offensive in their culture to say certain things out loud. On the other hand, they may find things that Americans say to be equally off-putting because they don't understand the context/history behind some words or norms of behavior. I think this is true all over the world. You have to dig way beneath the surface to try to figure out where people are coming from, what they "really" mean and why, and to distinguish whether they truly have a mean/bad intent or not. I'm not taking a side here or making an excuse for bad behaviors (some are clearly inexcusable)...just saying that the whole issue is way beneath the surface.

Posted by
42 posts

Well, as a Canadian of Scottish-German descent I am uncomfortably used to being automatically lumped in with racists, misogynists, etc. by the politically correct. But discrimination and racism isn't only restricted to the current media villains- in over 40+ years of travelling I have been denied service and/or discriminated against in many countries because of my race or origin. I distinctly being told I could not eat in a particular restaurant in Chiang Mai because I did not speak Thai, being threatened as a "white boy" in the Caribbean, being shifted to the end of the line in India when a flight was cancelled [until I confronted them with a veiled threat of " extreme confrontation"], being confronted about "American racism" in Nairobi by someone who felt I owed him compensation, etc . I well remember a conversation I had with a Chinese American with whom I shared the cost of a room in southern Chile- he told me how infuriated his father was when my room mate's sister married a white man. My point is that this sadly seems to be a universal human condition. Assuming the status of being a white knight confronting such dragons merely drives it underground.; more reminiscent of Don Quixote challenging windmills than effecting change. A quiet word may accomplish more than direct confrontation; and certainly I have learned more [than sometimes I wanted to] by listening, than shouting.

Posted by
25 posts

Well, I'm offended that you're offended. And I'm offended if you're not offended. I'm also for diversity and inclusiveness. Unless, of course, you're views are diverse from mine then you are not to be included. Intolerance is also unacceptable unless you disagree with me, then I won't tolerate that. I also won't stand for anyone's cultural imperialism, but I do expect my culture to be accepted as the culture standard everywhere. Now, I'm going to misappropriate something from some other culture as I impose my caustic masculinity from my position of privilege. Finally, send me all of your extra gluten. I need it to do my yoga exercises in preparation for my travels to places that I hope won't be offensive, or maybe, hope will be offensive. No, that's too scary. I'm going to stay home.

Posted by
686 posts

Agnes,
My sincere apology for "calling you out" regarding your statement. It was not appropriate or nice. It is exactly the kind of thing that aggravates me about forums and I did the same thing. I have some "experience" of you based on reading your forum posts and my post was uncalled for.

What happened is that I like to think of myself as "unbiased" as much as humanly possible. I recently found myself in a situation where I was very biased based on a previous experience I had. I am trying not to do that in the future. I am trying not to do it to the point where I am trying not to make any generalizations at all. I understand that there are cultural norms, but I was using cultural norms to prejudge people.

I believe that you were not criticizing or making a negative comment. It just hit my funny bone.
Again, my apologies.

Posted by
2 posts

Sorry, Agnes, I didn't mean to imply that you were being critical or condemning anyone in your post that I quoted above. I only wanted to point out that in my experience, American culture really isn't very much different from your description of Eastern European culture when it comes to the open expression of blunt or politically incorrect sentiments.