How not to offend foreigners while traveling |

How not to offend foreigners while traveling

Lauren Swihart
Aspen Times Weekly
Title: Going Dutch in Beijing

In a world of increasing travel, migration and inter-cultural connections, Mark McCrum’s “Going Dutch in Beijing” provides friendly, down-to-earth insight into the “musts” and “must nots” of international communication.

Though not a panacea for slightly naive travelers like me, “Going Dutch” is a humorous and effective mini-course in becoming worldly and informed. It answers a common ” especially for Americans ” need for guidance in global etiquette.

McCrum, a resident of London, has visited six of the seven continents. He has also lunched with the king of the Zulus, “a strict teetotaler whose manners were impeccable.” Despite his wealth of knowledge and experience, McCrum never talks down to his readers. His book is intelligent, but casual and easy to read.

Despite such powerful cross-cultural influences as film and TV, the author observes, we do not yet live in a “global village” when it comes to underlying culture. “Going Dutch” covers a broad spectrum of scenarios that a traveler might encounter in a foreign culture. Each chapter addresses the appropriate and inappropriate behaviors for certain travel experiences, from initial greetings, hand gestures and gifts to business meetings, weddings, and good-byes. Often specific countries, regions, or classes are discussed, and their customs vary as much as their geographic locations.

As a reader, I found the distinctions between cultures (a friendly greeting in one country may offend beyond repair in another) occasionally overwhelming and confusing. I continually felt the need to refer back to previous chapters and keep important details straight. However, the extensive index in the back enables readers to quickly locate specific traditions, locations and events.

McCrum also includes basic drawings to illustrate body language and examples of common slang. Various tidbits of history and trivia complete the package, creating a compelling traveling companion that goes beyond the everyday and mundane.

Many travelers might want “Going Dutch” on their bookshelf as a dependable reference before any long trip. McCrum’s insights also should prove helpful for anyone who interacts with people visiting or moving from a different culture.

Aside from those purposes, however, this book is simply humorous and informative. Why not offer to pay your own way while visiting China? Or use the American “OK” hand signal in Brazil? You’ll find the answers in “Going Dutch.” McCrum doubts his book will help readers avoid every “heffalump trap,” but it will help travelers avoid unnerving sneers, and it will deliver a fun read.