Culture (noun): “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <Southern culture>”
It’s something we don’t think about until we end up in a place or situation where our way of life is no longer considered the norm. What do you do? Do you push back and insist your way is the right way, or do you open your heart/mind to new ways of thinking? Personally, I recommend the latter. However, sometimes this is easier said than done.
Part of what I love so much about traveling IS experiencing cultural differences. Learning new ways of life broadens your horizons, as cliché as it sounds. You might find you don’t always agree with certain customs, but being open-minded doesn’t mean you have to drop everything you know and believe in. You can respect both similarities and differences while still staying true to your values. Maybe you’ll end up incorporating habits from around the world into your life, or maybe not — either way is knowledge gained.
By far the most culturally different place I’ve ever traveled to is China. That being said, you can find cultural differences without even leaving your home country (ex: Northeast US vs Southern US). When traveling, I like to have a particularly accepting mindset. Especially in terms of social interactions, the definition of “rude”, “kind”, “intrusive”, “helpful”, etc. vary based on where you are (along with things like personal space).
As long as you don’t expect where you’re going to be the same as home, you won’t find yourself as thrown off. Sometimes it helps to do research on what the people are generally like where you’re traveling to. For example, personal space in China is negligible and that’s just how it is. Likewise, do not be offended if you get shoved on the street in New York City. In Nashville, people are very warm to strangers, while the British are more conservatively polite. Having bits of insight like this is always helpful.
When it comes to food, I usually like to try everything at least once (exceptions include a variety of bug in China — I really couldn’t get myself to try those haha) because food is such a component of culture. Especially in certain countries, meal times are more than about eating; they are an entire experience.
One last thing to remember is that life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so let’s push those boundaries, shall we?