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17 January 2019
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When in Rome…

06 July 2015 

Adapting to local customs is one of the joys of travel and I have always tried to get under the skin of places whenever I have been somewhere new, blogs John Bowen.


I have been very lucky that the vast majority of my travels over the past 40-odd years have been on business and working somewhere does tend to open up things that might get missed as a tourist. The downside is that, when working, you often miss the tourist highlights but, on balance, I wouldn't swap.


Much of my early travel was within the UK and I have been to most of it along the way by train, ’plane and car (or truck). During my time as a salaried man I did get to see some foreign trips to France, The Netherlands and Germany it was not until more recently as a freelance that I've got to go farther afield and in the last couple of years I have worked in Columbia, Libya, China (twice) and Thailand – a lucky bloke really.


The things that link all of the places I have been to are the hospitality and courtesy of the people that I have met. Sure, there have been a few folk that I haven't got on with, but most have been a joy despite the language barriers. I am naturally curious and like to take an interest and that is a big help. In Thailand I found a market next to my hotel and asked the ladies in the office what they would recommend I should try in the way of local fruit. Within the hour I had four plates of assorted fruit on my desk to sample.


Even in some of the more troubled places life has to go on. For example, while Belfast in the 1980s was somewhere that many of my colleagues would not go near, I loved the place and the people and have been delighted to go back ever since. Libya was also a wonderful experience and everything that I had read about Arab courtesy and hospitality was confirmed on my trip there. It is a shame that the situation there has precluded me going back on a follow-up visit and to see more of the country, but I will be back if the chance comes.


Fitting in with other people's customs and ways of behaving and fitting in helps to understand and gives you a sense of perspective. From Bogota to Belfast and Bangkok to Beijing, there are people getting on with life. They might have different forms of government, worship (or not) different gods, use different languages and eat different foods, but if you treat them with respect and take an interest in their lives they will pay you back many times over. 


John Bowen is an FM consultant