Wednesday, July 2, 2014 behave!

Recently, I was berated by a sweet faced lady, who assuming I was familiar with all of the local landmarks, curtly informed me that I should make it my business to "know" my city if I expected people to frequent here. Then, she sped off, turning across several lanes to reach whatever destination was next on her agenda. As I shook my head, I thought, "Welcome to tourist season!".

Hello,  are you a tourist? Yes? Well, welcome to our city, our community, and our world in Any Town, USA! We really appreciate that you have chosen to travel our streets, explore our sites, stay in our hotels and taste our culinary delights! We will try not to stare at your choice of dress, snicker at your accent, or beep when you are lost and make wide left turns from the right hand lane! But, we do need you to know that this is our home and like any good guest, there are rules for civilized and polite engagement which enhances the experience for all. 
Vayama, an online international agency states, "over half of travelers (54%) said they typically stick to U.S. customs when traveling abroad, and nearly half (47%) said they did something when traveling outside the U.S. that they later learned was inappropriate behavior in that country." I would take this a step further to include "local culture" as a "country" replete with its own dialects, customs and traditions. Even within the U.S., Americans do not all speak the same cultural language. 

Tourists, visitors and locals alike sometimes need a reminder of proper protocol and the expected manners, i.e. social graces, which provide the glue and ground rules of a civilized society. The basics, please, thank you, etc., we assume were mastered before leaving home, and like driving in another state, should be simply a matter of carefully navigating the street layout in order to arrive at the appropriate destination! 
But, in case the zeal of vacation finds us bereft of proper behavior, I offer a few friendly tips to the savvy traveler in hopes of making the encounter a pleasant experience for us and you .

1. Don't assume everyone is local or familiar with the local landmarks. Visit tourist information centers and map out what you want to see and do, where you want to sleep, etc., and then orientate yourself by driving through the city.

2. Out- of -State license tags do not grant immunity to local laws, courtesies or merit special privileges. You must still give way to pedestrians, use your turn signal and give way to oncoming traffic. And please, if you are lost, don't just drive slower, pull over!

3. All local traffic is the "worst you've ever seen"! Plan for delays and expect to get lost at least once. Learn the local traffic patterns to alleviate frustration and avoid most traffic jams. Refrain from using your horn except in emergencies! 

4. Do some research on local culture. Don't expect to go to the opera in a small rural town or find a hayride in the middle of a metropolis.

5. Random photography of people doing things that are normal for them is seldom welcome. Always ask permission. Also , remember, that social media is public and someone always knows the face or situation you carelessly post. A word of caution...don't! 

6. Accents are part of culture. Once, when traveling south, my companion asked a young lady to repeat herself numerous times because he found her drawl so hilarious! Chances are that if the local dialect sounds funny to you, the locals are thinking the same thing about yours! Refrain from snide remarks and giggling as people speak.

7. Dress appropriately at cultural or religious events. Regardless of the current fad, people still equate dress with breeding and protocol. Always bring "event neutral clothing" when traveling. For women, this may be a long skirt which doubles as a dress. For men, it may be a pair of khakis, a shirt and loafers.

8. Hotels, even chains, vary in quality and price. Research, research, research! It does no good to demand an amenity like an indoor pool when it is not a part of that property!

9. Remember, crime is not a respecter of tourism, so try not to look like a tourist! Store valuables out of sight before you arrive at your destination. Use ATM's with caution and avoid flashing large amounts of cash. Pickpockets and vagrants are everywhere, therefore always use caution and wisdom before giving handouts. Place valuables out of reach when you ask for directions or the windows are down. Try to avoid secluded places at odd hours. Always locate the nearest hospital, pharmacy or grocery stores as well as the local police station.

10. Finally, respect the local sites and history of area. A battlefield is still a battlefield, even if it's within a park! Don't trample over graves, pick flowers, carve trees or deface property. As my Girl Scout leader use to say, "take only pictures, and leave only footprints." 

I am Pamela Coopwood and I am Speaking of Protocol.

Pamela Coopwood, a Certified Trainer of business protocol and etiquette, offers corporate seminars, classes and training to enhance the soft skills of protocol and etiquette.