Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ethical Travel and Making Mistakes

This is a Travel Geographer Blog only post (this is a blog, not a podcast)

Among the numerous (100+) podcasts that I subscribe to is Travel with Rick Steves, which is a repurposed broadcast of the public radio program with the same name. In his Podcast #49, Rick intereviewed journalist Jeff Greenwald about his Ethical Traveler website.

This was a really good interview, and probably the most critical of tourism that I have ever heard on the Travel with Rick Steves podcast. The Ugly American is indeed often exemplified in the American tourist! (Though they focused someone on Americans, I have seen plenty of other embarassing tourist nationalities, out there, as well.) Personally, as hard as I try to be a sensitive and responsible traveler, it is not always that easy to do. Cross cultural situations are rife with opportunities to do stupid things!

One of the biggest complaints on the Hopi Indian reservation is that non-Indians are always asking questions about their dances. Because the Hopi religion is secret (with knowledge passed on only through special ceremonies at at certain ages of a child's growth), it is not proper to ask such questions. Most tourists do not know this. However, even when this is known, it can easily be forgotten.

I was once in the home on the Hopi Reservation near Flagstaff. I was there to view a traditional dance, and was chatting with the lady who lived in the house. Not thinking, I asked her a question about the dance. My mistake was made even worse because there was a child in the room! The lady hushed me and I immediately realized my mistake. That was embarassing.

Being aware that you did something stupid can even be a self revealing and enlightening opportunity. I guess the problem comes from those who are not aware of the cultural transgressions that they make.

Jeff Greenwald provide good insights into how we can all be better guests in the places we visit. I suggest that you listen to his interview (click here) and check out his Ethical Traveler website.

According to the Ethical Traveler website:

"Ethical Traveler is the first grass-roots alliance uniting adventurers, tourists, travel agencies, and outfitters — everyone who loves to travel, and sees travel as a positive force in the world. We feel that all travelers are, in effect, freelance ambassadors. We also believe that we have the ability to join our voices, and to use our economic power to strengthen human rights and protect the environment."

ALSO: Somewhat related to this, see my recent Golden Triangle Blog on the topic of Aids in Myanmar

AND: Another site that addresses this topic is the World Citizens Guide (see news story here)

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