Religious and Cultural Sensitivities

Religious and Cultural Sensitivities
We share this earth and in it, we are all diverse in where and how we live and what we do. It is this diversity that is the source of our curiosity, interests, fascinations, excitement and all things stimulating to the senses. Over time, mankind has accumulated an immense amount of cultural wealth making us wanting to learn and experience more and more about it.

However, amidst all these excitement to see the world, we must remember that we need to be aware, seen to be and indeed be respectful of the people and places, their religion and cultural practices and beliefs that we have the opportunity to come in touch with. We do not want to annoy or offend our hosts and least of all, provoke undesirable reactions. If we do, we may be found guilty of flaunting laws, be fined or jailed in extreme cases.

Before you go
  • Do homework on destination country
    • Read guidebooks, search websites, see documentaries and enquire from people who have been there to know relevant local laws, religious and cultural practises.
    • Gain basic understanding of religions there, find out what is/are offensive
  • Some important pointers on visits to religious and revered places including royal palaces
    • Different rules may apply to males and females
    • Not allowed to take photographs, even when devotees are not present
    • You are required to dress conservatively, so pack the right clothes
    • If you are female, bring a big scarf - it may be needed to cover your hair and shoulders
    • You are required to remove your hat and sunglasses
    • You are required to maintain silence
    • Entrance could be free but you are expected to drop a small donation before you leave

    This list is by no means complete, note down all applicable ones from your research and do NOT forget! Very often, offences are caused by ignorance and carelessness.
  • Find out if certain activities and/or behaviour are acceptable for example, drinking liquor in public and appearing in the nude (when sunbathing). In some places, they are illegal.
On the go
  • Remember pointers above at all times, ask what you can and cannot do before visiting places of reverence, worship, consecrated and sacred. Confirm again before entering.
  • Follow rules. Do not try anything mischievous or disrespectful - you may end up being fined, jailed or even assaulted for causing offence in certain conservative society or remote places.
  • Some guidance on certain places and local society’s tolerance towards foreign behaviour
    • In certain conservative South-East Asian places, wear clothes that are not too revealing and avoid sunbathing in the nude. Liberal behaviour causes some unease with locals especially those in rural areas.
    • In conservative Muslim societies, do not drink liquor openly. Gay conduct is also not well received, avoid display of passionate behaviour in public.
    • Beware of gestures that are considered rude, observe what locals do and do not do. In Malaysia, it is considered impolite to point with the forefinger. If you must indicate, close all fingers except the index finger and gesture gently.
    • In certain South-East Asian countries, remove your shoes before entering private homes
  • Some guidance on religious customs and rules
    • Generally in Asian countries, dress conservatively when entering religious places. No shorts, sleeveless or revealing clothes. In some places, these only apply to ladies only.
    • Above also apply to conservative Catholic churches, synagogues and temples in the West. You have also to remove your hat and sunglasses.
    • In mosques and certain Hindu temples, females are not allowed to enter specific areas of worship while in some, visitors are not allowed to enter all together
    • In some mosque, ladies are allowed in but their clothes must cover the legs, arms and hair
    • In mosques and some Hindu and Buddhist temples (or sacred places), take off your shoes before entering
Final words of advice
  • You need not be unduly worried (it may spoil your holiday!) if you choose to ‘play safe’ and willing to apologise as soon as you realised a ‘mistake’ has been made. Most hosts are understanding, forgiving and pleased to explain things to you.
  • ‘Do what the Romans do’ - observe what locals do or do not do and ask if in doubt. But, avoid ask culturally sensitive questions. If you know of any bitter historical issues in a particular locale, do engage in conversations that make locals feel uncomfortable.

The information and advise are intended to be a general guide for travellers only. While every care has been taken to prepare the information and make recommendations or suggestions, neither the publisher of nor its management or staff are responsible for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained therein.
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