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Culture Shock: Outside the Comfort Zone

2. Put on your Traveler cap.
As I entered Tangier, I was wearing my "Logy Sightseer" cap when I really needed to be wearing a "Tested Traveler" cap. Knowing what to expect, and especially putting myself into the right mindset to deal with it off the bat, would have made a big difference in my first 10 minutes in Tangier.

My culture shock came more from not having my feet under me than from anything that "happened" to me -- I lived in New York City for 11 years when I was younger, and much of what I encountered in the subways during that time differed very little from my first encounters in Tangier. Had I pulled myself out of the cultural stupor I had indulged on the boat ride across and activated the same wits I employed on a daily basis in New York, it would have been easy sailing once I hit land in Morocco.

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3. Check your assumptions.
When visiting a new country, particularly a less developed country, you need to revise your assumptions about who's who and how things work. For example, I hardly think of myself as a wealthy person, let alone a filthy rich person. However, when I enter a country like Morocco, "rich" is quite possibly an accurate descriptor of my situation as compared to the people I meet. I can afford a flight to Europe, and a car to the coast, and a boat ride to Africa, and an international cell phone to tell my friends all about it. And I can afford to spend all that money in one shot over a few days merely to unwind a bit before heading home and going back to work. The folks I encountered on the boat ramp might not ever be able to afford any one of these, perhaps in a lifetime.

4. Remember you are in control.
That said, you do not specifically owe it to every stranger that you meet to share your wealth with them without thought or merit. When the man in the anecdote above finally left me alone, I did not feel obliged to give him money to do so, as he had very nearly physically attacked me, had definitely done so verbally, and was exceedingly unpleasant, unhelpful and lacking in any consideration for me as a person. He was merely trying to browbeat me into handing over money.

As my stay went on, I chose on several occasions to pay folks who did offer assistance that was both welcome and useful, in amounts I thought warranted by the situation. Sometimes you get these right, sometimes not quite right, but if you are trying to be forthright and honest in your dealings without being a mark or dupe, you probably won't be far off. (For ideas on what is expected for tipping overseas, check out Tips for Tipping Abroad.)

5. Get help.
tourist information While researching this story, I checked our site for reports by fellow travelers, and found this Tangier trip report by Linda Borow. Linda took the initiative of finding a tour guide for her cruise stop in Tangier -- she planned ahead and hired someone to offer the very same service that the dock phantoms were hustling tourists to do, and Linda's experience was the polar opposite of mine as a result.

Your hotel may be able to offer considerable help here, as they may have a concierge service that can help you navigate your first minutes in a new place, or at least provide some solid instructions to help you get your feet in those first minutes that opportunist folks might try to sweep them out from under you.

6. Roll with the punches.
Two hundred steps into my visit, I very nearly turned around and got back on the boat, never to return. However, once I got into a rhythm in Tangier, I found it a fascinating and very satisfying place in which to let myself drift and sway among the cultural currents and differences in play. This is in no small part why Tangier became the haunt of countless artists and writers, of international persons of mystery, and of your reporter -- at least for a few intense and ultimately enriching days.

Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
Features Editor
The Independent Traveler

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