Wherever you go it’s important to get to know the local rules.  This will prevent you inadvertently getting yourself into a situation where you break a law, offend someone or make yourself unintentionally vulnerable to becoming the victim of a crime.  While this article is mainly directed at international travelers and expatriates, it also applies in the country where you live for those situations where you are dealing with different subcultures or elements within your society. Generally speaking, the more diverse the country, the greater the number and diversity of different subcultures.

First and foremost, its important to know the “official” rules – the local laws of the country you are visiting.  This is especially true with regards to taking photographs, dealing with local authorities and similar situations.  As we have mentioned before in other articles: its important to remember that your rights as a citizen of the US or any other Western democracy do not travel with you when you go abroad.  When in a foreign country you are subject to their laws, whether you agree with them or not.  One of the common pitfalls that occurs to tourists is taking photographs of sensitive locations such as airports, government buildings, transportation hubs, military installations, etc.  This is particularly true in countries that have a history of political instability, coups or border conflicts with neighbors.  What you might consider recreational photography, they see as possible reconnaissance or intelligence gathering.  Another potential problem area is dealing with local police.  Often citizens of democracies are accustomed to being fairly vocal with police in defense of their rights.  In many other locations throughout the world this behavior will get you arrested, beaten or worse.

Next, its important to know the unwritten rules in the society or the specific subculture.  These are not necessarily apparent or immediately intuitive, so it’s worth researching these prior to traveling to or relocating to a foreign country.  These rules not only cover overt things such as appropriate attire and mannerisms but also, and most importantly, dealings with other people.  Understanding these unwritten rules will help you avoid offending people and will help you read the environment more effectively and see potential problems before they develop.  These rules often center on things like: interaction between men and women, discussion of politics or religion and so forth.

Forearming yourself with this knowledge can be one of the most important things you do to enhance your personal safety and security.

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