What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

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Workqa
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What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Workqa »

I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.

Every itinerary I find on the web talks about places, buildings, museums, etc. to see.

I find it really hard to see, learn, or experience local culture.

What are the best ways/opportunities to interact with local people?
KlangFool
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by KlangFool »

OP,

What is culture to you?

Is it what people do? What people eat and drink?

I took a local food tour at Athens, Greece. That was culture to me.

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arcticpineapplecorp.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by arcticpineapplecorp. »

find out where the locals go and live like the locals.

years ago, in Florence we stumbled upon the San Lorenzo Market went to where the people seemed to be congregating and ordered what they did for lunch. Was the best slow roasted pork sandwich I ever had.

Couple weeks ago was in Colmar France and had enough of the touristy areas in the main part of town, so we walked to Parc Du Champ de Mars and hung out for an hour or so and just watched people go by, etc. There was a DJ playing music in the park. It was cool just watching people of all ages hanging out.

we took walking tours with local guides so we could ask questions about the locals, etc.

A young man on our plane who was from Belgium gave numerous tips, mostly for us to go to Antwerp. Talk to people from the area and ask them where the best _______ is and what's fun to do, etc?
Last edited by arcticpineapplecorp. on Tue May 14, 2024 8:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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gch
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by gch »

We just went to Italy for 2 weeks. We did all the touristy things with regards to seeing monuments or picturesque setting but we intentionally asked our drivers and tour guides for good local restaurants and night life. I feel like that is a good combination to see local things but still see the things that are touristy.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by 123 »

Ride local public transit, walk through local street markets and grocery stores, eat at local restaurants, visit local libraries/parks/playgrounds, and maybe attend a local worship service of your faith if available. Maybe spend some time in local bars.
Last edited by 123 on Tue May 14, 2024 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Workqa
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Workqa »

KlangFool wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:38 pm OP,

What is culture to you?

Is it what people do? What people eat and drink?

I took a local food tour at Athens, Greece. That was culture to me.

KlangFool
This is a very good/deep question. Ideally, I want to experience the day in the life of a representative family in a given country but that is hard impossible to do on a few days of vacation. I am looking to see/experience the city like a local. I would like to hang out where the locals hangout and eat where the locals eat.

I tend to remember the interaction I make with local people the most, however short. The hotels, the buildings, the museums tend to blur after a few days.
Lookingforanswers
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Lookingforanswers »

Find the shopping area where locals shop. Not the tourist shopping area. Not the luxury street full of high end boutiques, etc. Find the middle-market department stores, clothing and grocery stores, etc. And then eat where the locals eat while they're shopping.

Caution: this is not necessarily the most picturesque way to see a foreign country. If you really figure out where the "locals" shop, it may not be some quaint, historic street in the middle of town. It might be a strip mall, supercenter or mass merchant out on the edge of town. But if you want to see the "locals," that's where you go. Shop the aisles of a category you know -- food? clothing? sporting goods? -- and compare to what you see at home. (Often the takeout food at a European giant discount store is better than what you'd get at a cafe dedicated to that country's food at home).
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by tetris55 »

If you went to another city in your own country, how would you get a feel for the place and what is unique about it? You can't get a job there and stay for months. I think Ariel said it best, "I want to be where the people are."

Speaking the language helps a little, but just being with the people gives you a sense of culture. Try riding a subway or get a taxi in Tokyo and Rome and just watch the people and you'll see the culture right in front of you.

When traveling with children, we try and go to parks and have our kids interact and play with kids from other countries. I think the most important part of any travel is for you to see that we are actually more the same than we are different.

When you are going to a country for a longer period of time, going to the smaller cities is a great way of experiencing more local culture.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by neilpilot »

We’ve traveled to Europe dozens of time, often staying in timeshares and/or hotels. However the best “cultural immersion” experience has been when we either stayed with friends or, better yet, have arranged to do a house/pet sit. When we do a sit, it’s usually in an urban or semi urban location. The home owner has oriented us on the area, but we typically also meet our new neighbors. It’s often more like living there than when we’re in a tourist accommodations surrounded by other tourists.

Looking forward to the next 2 house sit scheduled in the UK in September.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by random_walker_77 »

I love to visit and walk through the local supermarkets. It can also be interesting to visit the local library. Watch a concert, play, or dance performance.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by jayjayc »

We are regular shoppers at our local farmers' market and do the same when we travel. 1st, you get to taste and see local foods, not just the produce but also cooked foods for a snack/meal. 2nd, the vendors are always more chatty and informative than the cashiers at the supermarket. 3rd, I love witnessing locals unexpectedly bump into their friends and this tends to happen frequently at farmers' markets.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by stuper1 »

Book a room on Airbnb. Not a whole apartment, but just a room in a house occupied by a family. Then, talk to them and ask them what local people like to do in that city in their spare time. Maybe they will even offer to go out with you and show you a few things.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Beensabu »

How do you experience/observe culture and interact with local people while at home?

Do that. Only there.

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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by texasdiver »

Go to just one place and stay there for the duration of your vacation. Pick some interesting town and just spend your time there, out and about on foot, exploring and meeting people and returning back to the same businesses.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by bagle »

1) Find a neighborhood populated with mostly locals.

2) Find a cafe populated with mostly locals.

3) Order coffee, beer or daily menu.

4) Put away your cell phone.

5) Watch, observe, listen and take in the local scene like a good flâneur ("botanist of the sidewalk").

6) Interact, but respect the fact that locals don't necessarily go to favorite local joints to meet foreign visitors.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Tubes »

Have a minor medical issue that requires you to walk a few kilometers through town to the local 24 hr pharmacy. Try to order the medicine despite the language barrier.

This happened to me. It was both frustrating and wonderful. My walk took me deep into town away from all tourist areas. I had to rely on the locals to help me with the order since the pharmacist knew no English. I came away with deep appreciation for these local town folk (in Greece). I also remember watching the kids play in the street without a care in the world.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Buffetologist »

We usually spend 2 weeks in a place and only bring carry-on luggage. Then about halfway through, we find a laundromat.

I've had some of the most interesting and hilarious experiences talking to local folks doing their laundry. Tel Aviv, Madrid, Aviemore (Scotland),
Puerto Natales (Chile)

The whole thing, wash, dry, fold, takes a little more than an hour. You'd really be surprised!
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by PeninsulaPerson »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm
I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.

What are the best ways/opportunities to interact with local people?

Might help to know where you're going.

For example, if you were headed to Boston, you could go visit Chelmsford. Or Dedham. You'd see lots of locals. Not quite sure what your goal with that is. They are busy living their own lives - not expecting to be "observe culture" exhibits. (Residents of tourist destinations might be more open to performance art.)

Have you ever watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona - a powerful statement about (among other things) people wanting and not wanting to be extras in tourists' lives. Not saying that's what you're doing - perhaps you could be more specific about what you're hoping for.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Sandtrap »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.

Every itinerary I find on the web talks about places, buildings, museums, etc. to see.

I find it really hard to see, learn, or experience local culture.

What are the best ways/opportunities to interact with local people?
To op:
Do you speak the local language? (spanish, italian, etc)?
Are you the same ethncity? (look like a local in features, etc?)

If not, your interactions will be as a "tourist" or "foreigner" to a "local person". So, that's not an immersive experience per se in the culture, in some aspects.
Experiencing "culture" or the ways and "being" of a people and place, and people in a place, is largely not quantifiable. It is experiential and comprehensive in the sights, sounds, smells, etc, you can experience when it is not an "other than you or apart from you".

So, local food where locals eat and there are no or few tourists and the business is for locals and there are not "for tourist dishes/palates" on the menu. See.
Spending time walking and browsing and shopping at the local "farmers market" or local marketplace (not a shopping mall or shopping center with chain stores and other tourists).
Rent a car and just go for a drive. Is there a beach? Sit on the beach or bench? Take a lunch you bought from the local diner. Take your time.
Everywhere, listen to the people talk. Watch how they engage but not like watching fish in a fish tank. Just be amongst them.
Go clothes shopping. Lose the tourist clothes. Dress simple and "average local". Everyone knows you're a tourist anyway. Why stand out more?
If you are Catholic, go to a church service. If you are Jewish, visit a synogogue. If you are a Buddhist, go to a service, etc. Ideology is inseperable to cultural experience at its core, and the sincerest form of quiet sharing. Go for the cookies after the service.

And, always, always, humility, appreciation, and respect. Low key is a good thing. Westernized boldness, loudness of speech, and confidence is often construed as pushy and cocky and condescending in other parts of the world. Lose the walls and barriers. Simply "be". and "enjoy", making memories.

j :D
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by muffins14 »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.

Every itinerary I find on the web talks about places, buildings, museums, etc. to see.

I find it really hard to see, learn, or experience local culture.

What are the best ways/opportunities to interact with local people?
Strike up a conversation with the staff or patrons at a local bar or restaurant, or some kind of activity.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by BrooklynInvest »

gch wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:42 pm We just went to Italy for 2 weeks. We did all the touristy things with regards to seeing monuments or picturesque setting but we intentionally asked our drivers and tour guides for good local restaurants and night life. I feel like that is a good combination to see local things but still see the things that are touristy.
Seconded.

We've done guided walking/biking tours early in our stays and the guides have always been a source of helpful information on what off-the-beaten-track stuff to see and where the locals eat.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by HanSolo »

Best to check on the local etiquette. I read that in France, not starting with "bonjour" or "bonsoir" when talking to someone can be seen as rude.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by fasteddie911 »

Consider that locals may not want to interact or be bothered by tourists.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by former_academic80 »

Walk.

The best way to experience a new place, especially a city, is just to walk around all day.

Of course, hit the museums and the main tourist sites, but be sure to walk around the area before or after. Take public transit when needed, but when at all possible, walk to and from your destinations. Don't be afraid to get away from the main tourist areas (if an area i known to be actually unsafe, maybe avoid it or not, but 100% be sure to take some strolls through just some residential neighborhoods and the like)

Look up the best places to eat, but also hop into some places that the locals are enjoying. Try street food.

When possible, strike up a conversation with a local, even if it's just someone that works at your hotel. Usually, they will start by merely suggesting you go to the famous sites, but if you push past that, you can get some good recommendations on what to do and where to eat.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by ScubaHogg »

arcticpineapplecorp. wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:42 pm find out where the locals go and live like the locals.
I love this advice cause it kinda points out how arbitrary trying to “experience culture” on vacation is. I imagine most locals “live” by getting up, maybe getting their kids to school, going to work, making dinner and perhaps putting their kids to bed. Just normal life stuff.

If I imagine someone coming to vacation where I live, they no more “experience” my “culture” by going to museums or festivals than I would theirs in reverse

To the OP: just do what sounds fun. Don’t try and make a vacation a job or an opportunity to be productive
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by ScubaHogg »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:47 pm Ideally, I want to experience the day in the life of a representative family in a given country but that is hard impossible to do on a few days of vacation.
If someone visited your hometown, what would it look like if they tried to experience a representative day in your life?

Probably full of mundane normal life stuff. Laundry. Groceries. Cooking. Maybe kids.

Now project that onto the place you are going and ask yourself what it is you are really trying to do
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by blackburnian »

I think shopping in local stores, including supermarkets and department stores, is a great way to observe cultural differences in the ways people behave and speak. I remember being in a dept store in Paris where several people were patiently lined up waiting for a cashier to appear at the checkout. When the cashier finally arrived, she waited first on a person who was on the opposite side of the register, not in line. The customers in line looked at each other in consternation, and one exclaimed, "C'est pas logique!" Now in the US, "That's not logical" is not something you would hear in such a situation!
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by tjtv »

arcticpineapplecorp. wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:42 pm
years ago, in Florence we stumbled upon the San Lorenzo Market went to where the people seemed to be congregating and ordered what they did for lunch. Was the best slow roasted pork sandwich I ever had.
I understand your sentiment, but going to San Lorenzo Market in Florence today has about zero overlap with the way locals today actually live. It may have some overlap in the way Florentines lived say 50, 100, or 200 years ago - but only in the most idyllic sense. Locals just don't live in Florence, or most other historical city centers in Europe anymore - it's just way too expensive and overcrowded overwhelmingly by tourists.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by oldfatguy »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:47 pm
Ideally, I want to experience the day in the life of a representative family in a given country but that is hard impossible to do on a few days of vacation. I am looking to see/experience the city like a local. I would like to hang out where the locals hangout and eat where the locals eat.
Get a boring, dead-end job, and then go back to your hotel/apt. to make dinner, clean up, throw in a load of laundry, and then fall asleep on the couch watching TV,
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by stan1 »

While maybe not the most ethical recommendation, local bars where people have had a drink or two and are less reserved about talking to a stranger.
That comes with other risks though.

Or on the polar extreme a local religious group where people have an affinity (or a hobby group like hiking, bicycling, crossfit gym, yoga, etc).
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by cbs2002 »

I went to Paris for the first time last year. Here are some things we did. None of us speaks French.

1) stayed in an apartment in a neighborhood where middle-class Parisians live - this may be the most important part, because if you choose to stay in a tourist hotel you are already starting from behind
2) went out the first night we got there for a late cocktail, found a bartender who spoke some English, sat on the street and listened and watched
3) got up and bought bread every morning from the best independent bakeries I could find
4) sat next to a local family at dinner in a restaurant frequented by Parisians and struck up a conversation
5) experienced the good grace of a man sitting near us for lunch as we attempted to order from a waiter that spoke no English. He helped us out which led to a conversation about a touring suggestion he had for us well away from the city center.
6) Rode the train and walked everywhere

Basically except for the times we went to specific tourist attractions (which we did), we tried to engage with people who lived there as best we could despite the language barrier. I've followed this approach in many places in Europe with much success.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by AlwaysLearningMore »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.

Every itinerary I find on the web talks about places, buildings, museums, etc. to see.

I find it really hard to see, learn, or experience local culture.

What are the best ways/opportunities to interact with local people?
If your family has any friends who live in the country or are from that country, that can help to get some hints.

An experienced local tour guide is really helpful as well.

Including a food tour has been helpful in our overseas experiences.
Last edited by AlwaysLearningMore on Wed May 15, 2024 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by lthenderson »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:47 pm Ideally, I want to experience the day in the life of a representative family in a given country but that is hard impossible to do on a few days of vacation. I am looking to see/experience the city like a local. I would like to hang out where the locals hangout and eat where the locals eat.

I tend to remember the interaction I make with local people the most, however short. The hotels, the buildings, the museums tend to blur after a few days.
To some extent, you will never be able to do what you want in the space of a few days. For me, it takes sometimes weeks to start fitting in and seeing life through the lens of a local. As someone mentioned above, unless you speak the language fluently, dress and look the part, you will be treated as a tourist. But there are things you can do to help experience the culture given the time limitation.

A. I always try to learn some phrases in the language such as Hello, Goodbye, Thank You, etc. I always try to learn some of the cultural body movements too. For example, putting your hand up with palm out towards someone in Greece is seen as an offensive gesture to locals. To do as the locals when saying "Thank You", put your right hand on your heart and nod in a diagonal motion with your head while saying efcharisto.

B. Befriend a local. Tell them about where you are from and why you are there. Compliment their culture. Ask questions. I have found complimenting someone about where they live and their country opens the gates to all sorts of information such as the best place to eat, where do they go for entertainment, etc.

C. I often start my visits by going to their local markets for food. There you will get an idea of what ingredients are available and by talking with the vendors, how to cook or use them in cuisine. I usually get tips there about what foods are considered traditional to that region so I can look for them on restaurant menus which I find often cater to western tastes with their selections.

D. When in Rome, do as the Romans. I use that saying all the time and try to embody that. When in Greece, I slept in later, ate late lunches and even later suppers like the locals did. When on a Pacific Island, I snacked throughout the day as did the locals and walked around in the early mornings and late evenings, avoiding the middle hot parts of the day, like the locals did.

E. Before you go on your trip, read up on the country's history. This helps when you converse with the locals if you know the basics.

F. As someone mentioned above as well, be respectful, observant of those around you, show appreciation and humility.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by AlohaBill »

I think that living in another country for a week or two is very limiting in picking up any meaningful culture. For me living in the country for a couple of years, learning the language (or trying ) just immersing yourself is the best way to learn about culture. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Marshall Islands for two years. The island I lived on had no other English native speakers. I was total dependent on the wonderful people there. Of course, me living on their island meant that they got about 4 supply ships a year versus once or twice. I was 22 when I went. It was a very special time.
I lived in Japan for two years in Urawa, Saitama for 1 year and in Yokohama for the second year. I got married to my Hawaiian girlfriend at the end of the first year. My Japanese friends took me to Shinto shrines, Noh plays, local restaurants and bars. It was a very different experience than the Marshalls. I was working a full time job and newly married. In the Peace Corps I was expected to immerse myself in the culture while in Japan my job was a 6 day week affair. I only was able to learn enough Japanese to be polite. My wife knew Chinese characters so we were able to travel outside the cities. We went to the 47 ronin museum, to Gikakuji and Kinkakuji in Kyoto and Nikko. My oldest son married a Japanese national and they go back to Japan every year. Their kids go to summer school in Osaka. They are bilingual. Japan was awesome. (My dad had a different opinion.)
Our Saudi Arabian experience in picking up culture was very different. I felt we were tolerated only so that we could teach their kids English. We were forbidden to talk about religion (except Islam), relationships between men and women, alcohol. We weren’t encouraged to meet Saudi families. Men just didn’t mix with women who were not in their families. We stayed for 6 years and I learned about 20 words. We had one son born there . Our other 3 sons grew up there. That was their home. California where we settled was not their original home. Every year they would fly from Dhahran to Hawaii, to New Hampshire back to Saudi Arabia. I can’t imagine how that affected them. Sorry if I bored you, but that was my experience in learning cultures.🐪🍣🇯🇵🐠🌊🍱🥢🚅🏝️🇲🇭🇸🇦🇺🇸
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by PeninsulaPerson »

fasteddie911 wrote: Wed May 15, 2024 12:12 pm
Consider that locals may not want to interact or be bothered by tourists.


OP, you can go three towns over to a town you don't know well and be amazed!

Lots of locals, guaranteed!
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by NYCPete »

I live in Manhattan in NYC, a major destination for tourists from all over the world. I have to say being on the receiving end of tourists wanting to "experience the culture/live like a local" is a bit of a double edged sword for those of us locals. If a tourist asks me what the best places/restaurants/museums etc. are that "locals" like, 9 times out of 10 I'm still going to give them a very touristy recommendation. Partly because I'd rather my actual favorite places don't get overwhelmed with tourists, but also partly because most tourists say they want to live like locals but don't actually want to do that. I have three close friends who all live in major tourist destinations (London, Paris, and Taipei) and we all agree that most tourists don't really want what they say they want. I've experienced this outcome from many, many visiting friends and family asking me this exact thing over my 20 years living here.

So, OP, I think it's important to keep reasonable expectations for what you're hoping to experience, and be honest with yourself. In the age of social media and instant information sharing, there's almost nowhere tourists haven't been in the major destination cities. Having been on the receiving end of this question, when I travel for vacations myself to major tourist cities I try to learn as much cultural stuff beforehand, instead of expecting that I'll learn it when I get there. Learning about a place a lot beforehand tends to give me the ability to see local culture even in the middle of very touristy places (kinda like taking the red pill in the Matrix). Lately, I've become a fan of watching Anthony Bourdain episodes in advance about wherever I'm going. He went nearly everywhere on the planet, so wherever you're going he probably went (sometimes more than once across his different shows). You get history, food culture, types of cuisines, and also often the not so great stuff about a country (sometimes very bad stuff). If you truly want to experience a city like the locals...well, the locals live with the warts, not the idealized image, so you should also be aware of them.

One "touristy" activity I've had success with learning a local culture is with Context Travel walking tours. They're very small group, and in-depth. You actually get to talk with someone and have a conversation, and based on the conversation they tailor the tour to what you're interested in. Plus they have tours specifically centered around local culture. I've tried a few of these tours when I traveled somewhere, and I felt like I was able to better identify how to more politely and tactfully integrate myself into the local vibe. What I found perhaps most illuminating about the company's approach: when I've looked into the Context Travel walking tours in NYC, I'm pleasantly surprised at how itineraries feel like they're written by people who live here and truly love the city in all its beauty, and flaws.

Hope this helps,
Peter
To the extent that a fool knows his foolishness, | He may be deemed wise | A fool who considers himself wise | Is indeed a fool. | | Buddha
PoppyA
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by PoppyA »

Perhaps where you are visiting has a calendar of events like the town I live in does. You could find something you like there & attend.
stan1
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by stan1 »

If you want a compromise, one thing we often do is guided walking tours away from the most touristy areas. Doesn't need to be an expensive private tour, operators like London Walks do a good job and they offer tours to some historic and interesting parts of London that see few tourists. Not quite grabbing a pint a the local pub then getting invited to play rugby the next day, but also not spending a day in the British Museum.
life_force_prana
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by life_force_prana »

Spending time in smaller towns/villages and away from large city centers is an obvious one...if you want to get local and less global...

Staying at local B&B/inns as opposed to hotels, especially the Marriotts, Hiltons etc.,..(btw we did stay at a Marriott property in Toledo, Spain and it was classic, they bought a old mansion from family to add to their autograph collection)

Eating at smaller establishments away from the main drag

Doing less running around and more hanging around/lounging doing nothing. The more nights in one place/town the better.
rjbraun
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by rjbraun »

As others have already said, we try to shop at the local grocery when we travel. In addition to convenience and cost savings it can give a feel for local conditions. We also take public transportation as much as possible.

At one point, tripadvisor.com had an option for locals in New York City to 'host' visitors interested to meet locals. Not sure whether this is still an option, nor whether it may be for wherever OP plans to visit. Personally, I never participated but the feedback on the board seemed positive.

Thinking back on my travels, I guess short of already "knowing" some locals I think about a couple of instances where we took cooking classes with locals in Italy - Florence and Rome. In both cases the instructors were sourced on a more informal word of mouth basis (not through some big company or obvious website presence). I feel like we got some sense of local life, as much as one can get in an afternoon.

In one case, actually, I think the instructor was as interested to get to know us as we were to know her. We cooked in her home, after shopping at the local market, and ate what we cooked at her dining table. In the other case, the instructor operated a restaurant, and we cooked together in the kitchen at lunchtime. The restaurant was closed for lunch service, though the instructor's son, who was the chef, came in to meal prep for dinner, so it was interesting to be among "family".

Memorable experiences, now that I look back on them.
Last edited by rjbraun on Wed May 15, 2024 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
gt4715b
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by gt4715b »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:47 pm
This is a very good/deep question. Ideally, I want to experience the day in the life of a representative family in a given country but that is hard impossible to do on a few days of vacation. I am looking to see/experience the city like a local. I would like to hang out where the locals hangout and eat where the locals eat.

I tend to remember the interaction I make with local people the most, however short. The hotels, the buildings, the museums tend to blur after a few days.
I'll say that short trips are kind of at odds with experiencing local culture.
It really depends on the country/place. I find not too many people really want to experience people's lives in low standard of living areas. Also, language barrier is a problem.

Anyway, it's pretty easy with the internet to do all your research beforehand.

1. Find a local neighborhood. Check expat or digital nomad forums for the popular neighborhoods. Make sure it's not a foreigner bubble, however. Google "best neighborhoods to live in X" . Even in a place like Barcelona, it's pretty easy to get to nice neighborhoods with little to no locals.
2. Go to bars/cafes when it's not busy and talk to staff (assuming no language barrier)
3. Go back to places that you like. Unlike in the US, most bartenders/servers work most days, so you'll be likely to see the same people.
4. Try dating apps. Not many locals are looking to be a tour guide, but it can't hurt and seeing the local profiles themselves is learning about the culture.
5. Learn the local rhythm and be where the people are. Where are people mid-morning, lunch time, mid-afternoon, late-afternoon, early evening, late evening, late night?

Some places are more open to interacting with strangers (not just foreigners), so be aware of that. But plan on 90% of the experience to be passive observing anyway.
halfnine
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by halfnine »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.
Touristy destinations are touristy for a reason, embrace it, you'll have a much better time. This is one of those times where "if you can beat them join them". Embarrassingly it took me a long time to figure that out. Fortunately, 99% of the world isn't touristy which leaves pleny of opportunity to explore and find other gems. As to the locals. Well, they are busy going about their day to day lives. If you want to join in with them you have find what they do for recreation and jump in.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by neilpilot »

halfnine wrote: Wed May 15, 2024 4:05 pm
Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.
Touristy destinations are touristy for a reason, embrace it, you'll have a much better time. This is one of those times where "if you can't beat them join them". Embarrassingly it took me a long time to figure that out. Fortunately, 99% of the world isn't touristy which leaves pleny of opportunity to explore and find other gems. As to the locals. Well, they are busy going about their day to day lives. If you want to join in with them you have find what they do for recreation and jump in.
I fixed it for you above. :D
halfnine
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by halfnine »

neilpilot wrote: Wed May 15, 2024 4:13 pm
halfnine wrote: Wed May 15, 2024 4:05 pm
Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.
Touristy destinations are touristy for a reason, embrace it, you'll have a much better time. This is one of those times where "if you can't beat them join them". Embarrassingly it took me a long time to figure that out. Fortunately, 99% of the world isn't touristy which leaves pleny of opportunity to explore and find other gems. As to the locals. Well, they are busy going about their day to day lives. If you want to join in with them you have find what they do for recreation and jump in.
I fixed it for you above. :D
:oops:
Cruise
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Cruise »

I'll give you some examples of us seeking out knowledge of culture from our last couple of trips to Japan. Most people focus on temples, etc., which we have done, but far more interesting for us were these things:

1. Went to opening day of the Japanese professional baseball season. Wildly different experience than in the US

2. Went to final day of Grand Sumo tournament. Unlike anything we have experienced.

3. Found our way to a local gym, and observed kendo and Japanese traditional archery practices.

We decided on #1 & #2 ourselves, but called upon our hotel concierge to arrange for tickets for transport and entry. The same concierge offered #3 to us given our interests.

With the help of a trusted guide, have eaten at local restaurants that are typically unavailable to tourists. The kind with no English signs outside and no English on the menu. And very little English spoken by staff. Great food and very memorable experiences.

I'm sure you can replicate these types of experiences once you have some feel for the history and culture of the country/community you plan to visit. Having some boots on the ground will help actualize your aspirations. Good luck.
manuvns
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by manuvns »

Workqa wrote: Tue May 14, 2024 8:33 pm I plan to travel to a tourist destination city in Europe in a few weeks.

Every itinerary I find on the web talks about places, buildings, museums, etc. to see.

I find it really hard to see, learn, or experience local culture.

What are the best ways/opportunities to interact with local people?
Hang out at couple of bars / pub where lot of local hang out at happy hour you will learn a lot.
Thanks!
SpaghettiLegs
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by SpaghettiLegs »

1) Walk or take a bus to get everywhere
2) use the local grocery stores
3) Use a nearby less than top end cafe( same one) for your morning cup or evening aperitif every day.
Case59
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Case59 »

Best travel advice I ever got. "Eat what the locals eat, and drink what the locals drink."

Enjoy, and don't worry whether your experience is "authentic" or not.
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by Sandtrap »

AlohaBill wrote: Wed May 15, 2024 1:45 pm I think that living in another country for a week or two is very limiting in picking up any meaningful culture. For me living in the country for a couple of years, learning the language (or trying ) just immersing yourself is the best way to learn about culture. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Marshall Islands for two years. The island I lived on had no other English native speakers. I was total dependent on the wonderful people there. Of course, me living on their island meant that they got about 4 supply ships a year versus once or twice. I was 22 when I went. It was a very special time.
I lived in Japan for two years in Urawa, Saitama for 1 year and in Yokohama for the second year. I got married to my Hawaiian girlfriend at the end of the first year. My Japanese friends took me to Shinto shrines, Noh plays, local restaurants and bars. It was a very different experience than the Marshalls. I was working a full time job and newly married. In the Peace Corps I was expected to immerse myself in the culture while in Japan my job was a 6 day week affair. I only was able to learn enough Japanese to be polite. My wife knew Chinese characters so we were able to travel outside the cities. We went to the 47 ronin museum, to Gikakuji and Kinkakuji in Kyoto and Nikko. My oldest son married a Japanese national and they go back to Japan every year. Their kids go to summer school in Osaka. They are bilingual. Japan was awesome. (My dad had a different opinion.)
Our Saudi Arabian experience in picking up culture was very different. I felt we were tolerated only so that we could teach their kids English. We were forbidden to talk about religion (except Islam), relationships between men and women, alcohol. We weren’t encouraged to meet Saudi families. Men just didn’t mix with women who were not in their families. We stayed for 6 years and I learned about 20 words. We had one son born there . Our other 3 sons grew up there. That was their home. California where we settled was not their original home. Every year they would fly from Dhahran to Hawaii, to New Hampshire back to Saudi Arabia. I can’t imagine how that affected them. Sorry if I bored you, but that was my experience in learning cultures.🐪🍣🇯🇵🐠🌊🍱🥢🚅🏝️🇲🇭🇸🇦🇺🇸
Thanks for sharing such a wealth of experience -- cultural immersion and the attitude, humility, and "presence of self", to bring to it.

"Me Ke Aloha"
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HipCoyote
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Re: What is the best way to experience/observe culture while on vacation?

Post by HipCoyote »

We do a few things.

We often use Viator in foreign cities and go on various tours...most often food. They are almost always neighborhood places that we would have never found.

We often travel with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) that has cultural experiences such as having meals with families...we have had meals or talks with everyone from women in a Muslim country to discuss the wearing of the hijab (one did and one did not.) We met with a nomad woman who was raising children in the Sahara. We met with Coptic Christians in Cairo. There were at least 5 other experiences like this.

In Africa we had similar experiences in a villages such as visiting schools.

None of this this allows us to be immersed in the culture, but we do get a taste of it.

If you want info about OAT, PM me.
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