Whenever the word ‘culture’ comes up in regards to your holiday, you probably immediately think of an endless list of museums. Whether or not you enjoy museums, there are many different ways to experience culture in a foreign place other than learning about its history and heritage, and with much more enjoyment than these museums usually offer. Of course, not all museums are stuffy and boring. In some, you can experience culture that is fun and interactive, using multimedia as a part of their exhibits, while some have the impressive grandeur and opulence of their locations that makes for most of their appeal, but these kinds of museums seem rare compared to the other kind! I’m going to share with you some ideas on how to best experience culture in a wider range of different ways to show that culture really isn’t just museums (though museums should certainly have some place on tourists’ check lists).
1. The Cinema
The film industry is very different in other countries compared to America. It is worth going down to your nearest cinema and having a look at what’s on offer and, if you’re brave enough, maybe even sit through a foreign film (most of them have English subtitles, so you’re in luck!). It is always interesting to compare and contrast customs in cinemas abroad to cinemas back at home. Imagine sitting through a fabulous Bollywood movie in Kolkata, or a fantasy martial arts flick in Hong Kong.
2. Drink at Local Bars
We’re not talking about the tourist-friendly bars here, but the bars where locals tend to go to. These places will give you a better glimpse into what a place is like better than the kinds of bars which have been created with you in mind. It also offers you the chance of socialising with the locals and to learn about local customs, experiencing local drinking as they experience it. This kind of activity allows you to experience culture that is in no way artificial, but genuine. But it’s probably best to ask about what you’re drinking first, as the national drink may have just a little more kick than you expect!
3. Department Stores
Shopping is usually on the holiday agenda without even being thought about, but it is another great and undervalued way to experience a place like a local. It allows you to see fashion trends, merchandise and gives you a peek into a country’s popular culture. Often, the best way to understand local customs is to compare them to what you already know, and what better way is there to do this than whilst shopping? You can compare prices, fashion trends and the general shopping experience.
4. Radio and Television
The easiest way to experience culture is to flick on the television and radio from your hotel room. This will give you information about current affairs, politics, as well as what is popular in terms of entertainment, music and drama. Of course, you need to have an understanding of the language if the native tongue isn’t the same as yours.
5. Music Stores
Speaking of music, it is an eye-opening experience to visit a foreign music store just to compare the prices of singles and albums and to have a look at the Top 20 chart. It is also allows you to see which artists have had success abroad and which haven’t, compared to those back in your home country.
Food will obviously be an important part of any trip, and food is also the most accessible of local customs. Take a look at what are considered local delicacies, what the diet is like, what the most popular types of food are etc. Sometimes it is even quite fun to compare packaging! Eat out as much as you can and try places off the tourist track - there’s usually a much better deal at places where the locals eat. If you can find one, join a cooking class for a true experience of local customs.
7. Electronics Stores
Not so many years ago, this would have been a very strange suggestion of a way to experience local culture, but today, even us girls have more than a passing interest in gadgets. It is exciting to see just how much certain gadgets and electronic devices differ from back home. This can mean anything from comparing the style of cell phones to your own, or ones back home to new innovations in gadgetry. This is certainly one of the quirkier ways to experience culture on the list, but if you are going to somewhere like Japan, where technology seems to be light years ahead of the rest of the world, you will be in for a lot of surprises!
So, I hope this list has helped you to look beyond the walls of museums in order to experience culture. Most of us probably enjoy local customs abroad without realising it, as some of the above points would suggest. Whatever your opinion of museums, it is clear that they are only a small part of a country’s culture, and should not take away from some of the more spiritually-satisfying cultural experiences.
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