Cultural Consciousness - Tying it Up

Many travelers know that there are a multitude of things to be considered when you travel, even before you pack your suitcase. Throughout this article and others like it, I will be explaining some of the considerations that Riley takes into account when organizing travel plans, and just why it is so important for us to understand them. Facilitating travel is a key goal within Riley, but we cannot do that without a full understanding of the risks beforehand.

One of the biggest things to consider before you travel are the country-specific cultural practices to abide by, and what the cultural climate of that country is like. This may not be the first instinct of many western travelers, as we live in countries that are considered “melting pots,” which hold multiple cultures. While we have norms and laws that we follow, these are not culturally specific, and can also vary by location within the country (for example, they can vary between states within the United States). To be culturally sensitive is important for all travelers, whether it be business or pleasure, and we understand this at Riley. The first section of one of the many courses that we offer is centered around cultural awareness, and any threats that can arise when awareness is not taken. But I am not here to teach you about traveling abroad, instead I would like to spend the rest of this installment expressing the importance of cultural consciousness.  I think the best way to do this is to walk through a “real world example,” and highlight its importance.

So, to help express the importance of cultural consideration, I would like to talk about when you need to wear a tie in the New Zealand parliament. Prior to this case, male members of parliament (MPs) were required to wear ties while in session. Ties may seem like the most benign of accessories; maybe a bit uncomfortable, but on the surface, there does not seem to be an issue. Many of us have grown up in a culture where ties are the norm, but there are thousands of people who have grown up, and still live in, cultures where ties are not the standard formal wear. Rawiri Waititi, the co-leader of the Maori party, was attending a session of parliament in New Zealand while donning traditional cultural dress, “Maori business attire,” according to an article by The Guardian. Mr. Waititi then began to speak while on the parliament floor, still not wearing a tie, and he was told to stop speaking. When he continued to speak, he was removed from the floor entirely. Mr. Waititi decided to wear traditional dress, knowing the rule, because he and his party have been trying to abolish this culturally insensitive rule within the government. In no way did Mr. Waititi intend for this silent act to be perceived as disrespect. He was being culturally conscious of himself, inserting his culture into his workspace. To Mr. Waititi, and the Maori party, this act was about bringing cultural considerations to the forefront of the highest political body in the country. In the words of Mr. Waititi: “It’s not about ties it’s about cultural identity, mate.” The rule on ties went deeper than mere presence, the tie was also the symbol for who was allowed to speak on the parliament floor, a symbol that was not crafted by all of the cultures present in New Zealand. As I said earlier, this is not the first time that Mr. Waititi and his party have brought up their discontent with the requirement of ties. In fact, this is not the first time that Mr. Waititi has been removed from parliament after bringing up the issue. When asked about the tie issue, prior to this most recent incident, Mr. Waititi had called the ties “colonial nooses.” Now, as of February 10th, 2021, the tie rule has been officially abolished within the New Zealand parliament.

The point of this anecdote was not simply to inform you what you’ll need to wear if you find yourself becoming a member of the New Zealand parliament, although if that is your plan for the future, perhaps I’ve saved you a few hours of research. I wanted to highlight one of the many examples of how serious this issue is to many people. I am hoping that the brevity, and the lengths that people will go to express their cultural identity, will explain the importance of cultural consideration while traveling. In no way do you need to be a cultural expert when you travel to a specific region. It can even be as simple as knowing the proper cultural way to greet individuals, as you can see in the photo above, which shows the traditional Maori greeting called Hongi. It could be as simple as knowing when and where to take your shoes off inside, who shakes hands with whom during introductions, even what kinds of colors to wear to give a good first impression. Not only is it important to engage in cultural practices within a certain country, but it is also important to understand why. Riley can help you minimize and mitigate risks during travel, but I hope that with Riley’s tools and my words, you’ll now understand why it’s so important in the first place.