Culture Smart! Thailand: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

To many outsiders Thailand represents “the East” at its most beguiling and enigmatic. Golden stupas, green jungles, elephants, pristine beaches, a buzzing nightlife, and of course the hot and spicy cuisine.

A trip to Thailand will reveal that their cuisine is much more diverse and sophisticated than what is usually found in Thai restaurants abroad. In the main it is characterized by its use of fresh ingredients and strong, aromatic flavors. While it is quintessentially Southeast Asian in this regard, it has also absorbed a great deal of influence through the ingredients and cooking styles of India, China, and the West.

Indigenous Thai food has four basic categories: “dtom” (boiled), yum (spicy hot salads), “dtum” (salads or pastes pounded in a mortar), and “gaeng” (curries). Fried dishes of Chinese influence are also ubiquitous. Within Thailand there are at least four distinct regional cuisines: Central, Isan, Northern/Lanna, and Southern.

While restaurants in the main centers are used to catering to foreigners, in smaller towns many are not, and the unsuspecting tourist who chooses an interesting-looking dish from the counter may find it alarmingly fiery. There is always the option to ask for it to be served otherwise, if you are aware of this! The famously exquisite manners and hospitality of the Thais means they will be happy to cater to different tastes and cultures.

Thai etiquette is rooted in a worldview that is influenced by the country’s history, culture, and customs, as well as its longstanding interaction with foreigners. Thais put a great deal of effort into social skills in order to maintain harmony in the public realm, and their culture is a rich and sensuous one, where the many rituals of food, festival, music, and dance reveal a great love of fun and enjoyment of each other’s company. As their guest you will no doubt be made to feel at home – all the more reason not to inadvertently behave in a manner they may find offensive!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787022966
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

Culture Smart! Sweden: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Sweden is, in many senses, an unspoiled paradise of achingly beautiful archipelagos, forests, mountains, lakes, and coastlines. The surprisingly varied terrain is full of contrasts and contradictions—as is its people.

Swedish society is based on the belief in equality, independence, self-expression, and respect. It is rights-driven, with a strong commitment to maintaining a safe and secure “home of the people.”

Although historically Lutheran, the Swedes today are largely secular and make their life decisions from a non-religious, rational standpoint. This does not mean, however, that they are not spiritual. It is in the natural environment that many Swedes find spiritual fulfillment—in the forests, on the lakes, and in the mountains. For many Swedes, reverence to nature is a kind of religion! And luckily for the Swedes, they are granted a lot of free time – a minimum five weeks’ paid vacation and several public holidays – in which they can enjoy their surroundings.

In the summer months, Swedes make as much of the outdoors as possible with picnics, sports events, or socializing al fresco at sidewalk cafés. Many Swedes are inseparable from nature, which brings them inner peace and harmony. In the winter they go for long walks in the crisp snow, ski along forest tracks, and skate on one of the many frozen lakes, while jogging, hiking, swimming, and picnicking are popular ways to enjoy Sweden’s long, beautiful summer days.

Swedes also make the most of their time outdoors by using locally maintained trails for cross-country skiing, jogging, walking, running, cycling, and horseback riding. In national parks there are trailside huts where hikers can stay for a nominal fee. By law, the “Right to Roam” allows the Swedes nearly unlimited access to any land or waterfront area, whether for mushrooming in the spring and fall, or for boating among the 25,000 islands in the Swedish archipelago. Sweden is also a fisherman’s paradise, with more than 96,000 lakes and a national border that is mainly coastline. As a way to get back to nature, around 1.8 million people own a summer cottage, “sommarstuga” which they will escape to during the long vacation.

So, don’t forget to pack a rucksack and some hiking boots when you visit Sweden – you will easily find somewhere to stop, relax and take in the breathtaking natural landscapes!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787022881
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! Uganda: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Aside from Uganda’s extraordinary wildlife and natural beauty it is the Ugandan people who make this country different. Drawn from more than twenty tribes, they represent a rich blend of traditions and culture. You can sample this in dance and song performances by groups such as the Ndere Troupe in Kampala, or you can wander through a village, and get to know the local people. You will find them sociable, warm, and hospitable. Kampala is famous as the social capital of East Africa, the city that never sleeps, where every kind of nightlife is on offer.

Of course it is impossible to generalize about the character of more than thirty million people, but the remark is often made that Ugandans are friendly, and it is the case that most Ugandans are happy to start up a conversation with a stranger. Riding on a bus in Uganda is a very different experience from riding on the London Underground: people are curious, and will want to know about you. Even though the official language is English, many of the local people are not fluent in it, which can make communication more difficult but by no means impossible. The level of spoken English is more widespread than in either Kenya or Tanzania, so it is not hard to find your way around, or communicate reasonably well, even if you are deep in the country. Many tourist also note that Ugandans are often very empathetic!

It is not the high quality of life that makes Ugandans happier than their neighbours, but their positive, optimistic outlook on life. Perhaps the years of adversity have made them appreciate what they have. This national characteristic, where Ugandans have traditionally shared what they have, makes them special. It is not possible to call in at a mealtime and leave without partaking in the family meal, and probably also being given something to take home.

The Uganda of today is a unique blend of beauty, tradition, and modernity. The visitor will generally need to reach out to Ugandans first, as they have seen many foreigners come and go who are not really interested in their lives, and if you don’t bother with them, they will not bother with you. However, once you demonstrate your interest, they will accept you with open arms.

In order to avoid the inevitable cultural pitfalls for the unwary traveler – differences in expectations, customs and ways of behaving. This book provides key insights into Ugandan life and offers practical tips on how best to meet the Ugandan people on their own terms and other vital information for tourists and businesspeople alike.

 

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787028562
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! India: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

All descriptions of “India” or “Indians” can only be offered as a simplification to aid understanding, rather than as a complete representation. That’s both the beauty and the challenge of visiting India – there is little that can be labeled generically as “Indian culture”. And there is little that compares with our own life “back home”, at least beyond the superficial trappings acquired during the British Raj or under the influence of reality tv.

The family is one of the most important and evident of all Indian values. Family in India means the extended family. Whether living under the same roof in the family home or scattered around the globe, family is the entire network of people who are related to each other by blood or marriage.

“If everybody tries together even a mountain can be moved.” – Malayalam proverb.

The extended family maintains and defines social boundaries, ensuring that individuals and single family units stay within the culturally prescribed norms. It is the family that forms identity, where values are passed on and lived out, on whom you depend for life and well-being.

Individuality, autonomy, and independence, highly esteemed values in the West, are antithetical to all that Indians traditionally hold dear. There is no such thing as “my property”, “my space,” or “my decision.” Individuals who act independently are viewed as selfish. Typically those rebels will be corralled through public ridicule or third-party communication.

Relationships and social responsibilities are of prime importance, since no one accomplishes anything on their own. Everything, from mothering and naming your children, to passing exams, and choosing a spouse, is done with the help of family. It’s not uncommon for business people to take time off work to attend the several day-long wedding of what we might see as a distant relative or to participate in a religious event. These things are viewed as acceptable responsibilities, and people feel obligated, if not overjoyed, to participate in them. Active participation in life events help to reinforce family identity and belonging, and ensure that just as you are there for others, they will be there for you.

The intensity and diversity of India can create both shock and awe for visitors that are not likely to subside. India is an experience best appreciated by those who are open to learn, able to cope with ambiguity, and willing to redefine generosity and friendship. Falling in love with India “is much like developing a taste for spicy food. You look at the chilies and don’t know how you’ll cope. But the aroma is enticing, so you dive in. If you don’t give up, one day you’ll discover that you’ve developed a craving for it.”

Culture Smart! India will make you aware of the basic values and behavioural norms you will encounter in India. It will help you navigate cultural differences and connect with real people, and offer many insights into the endlessly fascinating place that is India. Sab kuch milega!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787029002
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! Iceland: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Iceland has erupted onto the travel scene in recent years. With striking views of bubbling turquoise geysers set among rugged snowy peaks, black sand beaches, crashing glacial waterfalls, and the ethereal majesty of the northern lights, one can only wonder what took it so long. But what of the people who call this remote North Atlantic island home? Behind a stoic veneer lies a proud, industrious, and egalitarian people, whose straightforwardness and ability to wing it have seen them thrive in this beautiful but unforgiving environment.

One common phrase you might hear in Iceland is  “verti∂arhugarfar” or “fishing-season mentality”. As any fisherman will tell you, when the season is right and the shoal appears, the time has come to cast your net. And, more than that, cast as many nets as you can, because tomorrow may already be too late. It encapsulates the almost gung-ho manner in which people will make the most of an opportunity that presents itself, to the extent that they may sometimes end up going too far and, in doing so, damage their own prospects of continued success.  Icelanders like to seize the day, and make the most of the present in spite of any perceived risk. We like that approach too!

This mentality is not surprising when you consider the Icelandic concept þetta reddast—pronounced “thetta reddast”—which is used to express the firmly held belief that everything will turn out all right in the end, that it will be so without the need for extensive planning or worry, and that one should be ready to adapt to the circumstances, whatever they require. Translated roughly, it means “everything will work out fine,” and goes some way to explain the Icelandic peoples’ willingness to forgo caution in order to seize opportunities as they arise.

While other cultures are more inclined toward meticulous organisation, the Icelander is more sensitive to the unpredictability of life, so flexibility and a basic optimism that things will turn out for the best are more highly valued. And how could it be otherwise? Iceland is not stable—it is perched on the convergence of two tectonic plates and has more than thirty volcanoes that could erupt at any time. The weather can change dramatically, and the country’s economic health is almost entirely determined by the price of aluminum, fish, and the number of tourists who decide to visit in the year—factors that are largely out of anyone’s control, as the recent pandemic has made abundantly clear.

It was only a couple of generations ago that the majority of Icelanders were farmers and fisherman who were at the mercy of nature and extreme weather conditions, and so, having become highly attuned to uncertainty and the necessity of adaptation, they have developed a more flexible and optimistic attitude toward life and its twists and turns.

Culture Smart! Iceland will equip you with a deeper understanding of your hosts and their complexities, as well as with vital insights to turn your visit into a more enriching experience.

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787029040
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $14.99 / CAN $19.99

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Culture Smart! Italy: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

It is impossible to be bored in Italy. To excite, delight and stimulate you there is the beauty of the land, the elegance and charm of its people, the variety of its regional cultures, the quality and dash of its design and engineering, the reputation of its artists, sculptors, writers, musicians, and filmmakers, and, of course, the glory of its monuments and architecture.

One of the great pleasures of Italy, though, is eating and drinking. Each region has its individual cooking style and ingredients. In the north black pepper, butter, and rice are the staples. In the south it’s hot red pepper, olive oil, and pasta. In Piedmont scented truffle may be grated over your risotto; Liguria has a pasta sauce of crushed basil and pine nuts called pesto; in Tuscany you may eat freshly caught hare and tomato, or wild-boar sausages; and in Sicily you will be offered the most delicious sardines. Many of these ingredients will have been prepared that day, brought fresh from the market.

Italy’s rich diversity and localism explains why there are more than two thousand names for the huge variety of pasta shapes, and more wine labels – at least four thousand – than anywhere else in the world. Italy has many food festivals, called sagre, where local food is on display.

A full-scale Italian meal is substantial, and so varied that it bears out the adage, l’appetito vien mangiando (the appetite grows with eating). Two main courses are preceded by a starter and followed by cheese, a dessert, and/or fruit. And no one is in a hurry when eating out in Italy! The interval between secondo piatto and the cheese and fruit, followed by dessert and coffee, is the time for leisurely conversation and is what authentic Italian dining is all about.

Like all our guides, Culture Smart! Italy focuses on the people. How do they behave? What makes them tick? What is the best way to get on good terms with them? For that is the real way to enjoy Italy. Buon Appetito!

Book Details:

    • ISBN: 9781787028760
    • Format: Paperback
    • Page count: 200
    • Dimensions: 170 x 110 x 15mm
    • Published at: £9.99 / $12.99 / CAN $17.99

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We have relaunched with 25 new titles!

Culture Smart! guides are designed to help you have a more meaningful and successful time abroad through a better understanding of the local culture.

With chapters on navigating local culture and etiquette, effective communication, and how to avoid cultural misunderstandings, our guides make sure you are a better-informed guest.

After 15 years in publication and more than 100 titles published, we are excited to announce the relaunch of CULTURE SMART!, a series of guides designed to help people have a richer and more meaningful experience abroad through a better understanding of the local culture. CULTURE SMART! guides offer a qualitative improvement to people’s experience abroad by telling readers about the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of people of different countries, so that when they arrive they are aware of local manners and sensitive issues, and are well equipped to make friends or enter into successful business relationships.

25 new editions of bestselling guides were published to mark the relaunch, with more to follow. With a new design and improved format, we aim to reach a wider audience and solidify the series’ standing as market leader of this travel category niche.

What’s New

• The updated guides have been entirely redesigned, both inside and out.

• The new design will help the series appeal to a wider audience at a time when the content covered in traditional travel guides, like restaurants and hotel listings, is readily available online for free.

• The guides remain compact and travel-sized but have 32 extra pages. The layout of this chunkier guide has allowed us to include more content, such as a section on Useful Apps, and to make use of larger images for greater impact.

• The new layout was designed to help make the book more user friendly and, due to better spacing and use of images, offers a better reading experience.
Check out our online shop to see the 25 new books available now to help you prepare for your next trip!

Wednesday Wanderlust – 10 Cultural Tips from South Asia

Planning a trip to South Asia or just want to learn more about the region? The following tips and facts will give you an insight into its rich and varied culture for all your travel needs:

Bangladesh

1. There is a saying that Bangladeshis maintain ‘Bangladesh’ time, and so you might notice that they display a rather casual attitude toward timekeeping. If you are visiting someone socially, allow plenty of time for this relaxed attitude: they will want to chat before a meal and then relax and chat some more, afterwards.

2. The many festivals and celebrations of Bangladesh have given rise to the expression “baro mashe tero parbon” (thirteen festivals in twelve months). These include Nabanno Utsab (Harvest Festival), Basanta Utsab (Spring Festival) and Pokela Boishakh (Bengali New Year’s Day). This New Year celebration is actually held on April 14th as it follows the Bengali calendar, rather than the Western Gregorian calendar.

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Wednesday Wanderlust: 10 values and attitudes of Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe has some wonderful landscapes and people – here are ten cultural facts taken straight from our CultureSmart! Guides on Eastern Europe.

Armenia

1.

‘Names beginning with a first name and ending with –ian or –yan are indications of the father’s first name. Diasporans tend to use –ian, while Armenians use –yan. For example, Davidian is the son of David, and Krikorian is the son of Krikor or Gregor. Typically, first names were taken from the bible, so many last names have a religious origin.’

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Wednesday Wanderlust – 10 Values and Attitudes of Central Europe

Home to some of the best beers in the world, Central Europe is one of the most culturally rich regions to explore. Check out these 10 values and attitudes straight from our guides!

  Czech Republic 

Photo credit: www.pixabay.com

  1. It is the reserved nature of the Czechs that visitors may notice at first, however emotion in speech is hard to gauge as Czechs speak in low tones and with a minimum of inflection.
  2. Czech has fewer names considered to be “acceptable”. Parents must submit the names they are planning to give to their child to a sort of ‘name police’ – a government bureaucrat – to determine whether the name is suitable. So you’ll probably meet more than one Petra, Jans, Zdeněk or Palvas. Czechs also do not use middle names so finding the proper for example; Radek Dolezal will be a challenge!

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