The Culture Conundrum

Much of the magic of travel happens when we collide with other cultures, hear new languages and assault our senses with the sights, sounds and smells of somewhere entirely new. There’s no better way to do that than to spend time hanging out with the locals, says Lydia Gard.

While you’re busy rating the service, sunset or wine list in your beautiful resort, ask your child what they are enjoying about a holiday and they’ll probably say making a sandcastle with their new friends. They might recount a story about the local kids who they kicked a ball about with. The likelihood is, it’ll be something to do with people.

But if you land somewhere new and head straight for a resort, staying holed up until you fly out again then, let’s face it, you’re just swapping one sky colour for another.

Smart hotels the world over quite literally draw a line in the sand, demarcating a stretch of beach given over to ‘tourists’, and in effect, making locals unwelcome. But is there a decent reason that your kids shouldn’t go beachcombing with their local peers? They’re likely to know the best rock pools to fish, trees to climb or waves to catch: yet we tend to limit our children by sticking them into kids’ clubs with a clutch of other privileged European children from roughly the same socioeconomic group. What can they learn, apart from the Spanish for, ‘He snatched my iPad’.

But imagine if you shrugged off your fear of the unknown, and let them play marbles in the marketplace. What might they learn then?

How to encourage your children to embrace new cultures:

  • Learn a little of the language before you go. This is much easier for children than adults, though trying to master a few phrases yourself will make it more fun for all of you and will go down well if you plan to barter in the market.
  • Research customs and traditions before you fly. If you are in India during an important religious festival, see what decorations children wear in their hair and dress yours up for the occasion.
  • Children learn and adapt quickly, so try not to hide negative elements of the culture from them. Experiencing poverty can be an important turning point in a child’s ability to empathize and put the world into context.
  • Let children simply play together. Pack some extra crayons and notepads, marbles or bouncy balls for them to share with local children. Even without a common language they will find a way to communicate through play.
  • Allow them to make friends and you will expose them to different attitudes, habits and values and help them to develop a respect for other cultures. Not to mention maybe making lifelong friends in the process.

That’s got to be better than a kids’ club?

 Lydia Gard is the editor of Mr Fox. She has two boys aged 3 and 6. To escape the chaos she runs in the South Downs before a hot bath drizzled with essential oils.

What do you think? Do you think your kids are happier in a kids’ club or do you encourage them to explore their surroundings? Have they made friends with local children on holiday? Let us know in the comments below (desktop only).

1 Comment

  • Samantha James says:

    When we are away on holiday some of our most memorable evenings have been spent socialising with local people.
    If there is a play ground, or a football game going on the the town square, or a game on the beach our son, after a little encouragement, loves to join in.
    Playing is its own language, no translation needed!

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