A little bit of cultural knowledge and cultural sensitivity could have save Michelle Palmer and Vincent Acors months of anguish not to mention the international humiliation of being dubbed the “Sex on the Beach” couple. Both Palmer and Acors are British citizens who were accused of public indecency, sex outside of marriage and drunkenness My focus is: what is a person’s responsibility when they are operating in another culture for work or for that matter, as a tourist? Michelle Palmer was a publishing executive and had lived in the UAE for more than 2 years. Vincent Acors was there on a business trip. So, my question is: When traveling, do you have a responsibility to learn about another culture? And if you say, “yes”, then what is your responsibility for using that knowledge and respecting their values and traditions?
I do believe that we all should take some time to learn about the social norms of another culture. It really takes a small amount of training to understand the basics of cultural competency and it can make you so much more effective not only when you are negotiating and interacting but when you are dealing with situations like this. In fact, it will help you avoid these situations. Knowledge is power and a little bit of cultural knowledge can take you a long way.
The UAE has certain social guidelines and it expects people to adhere to those expectations. As I read about the saga of this situation, I was amazed and yet not as I have seen so many people behave in a way that they would not behave in their own environment. This couple was given a warning by a police officer and they were arrested when he came back a second time. The police in the UAE have arrested dozens of people for public nudity etc. I know that there are very few, if any, places in the U.S. where you can sunbathe topless and not get arrested. If the western world frowns on this behavior, why would you do it in a country or a region known to have conservative values?
In my mind, there is no excuse for blatantly disregarding the social norms of another culture, especially when you are in their country. As westerners we expect other cultures to do it our way when they are in our country…I think that they are entitled to that same courtesy when we are in their country. So, please, take a little bit of time and learn about appropriate attire, social expectations and business etiquette. While some mistakes will be seen as a social misstep, others can land you in jail.