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  • Writer's pictureDr. Clinton Lee

Embracing the Janus Phenomenon: Navigating Cultural Transitions in Global Travel

Adventure is almost guaranteed, and that bubbling excitement within, is generated for most of us, when we realise, we are going to be travelling on a trip, at least, I feel that way especially when traveling abroad. 

The Janus Phenomenon

This is what I term the “Janus” phenomenon. In Roman mythology, the god of doors, gates, and transitions was Janus. He is depicted as representing the in-between situations such as, any beginnings and endings, like the changes from youth to adulthood or the evolution from barbarism to civilization. That is why his image is always depicted with two faces representing transition. 

Leaving for a trip, we all will “be ending,” albeit temporarily, what we are accustomed to and comfortable with, when it relates to our routine life, manners, and etiquette. What lies, once those aeroplane doors are swung open, by the experienced air host after the plane has landed ready for disembarkation, “marks the beginning” where we anticipate expecting the unexpected. Unfamiliar mannerisms, etiquette, tone, and approaches towards life will greet you during your time away. Read more about my cultural etiquette essential tips for business travellers here.

Travelling to Different Cities with Openness

During a recent whirlwind trip where I cast my shadow in the cities of Paris, Doha, and Singapore in a matter of days, I can testify the “Janus” phenomenon is alive and kicking!

In Paris, I visited several stores, restaurants, and hotels. The initial greeting was full of that traditional French flair and elegance. It was inviting, displaying a discernible courteous approach with abandonment to the essence of time where you did not feel you were being rushed and time was inconsequential. Now, I know, not everyone has had that experience, we read about how rude and short the French can be, I am sure that can also be the case. It depends on where and who you meet and your personal attitude to change and recognising diverse cultures. 

In Doha, one cannot be unimpressed with the personal safety factor you get, the multitude of different sites and activities available. The people are very hospitable, smiling and there is much to smile about in Doha, Qatar. You need to be aware of certain considerations which may require permission like taking photographs of people and buildings because of their magnificent structure. Religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism Judaism, or any other following and teachings must be treated with the utmost respect. Respecting other people’s faith even though it is different to your own is important and I have taken it upon myself to read, understand and appreciate different religions and their teachings. For me a wonderful experience, the people, the country, and the smiles, one that I would consider a privilege to visit again.

Singapore is a straight to the facts approach, highly efficient and follow the process country. Upon landing you would be advised to have filled in the electronic landing form prior. From the point of landing to the collection of your baggage and through immigration can be completed within 20 minutes, an enviable award many airports wish they could have. Efficiency begins with your first step onto Singaporean soil. Certainly, they are hospitable, and very gracious and their approach towards life is simple and efficient. You might be greeted with singular answers like “can” meaning it can be done or “cannot” meaning the opposite. Abbreviations are used generously and widespread enhancing a unique time-saving technique. Its not unusual to be greeted at a store with the word, “Yes” as opposed to the anticipated good morning or afternoon depending on the time and how can I help you? That extends the greeting process and takes time, “Yes” is more practical. The daily course of life is fast here, and they do not like wasting your time nor their own. I love Singapore for their food, style and their nonsense and pragmatic approach to life. 

In all cases, view each situation and environment and country you visit with the openness and eyes of a young child, not totally innocent to the ways of the world but with a keen sense of curiosity, enthusiasm and always being careful not to disrespect differences you come across.

I have been blessed in few ways, but one I cherish, is possessing a natural spring of curiosity and an evergreen abundance of wanting to learn.

My Last Observation

One last observation do not underestimate other people’s tone. Recently, I replaced an external converter with USB, C openings for my computer. The sales assistant was noticeably short, abrupt and her tone quite aggressive towards me. Being human I naturally wanted to react to this style, but I paused before reacting and used the process I share with you all. 

  1. View the situation you are in, the environment and country. 

  2. Pause then react accordingly, because their approach is different to yours does not mean they are wrong especially when you are visiting their country. 

  3. Be calm and respectful, differences do not always equate to rudeness.

In this instance, it was her natural approach towards everyone. So always be aware and understanding, you learn so much more when travelling. Safe travels. 


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