What can be wrong with enjoying the local culture as a tourist and getting a taste of the everyday lives of locals? According to the Lonely Planet – a lot.
Immersing ourselves in rich foreign cultural traditions brings pleasure and excitement to our lives. With the spread of technology and progressive globalization, the world has become smaller and more easily accessible. Who wouldn’t take on that opportunity and fly out to a remote or exotic country?
If you are an experienced digital nomad or someone who is considering starting the remote working lifestyle you know that reading about the place you want to visit is the first step on the journey.
Reading through sites like tripadvisor or travelindex, have you ever encountered an article that said digital nomads are bad for the community, or that foreigners are not treated well? It is hard to believe that any country would want the reputation of an unwelcoming place and mostly for the economical benefits of having foreigners’ strong buying powers.
However, scratch the surface and the controversy starts to present itself.
Overblowing issues or predicting the future?
One obvious consequence of digital nomads in foreign cultures is that they contribute to the changing of the fabric of the community they are living in. Another concern is the “cheapening” of the cultures making them more westernized and bland compared to the native traditions.
Is that true? Culture has always been a fluid concept, changed, blended and assimilated with the events and people throughout the history of a particular place in a certain time frame.
We can trace it down to Columbus in South America, and his influence on the local community that has since then changed forms and intensity but continues nevertheless the influence of natural cultural exchange. We are all guilty of this.
So, can we say that the western cultures or digital nomads are the only ones that could potentially destroy the local cultures? If the answer is obviously no, what is the issue at stake?
The answer is money.
There is a real concern that some people will be priced out of their local communities and that comes from a noticeable price gap between some local population and the digital nomads living there.
The argument against this presumption is that the digital nomads already choose to live in the neighbourhoods that are occupied by people of higher monetary income. The areas occupied by digital nomads are not so large, and most of the “home away from home” residents are immersed in the everyday of the local culture and dispersed throughout the region.
Taking advantage of cheap prices is inevitable and the responsibility lays in the hands of the local sellers more than anywhere else by avoiding raising the prices above the local standards.
Moreover, the remote workers/digital nomads living in local communities can serve as a bridge between cultures and steadily bring progress, development and stability over time.
Is this something that can ruin local cultures? Or does the answer to the issue lay somewhere else? For now, it doesn’t seem that digital nomads are degrading the standard of living of local people in the sense we mentioned.
If the local economy will succumb to the temptation of increasing the prices or if digital nomads will in fact price out the locals from certain neighbourhoods is something we would have to wait and see in the times to come since it can become a reality later rather than that being a case right now.
Saying that, could the concern for the digital nomads ruining local cultures of traditional cultures be in the connection with ex-pats and westernization? It is easy to slip into this kind of rationalization unless we realize the nature of westernization and the role the local communities have in allowing it.
Will it be a problem in the future, however? Can we affect it and in what way?
Westernization/Americanization of the world – a necessary evil?
Saying digital nomads are bringing western culture to foreign places is simply wrong.
This process is an ongoing phenomenon, long before digital nomads started showing up and does not stem from digital nomads because not all expats come from western societies.
What is important in looking at this westernization from an objective angle. There are 2 important points while trying to achieve this:
- Effects of westernization were noticeable long before the digital nomad lifestyle became popular.
- Countries that get westernized accept the influence because they identify it as cultural progress.
This is noticeable in the business etiquette and consumer habits the most.
Brand chains like Starbucks serve as landmarks as either progress or security regarding if they are looked at from the perspective of the local population of the country or the tourists visiting that country.
Their consistency and familiarity are attractive to travellers who find themselves overwhelmed by the alien nature of their newfound surroundings. You always know that you will get the experience, taste and outcome you expect from it.
With the increase of digital nomads, the popularity of these types of places rose noticeably (Even though most digital nomads I know prefer to be immersed in the local culture rather than take part in the popular western customs).
Enriching yourself with the culture rather than cheapening it is the solution to this problem. If all the places start looking the same – why travel in the first place?
Once you’ve found yourself living in a specific culture isolating yourself and creating a bubble of familiarity is cancelling out the very reason for travel that can be:
- Exploring the unknown
- Expanding your perception of the world
- Challenging your established opinions
A certain responsibility lies in our hands. Supporting local culture and contributing to its flourishment is the right way to go. Once in a blue moon Starbucks visits can bring a feeling of solid ground when you feel particularly shaky or overwhelmed but should not be the priority.
Since we mentioned responsibility, who else is responsible for this Americanisation of once authentic cultures?
It can not be avoided to say that the locals are as well.
We are all mesmerized by novelty, attracted to it for the thrill a new experience has to offer us. Especially people in the middle and upper middle class view these types of novelties as a sign of progress.
The expat hotspots and city centers are indeed being transformed because that is what the people want. Move away from the touristic epicentre and you will see the local culture that has not been pushed out by westernized standards.
Western business ecosystem from your home – Good for business bad for pleasure and finding the sweet spot
The one important thing this article doesn’t touch on is the economical benefits that working online and digital nomads bring to the local communities.
In places like the Balkans and South America, South Africa, Asia and many more I believe, digital nomads are bringing western work ethics, ideas and resources.
Working online, from the comfort of your home can elevate your standard of living if you are a local having to survive in a bad economy. Surpassing dysfunctional systems and adopting new, functional ones gives you the opportunity to create a normal life.
Like some cases in Central Eastern Europe adopting European Union systems showed us a certain form of development, pushing forward and closer to stability.
People are moving out of places like Canada and the USA, which are good for business but don’t provide the opportunities for a more pleasurable lifestyle are moving to the places that are good for pleasure.
International companies, startups, entrepreneurs with the budget, ideas and a proven system that are able to plant themselves in local communities often help those communities be more economically stable and enjoy a higher standard of living than they would be working for a local company.
Does this type of work take away from the enjoyment of local cultures? Yes, it does.
Does it also bring improvement? Yes, it does.
Social Media backdrops – the real pain point?
One issue that the author has been continuously mentioning throughout the article sometimes openly, sometimes covertly is the mark social media influencers and consumers leave in those domestic cultures and their environment.
Authentic areas are attractive as they are. Family restaurants and cafes have their unique beauty. What happens when those types of places are transformed to be more instagramable and attractive to social media influencers?
Their primary purpose is altered in a way that is more hollow and not pleasing to the rest of the visitors, attracting so-called “massive tourism” that can often leave a place in pieces once the stampede of attention-hungry crowds has passed.
Avoiding these types of places is a possibility. We can influence the “degradation” of authenticity by encouraging more of what we would personally like to see and experience.
Tourists judging tourists and adopting the culture
Popular destinations that attract masses of tourists are a thing for a long time already.
Museums of tourism, resorts, party tourism, nature tours and so forth are as popular now as they were 10 years ago.
Most of the digital nomads have a different mindset and are actively avoiding these types of places and activities.
The truth is that different cultures are accessible in different amounts and different dig nomads are receptive to the local culture in different proportions. It depends on various factors:
- Do you learn the language?
- How accessible is the culture?
- How is the interaction with the locals going?
- Can people speak English?
- How do you blend in?
There are swarms of dig nomads who just want to live the same way they did as in their native culture, home country and want to take advantage of low prices and good weather. That is a damaging thing and it is going to happen as a consequence of a lot of different patterns.
Tourists are judging other tourists for ruining the cultures but the cultures ruin themselves to an extent. The westernization of the world is taking over because parts of local cultures want it. The locals that want to keep on living the way they did do that and others embrace the change since it brings progress like medicine, the automotive industry, so forth.
There still is an interesting distinction between a digital nomad that is living in a place for 2 weeks, engaging in popular touristic activities and a person who is there for 3 months. You might notice that the long-term travellers are going to adopt a snobby attitude towards the short-term visitors who are not blending into the local customs.
This attitude can be equal to that of a local, sick of the mainstream tourists. Here lies the opportunity to build the cultural bridge and create an experience that is based on similar values.
What is certain is that the end result of long-term digital nomads will change travel experiences in big ways.
A new generation of global citizens emerging
Expats that stay long-term in a country and form friendships, relationships and marriage institutions are the ones who will bring about a new generation of global citizens.
Their children, be it offsprings from 2 different cultures or a homogeneous cultural background will be raised in a very interesting world, more international and open to various customs and lifestyles.
Wealth is going to be spread out more equally even though locals could be priced out in the future, but anyway, there is a huge price gap already and is a global issue.
Gentrification is taking over neighbourhood to neighbourhood globally. However, depending on the places you visit, there are still going to be people who are living indigenously and you will be the only foreigner. If you want the opposite you are welcome to join the touristic hot-spots.
Cultures are developing, modernizing and progressing at their own pace and by many influences. Digital nomads are certainly one of them.
Long-term digital nomads, expats living as digital nomads going from place to place should focus on establishing the cultural bridge. Connect with people and find individuals who are willing to share their culture, history and language.
See how you can help them in this inevitable westernization and show them how we can all benefit from it without stomping on the authenticity of local cultures.
If you want to become a member of this ever growing family of like-minded souls, start with joining Support Adventure by applying for our helpdesk technician role. We welcome you with open arms!
We are operating fully online for more than 4 years now and are a support for many digital nomads who found their sweet spot in remote countries, spreading the message of a global community.