When I travel, is it OK to talk about my hometown, or is that embarrassingly me-centric?
Dear Savvy Traveller: I love my hometown and I like to share about it when I travel, but some of my friends say it embarrasses them. How can I talk about my own culture without embarrassing my travel buddies? — Sue Holland
When people say that too much of a good thing is bad, they’re generally right. There are some important exceptions here (like love and ice cream) but I don’t think your situation falls into the realm of exception. Let me be clear that sharing hometown pride does fall into that “good thing” category, though.
I’m glad you appreciate the place you call home, and it’s particularly great that you want to share it with others. Cultural exchange is one of the most impactful benefits of travel, and that requires you not just to soak up the new culture you discover, but also to share some of your own customs and habits.
It sounds like you have no trouble doing that, so keep up the great work, and don’t stop talking about your hometown. I do think you probably need to dial back your enthusiasm, though.
When most people abuse the concept of sharing, they take too much; you do the opposite and give too much. It’s time to start consciously focusing on a healthier balance. Exchange with a culture, don’t bulldoze it.
If your friends have admitted to being embarrassed by your over-sharing habit, I suspect you’re doing it in one of two ways. You’re either simply dominating the conversation, or inadvertently offending the locals, and both of these will (and should) embarrass the rest of your group.
Let’s tackle both because, even though you may only fall into one of these categories, plenty of others will fall into the other, or both.
I’ll start with conversation domination, because that generally leads to offense anyway. It’s great to share an anecdote from your own experience that relates to the topic at hand (it’s a hallmark of good conversation!). But if you jump in with your own story as soon as your new friend has taken a breath, you’re not conversing, you’re talking.
Some people even introduce a topic by asking a question, giving someone else a few moments to respond, and then drone on with their own stories. In these cases, it’s painfully obvious to everyone that there was no intent for conversation here. This is just bulldozing. It’s irritating to anyone on the receiving end and, while some will simply feel frustration, many will take offense.
If you’re doing this, you’re telling the other person that you’re more interested in talking about yourself than in learning about what’s being shared because you haven’t asked any questions or engaged with the story. That’s offensive. But you’re also hurting yourself because you’re losing the chance to learn something about a person and, if you’re doing it during travel, you’re losing the chance to learn about a place.
If you don’t care about that, I’m not sure why you travelled at all. I’m sure you care, so if you think you may be doing this, pay attention to getting more details from the locals instead of giving them more details about you. Wait to be asked, and spend your own time asking.
The other type of conversation-killer you may be employing is offense. I’m sure you are positive that you’re not doing this because you try to be a good person. After all, you asked this question to help you behave in a way that would make your friends more comfortable—that’s great!
But plenty of offense is delivered unintentionally, and that may be the self-dug hole you’re falling into here. If you’re sharing your hometown pride in a way that offends people, you’re probably signalling that you think your home is better than the place you’re visiting.
Are you often comparing the local way of life to your own, starting stories with, “Where I’m from, we only eat that when…” or “If I tried to wear that in my town…” or “We don’t use that at home because we have X now”?
These phrases aren’t encouraging exchange, but saying “my way is better,” or worse, “my way is right.” Be more conscious of the comparison phrases you use, and try things like, “I’m going to try that,” and “I never considered how great that could be” or “my neighbors are going to love trying this.”
All of these phrases indicate that this custom is new to you, and will encourage locals to ask about your own habits. But they also show interest and openness, not judgment. These are great conversational tools for all interactions, but they’re particularly important in diplomatic situations, and you are always a diplomat of your hometown when you travel.
Let me say one more time that I don’t think you intend to embarrass or offend anyone, Sue. If you did, you wouldn’t have asked this question.
I think your issue is a simple matter of conversational tact, and if you try one or more of these basic suggestions, your problem is going to fade away. More importantly, you’re going to learn a lot more about the people and places you’re visiting, so don’t do this just for your friends—do it for you!