Goths and Traveling

Hello, Faithful Readers, and welcome to yet another month’s worth of musings at Gothic Charm School. This time, to start things off, a brief, appetizer-like announcement: the Gothic Charm School Archives website is sloooooooowly being built over at www.gothic-charm-school.com. Shiny new columns will still be here every month at Gothic.Net, don’t fret; the Lady of the Manners just felt that she really should do something with all those past columns sitting around on her hard drive. Be warned — when the Lady of the Manners says sloooooooowly being built — she isn’t joking. But it should be a suitably entertaining diversion for everyone concerned, so do pay a visit.

Now, as for this month’s topic: Well, the Lady of the Manners just got back from a trip to Japan (which was wonderful, and she would like to go back soon), which means that what is rattling around in her brain is . . . advice for Goths Who Are Traveling! Ta-da!

(The Lady of the Manners should point out that by “Traveling”, she means outside of your native country; not to imply that cross-country trips aren’t traveling, but there are things one should be aware of when one leaves one’s native soil which might not necessarily be of concern if one is just going across state lines.)

Firstly, you must must MUST read up about where you’re going. Don’t tell the Lady of the Manners that takes the romance and excitement out of traveling, because she won’t believe you. If you don’t do any research about where you’re going, how will you know what defines “acceptable behavior” and what the standards of etiquette are? You can’t just simply tromp along, not paying any attention to how others are behaving — you don’t want to be thought of as an ill-mannered goob, do you?

(That was rhetorical. And even if it wasn’t, you had better answer, “No, I don’t want to be an ill-mannered goob,” unless you want the Lady of the Manners to give you the same sort of withering glare she usually reserves for her pseudo-sibling when he does something particularly foolish. You don’t want that at all, really.)

So. Yes. Where was the Lady of the Manners? Oh, right — reading about where you’re going. Very, very important. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, different places call for different behaviors. And in the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, it’s even MORE important for goths to be aware of that than other travelers. Why? Because, as a general rule, goths look different from run-of-the-mill tourists. Which means that there is already a cultural barrier in place, which you will have to work at overcoming.

This isn’t to say that you should expect people to be rude to you, or deliberately not be helpful — not at all. The Lady of the Manners knows that being a goth in one’s own native country can sometimes lead to communication problems (as she’s often talked about), and that when traveling abroad, gothy types should try and be aware of what sort of cultural differences they might run into. Maybe you’re going to a country where there aren’t a lot of black-clad spooky types, and people will view you with suspicion and concern. It’s your duty to try and set them at ease by behaving impeccably. You want to leave them thinking, “Well, that person looked weird, but in the end was very nice.”

While we’re on the topic of goths looking different from other tourists, there’s another thing the Lady of the Manners wanted to remind you of — you must stay calm and friendly while doing the actual traveling. You might be right, the security people may have decided to search your bags solely because you’re wearing black. That doesn’t matter. Smile, answer all their questions in a friendly tone of voice, and do your very best to give off an air of helpfulness. If you are surly, if you talk back to them, or if you make sarcastic comments, you can be sure that the whole event will take a turn for the worse. The security people are the ones with the power in that situation, and you DO NOT want to make them upset.

To go along with that, traveling goths should try to make things easy on themselves: no big spiky jewelry, no wearing of petticoats or other large clothing, if you’re wearing boots with lots of chains and buckles, take them off before you go through the metal detector; all common-sense things, really. And for heaven’s sake, don’t make any jokes about smuggling or guns. (The Lady of the Manners is sure you wouldn’t, but needed to say it for her own peace of mind. You understand.)

So you’ve read up on where you’re going, you successfully made the trip, now what? Well for one thing, don’t complain when things are different than back home. You would be surprised how many people will complain and complain when they are away from what they’re used to, and the Lady of the Manners doesn’t want to hear about any of you doing it.

Don’t point at and exclaim about other people around you. Besides the fact that it’s ill-mannered in general, are you absolutely sure that they won’t understand what you’re saying? Goths should be more sensitive about this sort of behavior than other people anyway, since gothy types are frequently subjected to it themselves. (If the Lady of the Manners had a dollar for every time she has had someone point and exclaim at her, she could retire and buy many pairs of pointy-toe shoes.) Also, if you want to take a photo of someone, ASK THEM FIRST. You don’t speak the language? Then smile at them, point at your camera, gesture at them, and smile again with a slightly quizzical expression. If they in any way seem uncomfortable, then you don’t get to have your photo op. Yesyesyes, people take pictures of goths all the time without asking first, but we’re trying to be better than That Sort, aren’t we? (And no taking retaliatory photos of people who took yours without asking. Why waste film on that, for goodness sakes?)

The most important things (in the Lady of the Manners’ opinion) are to be polite and to keep an open mind. Oh, and to be as friendly as possible without over-stepping cultural boundaries. Most of the communication problems and inconveniences one might experience while traveling could be resolved faster if one remembered those three things. The inability to figure out what you just ordered for dinner will probably end up being an amusing story for friends back home; if you can keep that sort of frame of reference in the back of your mind while whatever maddening thing is happening, you’ll be much better off.

(Mind you, that advice only applies to non-dangerous incidents. If things have happened such that you or your property are being endangered, then do what you need to make things okay. But for things like not being able to figure out the subway system, the menus, or the street signs? Try to take those in stride, and with a sense of humor.)

That, pretty much, is that. All very simple things that the Lady of the Manners was sure all of you knew anyway. So pop back next month, which might just be all about etiquette for socializing at a gothy club. No, not another rant about club etiquette; socializing at clubs. There’s a difference. Until then, if you have any burning questions, be sure to send them along to headmistress@gothic-charm-school.com.

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