Tips For Living With Local Families
While traveling through Asia I spent many nights living with strangers. Just in Vietnam I can think of 3 families who took me in and let me stay with them for a few days. (I’m back living with one of them now!)
I highly recommend staying with locals if you want to learn about local cultures while traveling as a digital nomad. Just ask a friendly-looking stranger if they have room you could sleep in for a night. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll have a place to stay! I usually end up crashing with the first person I talk to and I’ve never had a bad experience.
I’ve lived with many strangers while traveling the world and I’ve learned a few lessons about how to have a great time along the way. Here’s a few of the most important.
1. Know A Little Of The Local Language
Once you’ve found a family to live with and are eating dinner with them and getting shown around their town, there will be some kind of verbal exchange. You’re also likely to be introduced to friends and family. Knowing a few basic phrases, even just ‘Hello’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and the numbers 1-10 will allow you to speak up and say something rather than staying silent.
One word I use all the time is ‘Delicious’. I eat about 3 times a day, and this is a great way to compliment the cook, comment on the meal, and show respect with a single word. It’s infinitely better than trying to flash a ‘thumbs up’ without saying anything.
I also like learning funny local phrases that won’t be expected. For example, ‘Jam Jam!’ is slang for 100/100 or 100% in Vietnamese, which means ‘Finish your drink!’ When I raise my glass and shout ‘Jam Jam!’ everyone is laughing before the glasses land back on the table.
Learning a little of the local language shows that you care about the culture and are making an effort to learn. Locals will respect you for your effort, even if you only know 5-10 words.
2. Have Fun With The Kids
Adults speak a language you don’t understand, but kids are easy to communicate with. They speak ‘kid talk’ which is a universal language known all around the world. Making funny faces, mimicking the kids in a funny voice, and waving your arms like a monkey is easy and the kids love it! Even if you have a hard time communicating with adults, it’s always easy to joke around with children.
The kids are usually the first people I connect with and ‘get to know’ when I visit a house where I don’t speak the language! The parents are usually also really happy to see their kids rolling on the floor laughing.
3. Eat The ‘Wacky’ Food
I know, I know… intestines, chicken feet, and other similar foods may not be your top choice for delicatessen. I’m lucky in that I don’t mind eating crazy foods (I ate brain a few days ago on the streets of ‘Nam) but some of you might be repulsed by the idea.
When staying with a foreign family, try to eat everything they do. They’ll usually understand that you’re not used to it, and your willingness to try shows that you’re open to their culture. Rejecting their food can also come across as rude!
I’ve been at gatherings where we ate balut (eggs with chicks inside) and as the ‘guest’ I was served a pig head with the eyeballs still there. Locals are always glad when I dig in with them to enjoy a meal that they know I’ve never had before!
4. Observe And Remember The ‘House Rules’
The house rules of the family you’re staying with are probably different than what you’re used to. In Vietnam, for example, most homes have special shoes waiting by the door that you put on as you enter. Just popping your shoes off and running inside is rude! I’m just now remembering to put on my house shoes by default.
When you first arrive at the house of a family you’re staying with you’ll probably miss a whole bunch of little rules like this. Watch what they do and try to pick up on the code of conduct. They’ll notice if you follow the rules! They’ll also take note if you keep breaking them, even if they’re too polite to say anything.
5. Stay In Contact!
If you’ve had a great experience living with someone abroad, stay connected on Facebook, Skype, or email. You’ve made friends on the far side of the world, don’t let that connection die!
You may be in that corner of the globe again. Having a ‘second home’ would be awesome! For example, over the next few days I’m living with the Vietnamese family I met 6 months ago. We stayed in contact, I asked If I could come back, and they said ‘Sure!’.
Even if you don’t plan on returning, you could introduce another location independent friend and potentially help them find lodging. Who knows, that fact that you have a connection in a foreign country could be the difference between someone you know being too scared to travel and becoming a digital nomad!