I was watching a television program that covered some student missionary work to rural Africa. The students as well as the mission leaders strolled around a compound, observing and marveling at the way these people lived. Occasionally the mission leader would ask one of the locals what they were doing or what something was, and then the mission leader would get excited and explain it all to the students. There would be some discussion, and the students would take pictures and video. They were observers, they acted like scientists, they were careful not to get too involved with the locals. They were culture tourists. I’ve seen people act like this before, in person, and there’s something unsettling about it.
It’s great to introduce yourself to cultures that are different than you. It’s awesome to interact with people who live different than you. But when you do, don’t marvel at them as if you’re impressed with the way they weave cotton by hand. Don’t observe them as if they are animals. They are people just like you. Sit down with them, chat, have a meal. When you approach another human beings in their home town, ask to join them as if you are both human beings. Because you are. They are just people who do things differently than you. Its offensive and wrong to treat people like they’re not people. Be kind, open-minded, respectful, and adventurous.