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My question is inspired by the ridiculously popular question here, titled: How do you know if Americans genuinely/literally mean what they say?. It has no direct connection to traveling, so I wonder whether it is on topic.

If direct relation to traveling is not required, am I encouraged to ask all manner of cultural questions, such as the following?

  • What are the favourite dishes of Henan province?
  • What kind of dogs are preferred for the hunt of the silverback tanuki in Japan?

Furthermore, the question is exquisitely stereotyping, although some truth might be contained in the stereotype. Am I encouraged (as suggested by the success of said question) to ask pop psychology questions like the following?

  • I have been in Madagascar for three days and it seems to me Madagascarians love to say X and mean Y. Please lay bare the secrets of the Madagascarian psyche for me to behold!
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    How about just asking what you mean? If you don't like that question, say so. Don't pretend you would ask other questions, and trowel on the sarcasm, as a way to say you think that question is offtopic. This isn't debate club. State and defend your opinion, don't be manipulative. – Kate Gregory Jul 24 '18 at 21:23
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    @KateGregory I am not manipulative. It’s not like my dislike of the question was particularly veiled...I stated what I thought followed from accepting that question and got some pretty good answers. You, on the other hand, are being unreasonably unfriendly. – Ludi Jul 24 '18 at 21:30
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I'd argue that some general connection to travel should be involved, though meeting and interacting with people from different cultures is an inherent part of travel. The connection to travel isn't that strong in "How do you know if Americans genuinely/literally mean what they say?," but the examples around giving/receiving invitations help narrow it down.

Specific cultural questions about interacting with others that don't have a reasonable connection to travel may be on-topic at Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange, though they frown on broad hypothetical questions. That site didn't exist previously, so some older questions here might be better suited there now.

Also remember that "you should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." While we do enjoy hypothetical questions sometimes, particularly ones that make you smile or reveal something unusual in their answers, asking "all manner of cultural questions" repeatedly will probably not be so well received.

What are the favourite dishes of Henan province?

I think this is a on-topic question, though it would be improved by asking about dishes that are generally well-known as typical regional cuisine, rather than the more subjective "favourite."

What kind of dogs are preferred for the hunt of the silverback tanuki in Japan?

I would vote to close as unrelated to travel.

I have been in Madagascar for three days and it seems to me Madagascarians love to say X and mean Y. Please lay bare the secrets of the Madagascarian psyche for me to behold!

I would vote to close as entirely too broad. A specific question, such as "a person from Madagascar said X to me, but did he really mean Y?" could be on topic, but might be a better choice at Interpersonal Skills.

  • So, where is the difference between the dish question and the dog question? – Ludi Jul 24 '18 at 7:28
  • @Ludi Maybe I'm misunderstanding the dog question. The dish question seems to be about a common travel activity: wanting to eat the typical well-known cuisine of a region. The dog question doesn't seem to be about a problem you'd have while traveling: picking specific kinds of dogs is not usually part of travel. Remember that "you should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." If the question had a coherent explanation as to how it pertained to your trip, I could think differently. – Zach Lipton Jul 24 '18 at 7:46
  • in other words, if I was going to hunt and wanting to bring the right dog, it would be on topic? – Ludi Jul 24 '18 at 7:48
  • @Ludi That might be worth asking in a separate meta, since it's drifting a bit away from "cultural stereotypes and behaviour," and it might be helpful to ask what others think of it. What I'd say is that this is a travel site, and the people here who answer questions are primarily knowledgeable about travel, so unless you get lucky, a question that mainly requires knowledge about dogs and hunting in a specific place isn't likely to attract the attention of someone qualified to answer it, so it's going to be a target for close votes. – Zach Lipton Jul 24 '18 at 7:57
  • Similarly, asking what kind of equipment you need to rock climb at a certain place has a travel connection if you're traveling somewhere to climb, but it's mainly a question about rock climbing equipment, not travel, and we're not really going to know the answer. – Zach Lipton Jul 24 '18 at 8:00
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Is there no room for "fun" and "fascinating" questions about culture on a site dedicated to travel?

In all likelihood, the ridiculously popular question became so, due to the notorious Hot Network Questions, and the resulting snowball effect. That would be my best guess, I wasn't a member of Travel.SE when the question was first posted.

Questions that enter the Hot List stand a greater chance of attracting a high number of views in a very brief amount of time. Those views will translate into upvotes if the question is "fun" and "fascinating", or if the answer(s) are particularly excellent. A subpar/mediocre question can appear to be great if it receives an exceptionally high-quality answer. And I think this is what happened here.

Does that mean How do you know if Americans genuinely/literally mean what they say? is off-topic? Looking at its edit history, we can see that it was never put on hold, closed or reopened. It is, presumably, safe to say that the majority of users (in this community) sustained that the question was on-topic.

However, the success of one question about a specific culture offers no guarantees that a question asking about the favourite dishes of Henan province or which dogs are preferred for the hunting of the silverback tanuki will receive equal enthusiasm.

In my humble opinion, the silverback hunting question is of limited interest and of practical use to a very restricted number of users and visitors. I wouldn't be surprised if that type of question was closed, or if it languished in the unanswered queue for weeks or months on end.

The third question proposed by the OP

I have been in Madagascar for three days and it seems to me Madagascarians love to say X and mean Y. Please lay bare the secrets of the Madagascarian psyche for me to behold!

I would say is off-topic because it is primarily asking about language. The last request “Please lay bare the secrets of the Madagascarian psyche” is obviously sarcastic in tone, I'm not sure if users would appreciate its humour. I would suggest that the OP avoids any semblance of sarcasm in questions, they tend to backfire.

The first question, however, would be on-topic if a bit more context was added.

What are the favourite dishes of Henan province?

It is the only question which specifically asks about a country's culture.

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    Thank you. The sarcasm was intended. As I find the popular question ridiculous, clearly off topic and potentially offensive, I deliberately created these three questions to better understand the priorities on this site. – Ludi Jul 24 '18 at 8:43
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    @Ludi I can only advise you by saying don't base what is on-topic on a hugely popular and liked question asked in the past. Look at the help centre, specifically, What topics can I ask? and make sure your question ticks all the right boxes. – Mari-Lou A Jul 24 '18 at 9:31
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    yeah, but it is exactly this kind of disparity between good and popular content, which embitters me and lets me leave StE for months, although I am a successful contributor on one site. Sometimes I think about it and raise a meta, but, heck, it’s pointless:( – Ludi Jul 24 '18 at 9:37
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    @Ludi what does it matter if a good question does not enter the HQN? It's not a popularity contest. If you have a question which you don't know the answer to, it's more important that someone from the community actually helps by supplying advice, tips, and instructions, etc. We all get our egos stroked when a Q or an A attracts dozens of upvotes, but in the end, it's the answers that really count. The ones that helped you the most. – Mari-Lou A Jul 24 '18 at 9:44
  • As long as a person coming to the site even sees my painstakingly written answer on object placement in German, which is downvoted and behind an high voted simple answer of three lines with two grave mistakes in it... anyway, I appreciate. – Ludi Jul 24 '18 at 9:54
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    @Ludi I have answers I've put a lot into that weren't particularly noticed or well-received, while one I answered in less than two minutes has 91 upvotes. It happens, and while it can be irritating, my personal bias is against voting to close questions that are attracting good answers unless there's a clear problem that needs to be addressed. If that stretches the on-topic bar a bit, so be it, and similar questions might be closed today. – Zach Lipton Jul 24 '18 at 10:04
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The site is called "travel", so does that mean it's only about the process of "traveling"? Like how to move from A to B and what documents do I need? Of course not!

People, food, culture, language, weather, etc. are all essential aspects of travel, whether you are going for business or pleasure. That is the whole idea in most travels, and it's not ridiculous at all.

As for stereotyping, I think it's not stereotyping, it's more like an attempt to understand some cultural differences.

Think of it as science, sometimes we need to talk about sensitive topics because we have to. Same goes for travel, we need to know as much information as possible about all involved elements (especially the people) so we can make sure to not disrespect someone inadvertently or even worse, get into serious trouble.

As for that specific question, and why I think it's not ridiculous, in my culture if you say "let's have dinner" it means "let's have dinner". Imagine how embarrassed I would be if I took that literally in the US.

Also I suggest that we stop taking things in a sensitive way when people ask about other people's cultures and behaviors because it's an important homework to do before you travel to a new place. Remember, not everyone is a en experienced "road warrior".

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As having the top voted answer I can tell the difference why it belongs to travel and is not "ridiculous".

Those two questions you have given as example:

1. What are the favourite dishes of Henan province?
2. What kind of dogs are preferred for the hunt of the silverback tanuki in Japan?

are missing two essential parts:

  • The natives are aware what you are asking and
  • it does not require understanding why the answer is as it is. You can simply say for 1. "A, B and C" and 2. "D and E".

The problem of native people who never traveled is that they judge travellers subconsciously by their own culture standard without being aware of it. They can immediately say that you behave wrong (insulting, demeaning) because you are violating their standards. Sometimes they cannot even pinpoint what exactly you are violating, but they know it is wrong.

This is very bad for both cultures because it fosters stereotypes on both sides because both cultures are judging the other culture from their own standard.

For example, the "correct" body distance between South American people and Europeans is different. A South American who gets into his "correct" position will be judged as intrusive. An European who gets into his "correct" position will be judged as dismissive.

Worse, it can even cause prison and death for seemingly innocent behavior. When the US police stops you, you do not get out of the car and walk with an invisible hand in the jacket grasping your papers to the police car. This may be normal behavior in many countries, in the USA you risk getting (rightly!) shot because attacks on police are so common that those cultural precautions (hands on the wheel) are necessary.

Once you are aware that those rules exist and that they exist for a cultural reason, you can help people to understand each other and leave a good impression for your host country. And yes, if you find Madagascarians behavior strange and want to understand, here is the right place to ask. If this would be unnecessary, the whole field of anthropology would not exist.

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    You have some interesting points, but I don’t understand why the natives wouldn’t get what I am asking – Ludi Jul 26 '18 at 22:37
  • @Ludi If you ask me as a German the perhaps seemingly innocent question "How much money do you earn?", then I understand your question. The problem is that the income is a very, very private thing for a German, often not shared under friends. If you look/speak like a native, you would earn a cold glance and I would ask: "What?!". If you are not native, I would simply sarcastically lie and say: "150 k€ pro year" and you would tell your friends that I really earn that much money. The problem is that while I forgive your error because you are foreign, I would have less respect for you. – Thorsten S. Jul 26 '18 at 23:02
  • It also depends on the environment. If you were my guest, I would politely inform you that it is private question which you should not ask in Germany. If on the other hand I am the tourist in a foreign country and every single person asks me completely innocent how much my income is, it begins to dawn on me that in this culture the question of the income is no big deal and I am acting strangely. – Thorsten S. Jul 26 '18 at 23:19
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    That is true and I get it. But why doesn’t the local understand, when I ask about his province’s favourite dishes? In my (vast) experience everyone has to say something about local food! Same for hunting if it is popular (don’t know about that, but doubt it). – Ludi Jul 27 '18 at 0:19
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    @Ludi I have seen now your comments under Mari-Lou A and your complaint sounds now more like veiled envy that a question/answer from you which was valid (and you took much effort to improve it) was not rewarded accordingly. As others pointed out, this question was asked before the existence of IPS and it landed on the Hot Network Questions. I recommend that you simply ignore bad responses and do your best, sooner or later you will get rewarded. I had a history answer about the seemingly unimportant seating order in the Weimar Republic, it landed on HNQ and I was showered with upvotes. – Thorsten S. Jul 27 '18 at 11:51
  • Downvote because...? – Thorsten S. Aug 6 '18 at 2:07
  • It’s more 10% envy and 90% anger at what I perceive as minimising the potential to promote useful answers, but you still have a point. – Ludi Aug 6 '18 at 14:41

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