Here’s a paraphrase of a wikiHow entry on how to skinny-dip without causing a ripple:
1) Scan the area – Do not be an idiot. Auntie Elma will not be amused at your spontaneous stripping. Pick secluded beaches or obliging groups before you bare it all.
2) Watch your timing – Slip away at a slow point of the party if you opt for a clandestine approach. If you are an exhibitionist, wait for everyone to settle down then head for the high dive.
3) Do not wimp out and disrobe in the water. Stand tall and give it your all… be dramatic.
4) If you feel uncomfortable, ignore step three and dive in the second you’ve stripped.
Even more amusing than steps 1-4 are the warnings, one of which is “You’ll look like a pervert if you are the one to suggest skinny-dipping, be careful!” Helpful.
How-to instructions such as these seem to suggest that you can make any practice culturally-acceptable with the appropriate finessing. Who knows? Maybe these steps really do result in culturally appropriate skinny dipping. But it is not as though we can just apply legitimizing steps to any practice and expect everyone’s applauds. Some practices simply will not fly in certain cultures.
Knowing this in theory doesn’t stop us from acting completely oblivious to it in practice. Examples abound of flagrant abuses. An enthusiastic romp between randy tourists in the back of a Malay bus can result in some time in a cell. Latin-style parties in Zurich suburbs will likely result in phone calls to the police. We rationalize what we want to do but often forget the context of culture and how unforgiving it can be.
It is as if, subconsciously, we expect what is normal and acceptable to us to be the same for others. This kind of thinking lies at the very heart of culture clash – an unwillingness to really look at life through the lenses of another culture. A useful definition of culture clash is: “When one or more cultures are integrated into one environment, causing disruption and challenging contemporary traditions. Often occurs in multicultural societies.” (urbandictionary.com) This “integrated” state is never seamless and clashes are to be expected.
The key lies in basic savviness and the ability to look past one’s own rationalizations to think deeply about the other’s culture. Make an effort. Concretely this can mean watching movies set in the target culture to get a feel for how things work. Asking good questions of friends from that culture helps too. What can help most is to show some interest in getting on the particular culture’s social calendar of birthdays, holidays, holy days and other celebrations. If you show this kind of interest, people will take notice of you. You may even get on the pool party guest list.