Interview: How does travel host Ian Wright find his way around tricky situations when travelling?

Aug 22, 2017

The intrepid British globetrotter and comedian (shown above in India on location for Globe Trekker), most famous for his television series Globe Trekker and Invite Mr Wright, reveals his secrets to dealing with cultural differences and language barriers when on the road.

How do you communicate despite language barriers?

You can get very far with sign language and gestures. There’s no point in worrying about whether you’re doing the wrong gesture or not. Most people don’t care unless you’re being really rude like with certain signs that we won’t mention. Once in Borneo where we were filming in a longhouse with the tribes, I was sitting outside with my rucksack when an old woman came over. Not one word did we speak about anything; it was all sign language and she started going through my rucksack and pulling out all my stuff. For half an hour we were just laughing at me and my stuff. It was perfect.

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How do you break the ice with people you’ve just met?

Treat them like someone you would meet at the local pub. Just be decent, have a bit of a chat, see what they are like. I wade in with my humour; it’s a good way to break the language and cultural barrier. If my humour cuts too close to the bone, then I know to back off or if the person goes, “I like that”, then we can take it up a notch.

Photographs are such an essential way to create memories but people can be sensitive about having their pictures taken. What is the best way to ask for permission?

In most places, we don’t just rock up and hope for the best. Most of the time, people are up to it because we’ve been there, or directors and producers have been there, to ask before. But because most of the shows are spontaneous, if we see something on the sideline, we’ll shoot it too. When we get the opportunity, we will go up and ask politely, “Is it alright to film?”

Have you been in any tricky situations when it comes to photography?

On the islands of Indonesia, a cameraman once pointed the camera at an onlooker’s face and said to me, “Just make him laugh.” I said no and walked away – the first time I ever did that. It was not respectful as most people aren’t used to having a camera shoved in their faces. In the same way, you just have to ask for permission or gesture to your camera before you snap a picture.

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Have you figured out how to politely decline something, like food?

Sometimes, you can get in a bit of strife if you try to decline something, especially if it comes to food or if it’s ceremonial, so you just have to go with it.

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