One thing a missionary or other visitor to Haiti learns very quickly is that the Haitians are a very dignified people; they have their pride, despite all they have had to endure. There are some beggars and pedlars in the cities, but they are the exception, not the rule. Don’t expect kow-towing. Impoverished Haitians will always accept gifts, but they will almost always stand straight, look you in the eye, and repay you with a sincere Mesi.
The smart visitor should look people in the eye, wave hello, and treat them with friendship and respect, as equals, no matter how poor or desperate their living conditions may seem. Try to learn some basic words of Creole.
Ask permission before taking pictures of locals (don’t be surprised if they ask you for money). Don’t walk about sticking your camera in people’s faces or taking pictures randomly.
Do not solely take pictures of the piles of trash you may see in some of the bigger cities (such as Cap Haitien or Port au Prince), as it may offend people or anything else that Haitians are not proud of (or that you would not be proud of if it was your country). However, people have no problem with debating issues and foreigners taking pictures of beautiful scenery, cultural events or historical sites. Carry a few gourdes in your pockets for the kids who carry your luggage/shine your shoes/hail your tap-tap at the airport (but be alert for pick-pockets as you would be in any poor area).
Sometimes visitors to Haiti like to walk about handing out candy or dollar bills. While many people, especially children, will accept your offering, this is offensive to most people as it compromises the dignity of Haitians, fails to solve any of the problems of poverty, and serves the ego of the donor rather than the needs of the country. Carry an extra water bottle and food to share with your driver/guide/interpreter.
Be patient. Murphy’s Law is everywhere; deal with it. Remember that most of these people are living on a survival level; they will find your whining amusing at best, severely insulting at worst.
Carry a few photos of the area where you live, your workplace, your family, to share with friends you make.
These are the things the transform you from another dumb tourist into a real person. More often than not, the Haitians will return the favor, and you might just find a friend.
Your emotions are real – it is okay to feel overwhelmed if you have not experienced this type of culture difference before. Be polite but not intrusive. It is OK to ask questions of the locals, but you should be prepared to be hassled a LOT of the time if you are assumed or found out to be American/European. Remember that you are a guest in their country. This is not like a vacation you may have had in the past. Don’t expect to be treated as a king or a queen (though you might get some extra privileges), most Haitians will treat you with respect but the same as any other Haitian.
Haiti on a whole is emphatically NOT a marketed tourist destination and therefore they do not view foreigners as tourists whom they are ready to please and serve on hand and foot. If you prepare your mindset before arrival, you will be better able to cope. The tourist industry in Haiti has been rising.