Some important media have been pounding on the theme of how despised abroad Americans are, and how formerly friendly nations and people have soured on us. Expect a chilly reception when you go abroad seems to be the implicit tone of many such stories.
The only problem is that very, very few Americans are reporting encountering any hostility in foreign lands. About the worst they run into are condemnations of the U.S. government, followed by quick assurances that the speakers like Americans personally.
We all know that bad news sells, which is why most of us take what we read or hear in the media with a grain of salt. The only people who still believe the media are objective are the people in it.
In weighing what the media say about foreigners’ attitudes toward Americans vs. what our friends and acquaintances tell us, we think it’s better to believe the latter. Here’s a test that will help you make your own decision regarding who to believe:
Think back to any time in your life that you’ve read a newspaper article or watched a TV report on something you knew personally about – an event, a person, a body of knowledge. Remember how wrong they got it? Remember how many other people who were close to the same subject said things like, "How could they get it so wrong?"
Perhaps the sternest test of what we’re saying is how people in Arab and Muslim countries are treating Yanks. Three people whom we trust, two of them tour operators who currently live in North Africa, and the third our own Calendar Editor, who just returned from three weeks in Greece and Turkey, recently reported their experiences regarding Americans traveling in the region.
One American friend, who is the director of an Arab language school in Fez, reports no overt hostility toward westerners in general, or Americans in particular. He has been in Morocco for eight years and feels safer there that he did living in Chicago. He lives in the old medina and a large percentage of his students stay there as well. The students report being well received by everyone. You could say that Morocco’s location in the furthest western reaches of the Arab-Islamic world, as well as its traditional relative openness to western culture, makes it a less likely place to find anti-American sentiment. Apparently his prospective students agree as enrollment is up over 70% from last year, to more than 200 foreign students.
A better test would be in Egypt, the country with the world’s largest Arab population. Our tour host contact there says that American travelers simply are not encountering hostility among average Egyptians that’s directed at their nationality. A recent e-mail she received from a client newly returned from a trip encourages Americans not to delay a journey to one Middle Eastern country because of problems in another. He points out that the Middle East is one and one-half times the size of the U.S. and that distances there are much vaster than most Americans realize. Why cancel a trip to one destination just because there is a problem 2,000 miles away? Of course that doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t running into the occasional surly merchant or angry shopkeeper, but those outbursts derive from personality clashes, not politics. Also desperation due to a major decline in tourism may make merchants a bit more aggressive in encouraging sales. But that's to be expected anywhere.
Of course tour operators don’t eat if they can’t get people to go on tours, so it’s fair to take what they say with a grain of salt. But our Calendar Editor, Flo Heckenbach, a seasoned traveler who doesn’t depend on selling packages for her survival, reports back from a three-week trip to Turkey and Greece that she had a high old time.
Greece especially is a very anti-American place. Its government and many of its citizens make no bones about not liking the U.S. But Flo says everybody there treated her kindly. Again, people made the distinction between a country’s foreign policies and the fellow humanity of one of its citizens.
Flo’s Turkish leg coincided with President Bush’s NATO meetings. Being a seasoned and conscious traveler she felt it prudent to avoid the modern downtown where the meeting was held and stayed instead in the a lovely renovated historic hotel in the "Old Town." Even wandering the streets in the evening for dinner she encountered no hassles. The worst problem she had was in heading for the spice bazaar -- she wandered in circles for two hours because every helpful Turk she asked for assistance sent her in a different direction!
We know that what we say here is anecdotal. But in the end, all memories of travel for pleasure are anecdotal. We all come home from a trip or vacation with personal stories, not pre-written themes or canned narratives that we bought off a rack somewhere.
Keep your own experiences with the media in mind the next time you read reports about how disliked we are overseas.
· 1 decade ago