Tag Archives: anti-American

How to avoid getting clubbed while traveling

Source: guardian.co.uk via Korey on Pinterest

 

I’d never seen anything like it: I’d just landed in Buenos Aires in the summer of 2005 and angry mobs ruled the streets. Every week, huge throngs of protestors marched down major avenues, waving signs and protesting the government. Many carried wooden clubs. You did your best to stay out of their way but sometimes that was impossible.

George Bush was in his second term and was extremely unpopular. I was scared when he paid a visit. Pandemonium broke out. I heard the explosions outside as I stayed indoors and watched the protests on CNN.

Molotov cocktails were hurled at a McDonalds I sometimes frequented. A local Burger King was trashed. It was crazy. I didn’t leave my friend’s apartment where I was hiding until late. When I finally left late at night it looked like Buenos Aires had been attacked. The streets were completely trashed.

This experience and other close calls I’ve had in other countries have left me with some rules of engagement to avoid getting clubbed or otherwise attacked while abroad:

Do whatever you can to not look American

Whether or not you actually are American is beside the point here: try never to look American abroad. This is often a challenge for me because I sound American. But I always stress that I am Swedish. Too many people feel the need to settle scores with Americans. I have had people angrily blurt out out Anti-American sentiment at me. The United States is too involved in global affairs for its citizens to not be affected.  It’s not fair but it is also reality.  BE CAREFUL.

Listen but do not speak

It’s good advice when starting a new job and it is good news when traveling: shut up. Hear people out but resist the temptation to chip in with your two cents. Nobody needs to know your political or other views.  At least not when you are brand new. Your motivation in travel should be to learn, not proselytize.  So do not pack a soap box.

Seek out a a strong source of local intel

Taxi drivers are great intel sources if you want to get the common view on the street. As soon as I step out of a foreign airport and into a cab I start quizzing the drivers on everything from local politics to entertainment and bad parts of town to avoid. (Incidentally, if I am catching a cab late at night, I always also ask them about family because this puts them in a positive mood for the most part and I minimize the risk of kidnapping or being over-charged.). In addition to cab drivers I seek out guidance from friends and from others, like business owners, that have a pulse on common sentiment.  That way I know how to conduct myself respectfully.

Get rural

In December 1989 my family and I were living in the Philippines during a violent attempted military coup. Rebels swarmed into Manila, shutting down the airport and taking over key parts of the commercial center. Several military bases were captured and rebel airplanes shelled the presidential palace. I heard the bombs exploding on radio broadcasts. Our Swedish relatives were horrified. We, on the other hand, were perfectly fine. Why? Simple – we lived in a tiny town surrounded by jungle and sugar cane an hour and a half away from the action and nothing even remotely dangerous happened to us.

So if you are in a dangerous country, stay out of the hot spots. Rural areas give you an authentic, less commercial experience of a country and have the added side benefit of being peaceful. Be smart.

 

Finally…

The better you attitude and ability to learn from locals, the safer you are.  So travel with the right attitude.  Live to learn and discover and experience new things.  If you are willing to grow from exposure to new cultures and different ways of living, people will recognize that and look out for you.  You will be far better equipped for savvy, global do-gooding…

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Bjorn Karlman

Localer than Thou – Overcoming Expat Snootiness

A few posts ago a friend and loyal CultureMutt reader, Tristan complained about overseas travelers that are in a phase where they refuse to talk to any other foreigner.  If you’ve tried to socialize with fellow travelers abroad at hostels or elsewhere, you’ve probably come across some of these types.  They somehow think that if they ignore all the other obviously foreign people and focus on being super “local”, they will somehow transcend the ranks of the mere tourist and become honorary citizens of the host country.  It’s gross.  And it only gets worse with long-term relocation expat types.  They are convinced that their three years and counting automatically qualify them as connoisseur insiders and that you have to spend at least as long as they have in the country before they will fraternize with you.

Here are my tips for how to deal with these types if and when you run into them:

Avoid them

This might be the easiest option.  If you are only visiting for a short time and you want to dodge the patronizing looks and condescending comments of expat know-it-alls, learn to spot them and then avoid them.  Expat snobs will name-drop, speak pejoratively about the US and a lot of the other typical tourist home bases and constantly act surprised at your lack of knowledge of some quirky local custom or hot spot.  As soon as you get these comments or as soon as you hear them being dished at someone else, get away from the source.  They are seeking some kind of complex validation and are never satisfied.  Better to actually talk to a real local, they are more likely to be receptive to honest questions and interest in their culture and way of life.

Speak the local language to them

But suppose you do want to engage the snobs, how do you do it?  One thing I noticed about “localer than thou” language students was that if you speak to them in the local language, you automatically win points in their book.  I remember a guy I met in France.  He ignored or rolled his eyes at most of his fellow language school students.  I came to the school on a recruiting trip and during my down time I started to speak French to him.  That seemed to be the magic switch that turned him into an engaging, enthusiastic conversation partner.  He was apparently sick of language students that he felt were holding back his progress by speaking English to him.  A lot of people disliked him for his seeming arrogance.  But he finished his year in France speaking superb French, something 90% of his classmates did not.  The key to engaging him was to help him achieve his goals by speaking French to him – simple as that.

Talk local

Going with the same logic, if you want to neutralize the snootiness of the localer than thou, get local with them.  If you ask them the right questions and show respect for their feel for the lay of the land, they will typically be willing to share.  However the will NOT want to hear about how expensive/cheap, big/small, quaint or ordinary local products and attractions seem to you compared to what they are at home.  A lot of American expats especially, are sick of being associated with American tourists that come bumbling into town with their potbellies, fanny packs and constant comparisons to how things are in Texas.  DO NOT embarrass or harass them with such observations, it does not help you or your bid for acceptance.

Traveling or working abroad is an art and you learn as you go.  Take the above into consideration, remember to respect and learn from the local way and you will set yourself up for success.

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Bjorn Karlman