Traveling Across The Globe Sometime soon? Common misconceptions abound. Here are a few travel myths I've heard on more than one occasion, debunked.
Everyone Hates Americans
I actually know people who don’t travel because of this widespread belief. While I feel that some countries may not agree with our foreign policy, I’ve rarely seen any of that sentiment directed toward me. Think about it. You’re in a bar and you start chatting with a nice foreign guy and you suddenly find out he’s from Iran. Do you suddenly want to kill him because you don’t like his government? Of course not. That’s ridiculous. In the words of Depeche Mode, “people are people," and it’s unlikely that his politics will affect how you feel about him in any way.
The French are Rude
I feel sorry for the French. They gave us the Statue of Liberty, helped us win the Revolutionary War, let us buy a third of the United States (the Louisiana Purchase) from them, and the moment they don’t jump into a poorly thought-out war with us, we’re renaming our favorite fast food side freedom fries—French fries were actually invented in Belgium, but that’s not really the issue.We’re ready to bail on them at a moment’s notice and they are consistently the poster children for rude Europeans.
Are they really rude? Let’s try to see it from their side. Few Americans make any effort to learn a language other than English, yet often expect everyone in other countries to understand what they’re saying. Little geography is taught in American schools and most of us have no clue about any politics other than our own. Who is the president of France? If you know the answer, congratulations! Most U.S. citizens can’t rattle off any foreign political names except maybe a few members of the Royal Family. On the other hand, I doubt that there’s very many French who can’t tell you who the president of the United States is.
Our air of superiority and ethnocentrism can be a big turnoff, especially if we get started off on the wrong foot. Add that to the loads of amateur package tourists who hop on and off Paris tour buses with their fanny packs, shorts with black socks and Gilligan hats talking loud enough that everyone can hear their conversations. Americans aren’t the only ones guilty of being loud and annoying in tour groups, but we certainly stand out. For the record, I’ve rarely encountered any rudeness (other than occasional waiter/clerk who hates their job), but I have found that starting a conversation with “Bonjour, parlez-vouz Anglais?” goes a lot further than “Hey, how come no one speaks ‘Merican”? At the very least, they’ll feel sorry for my bad French and try to keep me from saying even more.
Spain Is Just Like Mexico
I have friends who aren’t interested in visiting Spain because they’ve been to Cancun and they feel like it is going to be similar to traveling in Mexico. Spain always seemed to me to be one of the least exciting countries in Europe until I went there and discovered how wonderful it really is. The Spanish might have settled Mexico, but the original inhabitants kept many of their customs, diet and some tribes even retained their language. Spain has given us some of the world’s most famous artists and architects, interesting food and amazing monuments left behind from 700 years of Moorish occupation. Spain has more in common with Italy than it does with Mexico, and you won’t find enchiladas, sombreros or piñatas there. You will find Gaudi, Dali and the Alhambra.
Arab Countries are Dangerous
Most Arabic countries are safer than their western counterparts. I’m not talking about war zones like Syria or places that have terrorist cells, but Arab countries with well-known attractions are generally safer than your hometown.
Egypt, Turkey and Jordan offer some of the world’s greatest archaeological wonders, but many people are terrified that they’ll be a victim in a bombing attack or held hostage by radicals. You’re more likely to encounter danger in America than in these countries. A bomb goes off in Istanbul and everyone cancels their travel plans to Turkey. A sniper shoots dozens of people in Las Vegas and it’s dismissed as a random occurrence and travel is unaffected. Our fear of the unknown and being in a place we don’t know compounds fears of an isolated incident we may have heard about. Sometimes just the name of a place sounds scary. Few Americans are afraid of Dubai, which is not perceived as being “scary Middle East” because of its marketing, whereas Lebanon might sound scary to those who associate with political issues 40 years ago.
Kangaroos are Everywhere in Australia
I meet a lot of Aussies in my travels and their favorite anecdote about “Yanks” (their name for us) is that we expect to see kangaroos as soon as we get off the plane. Whether that’s accurate or not is the question, but I have been told this over a dozen times. In truth, it’s rare to see kangaroos unless you’re in the country or someone you know has one as a pet.
There are plenty of animals in the wild, but seeing them is like seeing deer or armadillos. You have to be in the right place at the right time. There is much unique wildlife that only exists in the land down under, but more than likely you’ll have to venture out to a national park or zoo to see more rare creatures. Forget ever seeing a duck-billed platypus in the wild. Koalas might be found in some rural areas, but they’re often difficult to spot or get near.
Europe Ends in Istanbul
There’s a lot of confusion as to where Europe ends and becomes Asia. Since the two continents are really joined together, whether they’re actually two different land masses is disputable. Supposedly, when you cross the bridge into Asia Minor in Istanbul, you’re in Asia. That might come as a surprise for Georgia and Armenia, which border the eastern part of Turkey. Is Russia considered Asia or Europe? There’s no hard and fast rule, but when there’s a change in race from Caucasian to Mongoloid, that’s often where the division is loosely defined. Another confusing fact is that not every country is part of a continent. Madagascar is considered to be part of Africa, but New Zealand isn’t part of Australia. Where would you categorize Fiji? It’s considered to be part of Oceania along with other island nations such as Vanuatu and Kiribati.
Jamaica’s Flag is Red, Green, and Yellow
The familiar three colors you see whenever you see a Rastafarian hat or Bob Marley sticker are often incorrectly associated with the Jamaican flag. While it is true that Marley was from Jamaica, and so is the origin of Reggae music, the three colors are borrowed from the Ethiopian flag and the Rasta religion.
You Can Name all Five Oceans
While this isn’t technically a myth, it’s probably untrue. You might be able to name all the Great Lakes, but most Americans can’t name all five of the world’s oceans. That’s only five things to remember, so why don’t we know the answer? Most people can get three, some four. If you can name all five without Google, congratulations. You’re the smartest person in the room. And Billy Ocean doesn’t count.