We all want to appear at least moderately competent as we go about our daily lives, but on the road that’s often not possible. Travel to a foreign country on your own and you will undoubtedly face innumerable, potentially embarrassing situations. Simple tasks like ordering coffee, shopping for groceries, or pumping gas can turn into cringeworthy affairs.
These uncomfortable situations often leave us searching for easy ways to explain and excuse our own limitations, which in turn, can lead to a defensive backlash of unfounded criticisms against the host country.
Developing and maintaining a negative “blanket” opinion about an unfamiliar country or culture is easy. The real effort is in avoiding such thoughts.
But avoid them we must.
“The French are snobs” or “Colombians are all a bunch of drug sniffing criminals” are statements founded on simple ignorance. They are often made during times of conflict, discomfort, or political disagreement (a long standing and effectual political tactic takes advantage of voter ignorance and prejudice to pass what would otherwise be unpopular legislation). On an individual level, it’s easy to construct discriminatory statements. It effectively puts the person making the criticism in a superior position (in his/her mind) and obviates the need for self-reflection. It can also be done without the intended victims knowledge.
And that, simply put, is petty and self-destructive. It reveals everything about the person making the statement and nothing about the recipient of the criticism.
Someone who blows through a trip to a foreign land with a defensive, arrogant, and closed-minded attitude is setting themselves up for a miserable time and exposing a significant character flaw.
So think about it the next time you find yourself tempted with a sudden gush of vitriol.
You may just be out of your comfort zone, and it may make sense to sit back, breathe a little bit, and chalk it up to experience.