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Last week, the SFGate blog posted results from a survey by CouponCodesPro.com on the most and least welcoming cities for travelers.
The results surprised me. They REALLY surprised me. New York City as MOST welcoming? Paris as LEAST welcoming? I’d have flipped those based on my most recent visits to both.
The five friendliest cities:
1. New York City, USA – 11%
2. Beijing, China – 10%
3. Toronto, Canada – 8%
4. Amsterdam, Netherlands – 8%
5. Sydney, Australia – 7%
The five least friendly cities:
1. Paris, France – 13%
2. London, UK – 9%
3. Barcelona, Spain – 8%
4. Rome, Italy – 5%
5. Tokyo, Japan – 3%
Have these surveyed individuals been traveling to the same destinations that I have? (Survey respondents were selected from a pool of adults 18 and older who reported traveling to at least ten countries.)
I had to pause to think about the things that make a city welcoming – and much of that is about our own attitudes as travelers. Here are the things I do to make travel to a new destination friendlier (to me anyhow):
- Understand the culture – know what local dress, etiquette, and norms are so that I can adapt to them. I find that locals are friendlier when I adjust my expectations to their norms. For example, in London I’m expected to put my own luggage in the cab. That could seem unfriendly if I didn’t know better.
- Learn a bit of the language – that doesn’t necessarily mean being fluent, but hello, goodbye, please, and thank you are basics for anywhere that I may encounter non-English speakers. Beyond that, if I travel somewhere frequently, I try to work through the basics – I can speak “taxi-cab French” when required (and ditto Spanish and Portuguese) so I can ask for change, order a meal, find out how much something costs, and otherwise muddle my way through situations. It sometimes requires a quick refresher on the plane until I’ve been immersed but it works. In Paris, trying has gotten me far!.
- Know where I’m going – just the basics, but understanding where to find an ATM when I land, how to get in a taxi (and how much it should cost), and basic landmarks from a map view can make it easier to orient myself. In Tokyo, that’s my coping mechanism. I have been reduced to tears more than once in Japan by not understanding what is happening around me – so advance research helps a lot.
- Understand the currency – how to convert it roughly (this is where my multiplication tables come in handy) as well as what basic items should cost. Along with that, know what the tipping customs are for taxis, servers, bellmen, and others in the country I’m traveling to. Sticking with my native custom may be comfortable but won’t be well-received. In Italy, this made a great deal of difference in how I was treated.
- Adjust my expectations – what meals will be like, how to shop, even what time schedule to keep. Adjusting my own routine to that of the locals helps them welcome me most readily. In Spain, that has meant leisurely late night dinners and quick non-lingering standing up drinks at tapas bars. Both are out of my normal routine but help me fit in better.
Above all, what four of the top five on this survey suggests to me is that English speaking travelers are most comfortable in places where things have a sense of familiarity. Having ones native tongue spoken may lend to the perception of being welcomed.