Fact or Fiction: Travel Stereotypes That Are Myths
Have you been avoiding a country because you heard a stereotype that didn't sound so great?
We'll admit that some stereotypes are absolutely true. (The Japanese are wonderfully polite.) Others? Not so much.
If you have been wary about visiting a country because you heard through the grapevine that it's unsafe, the people aren't friendly, everyone just gets wasted all the time or the food is bad, you may be missing out on a great destination based on false rumors. Some stereotypes are flat-out false, while others may have some basis in truth but are outdated or don't tell the whole story.
We've rounded up 14 destinations with a rap that isn't deserved. Ditch your preconceptions, and you may fall in love with a place you never before considered.
Paris: The people are rude, especially the waiters
Numerous surveys have been conducted among travelers on which country is rudest, and overwhelmingly France ranks No. 1.
However, misunderstanding French formalities is often what triggers a cold response. When greeting a Parisian, a simple attempt to speak the language by saying “Bonjour” goes a long way, as does an “Excusez-moi” when asking a stranger a question.
In restaurants, French waiters feel it is impolite to interrupt your meal and will avoid your table unless you call them over. And they definitely will not bring your check until you ask for it. This isn't because they're being uncivil; this is just the local custom.
Personally, my first visit to Paris left me feeling like the world was correct and Parisians were rude. I’ve since returned five additional times in nearly five years. Having learned some basic phrases in French, I find everyone I meet so excited that I took the time to attempt their language. Most switch to English with a smile, and are as kind as can be.
Cruises: You will get sick
If you think the norovirus runs rampant on cruise ships because of the amount of people “trapped” in a confined space, you are not (entirely) correct.
The acute gastrointestinal illness that leaves you vomiting and with diarrhea is indeed highly contagious. If someone were to get it on a cruise ship, it could potentially spread quickly and wipe out an entire ship, if not managed.
However, the truth is that while 1 in 15 people get norovirus each year, a cruise passenger only has a 1 in 5,500 chance of getting sick with the virus while on a ship, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a review of 74 million cruise passengers between 2008 and 2014, fewer than 130,000 got sick due to the norovirus.
Cruise ships are diligent about keeping illness from spreading, mandating that all passengers who arrive for a meal use a hand sanitizer before dining, especially at the buffet. They also have medical staff, facilities and pharmaceuticals to help contain a virus, should someone get sick.
Ireland: Everyone is drunk all the time
You won’t find the people of Ireland in the pub at 9 a.m., despite the stereotype that the Irish drink all day and get fall-down drunk regularly. In fact, a survey of 100,000 people in Ireland found that 16 percent of the respondents didn’t drink at all.
The World Health Organization doesn’t list Ireland as the country with the heaviest prevalence of binge drinking, either. That distinction goes to Austria, where 40 percent of those who drink, drink heavily.
The pub culture in Ireland isn’t about drinking. It’s a social scene where neighbors gather together for music, stories and yes, a couple of drinks. Join them on your visit to Ireland and you’ll leave with life-long friendships.
Spain: You cannot eat dinner before 10 p.m.
Spaniards notoriously eat a late dinner, yes.
In Spain, traditional dinner times begin at 9 p.m. and do continue well into the evening, even up to midnight. There is good reason for the late dinner: Spain’s workers begin their day at 9 a.m. but break for a lunch and siesta around 2 p.m., resuming work at 4 p.m. before ending at 8 p.m. (That is, until 2016, when the Spanish Prime Minister finally pushed workdays to end at 6 p.m.)
Due to the siesta and workdays that have traditionally stretched into the night, the Spanish eat a late dinner. But this doesn’t mean they will laugh you out the door should you decide to have dinner at 6 p.m.
The Spanish don’t care when you eat, and restaurants serving pre-dinner tapas may be open as early as 4 p.m.
Amsterdam: Drugs are legal
For travelers looking to experiment with recreational drugs, Amsterdam is often a bucket-list destination due to the myth that drugs are legal and openly enjoyed across the city, especially at “coffee shops” (entirely used for pot sales and smoking, unlike cafes, where you would go for, you know, coffee).
The confusion comes from a 1976 law that allowed for a tolerance of less than 5 grams of pot on any individual. Meaning: a little joint wasn’t going to get you locked up.
When smoking in public places was banned in 2008, coffee shop owners argued that the ban would put them out of business. The government eased up, allowing the coffee shops to remain the only public places where you can still smoke marijuana.
Couple that with a 2008 law that made “magic mushrooms” and “hashish” illegal yet not prosecutable in small quantities, and voila: a stereotype is born.
To be clear: all drugs are illegal in the Netherlands. It's just that you can purchase and smoke under 5 grams of cannabis in coffee shops, and possess small quantities of a couple other specific drugs, without being sent to jail.
London: The food is bad
The long-held stereotype that British food is nothing but hearty yet bland meals may come from the country’s most popular local dishes: bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes), beef Wellington (beef in a pie crust), shepherd’s pie (minced meat and potato in a pie), rag pudding (minced meat with onions in a pastry) and steak pie (beef and gravy in a pastry).
Are you sensing a trend here?
But while it's true these dishes lack the complex flavors of cuisine from, say, Italy, they can be quite tasty when prepared right. Moreover, especially in the metropolitan hub of London, they hardly represent the end-all-be-all of English fare.
Not only will you find dozens of restaurants helmed by big-name celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver in London, but a number of restaurants feature the talents of up-and-coming chefs who are quickly becoming stars in their own right. On the most recent "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list, no fewer than four London restaurants made the cut: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, The Clove Club, Ledbury and Lyle's.
London's experiencing a food renaissance; missing out on it because of an outdated idea of "bland British food" would be a shame.
In other words: Eat up!
Russia: It’s covered in snow
Russia’s notorious Siberia has recorded temperatures as low as 88 degrees below zero as it reaches into the Arctic Circle. But the region, which accounts for 77 percent of the country, does experience summer and warm temperatures. In fact, in 2013, Siberia recorded its highest temperature to date: a balmy 89.6 degrees.
The other 23 percent of Russia can be perfectly comfortable as well. Covering one eighth of the world’s inhabited land, Russia has 10 climatic zones. In the southern half of the country, warm and humid summers are common.
So believe it or not, you won’t always find snow in Russia.
Just try to avoid Siberia in January.
Australia: The world’s deadliest animals are out to kill you
Australia is home to some of the deadliest animals, reptiles, fish and insects in the world – including jellyfish, sharks, poisonous snakes, more than 500 types of spiders (some the size of fists!), and fresh- and saltwater crocodiles. Sounds scary, right?
But these creatures aren’t out to get you.
Consider these facts:
- There are only 3 to 18 snakebites per 100,000 people annually, and a mortality rate of .03 percent.
- There have been 70 deaths due to jellyfish stings since 1883 – a 0.5 percent mortality rate across more than 100 years.
- There have been 621 shark attacks in Australia since 1580 – more than 400 years! – with only 155 deaths.
Your odds of visiting Australia and being attacked by one of its deadly animals is low, especially when visiting cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
Jamaica: Everyone is high
With Bob Marley reigning as the king of reggae music and the Rastafarian religion, people the world over associate all of reggae and Rastafarian culture with smoking weed. And by extension, they think everyone in Jamaica is constantly getting high.
But while it is true the Rastas treat “ganja” as a sacred and holy herb (they believe the Bible’s Tree of Life is the marijuana plant), they do not practice smoking pot in order to get high. Instead, they use it in religious ceremonies and meditation to enhance their spiritual state. Moreover, on the island of Jamaica, only 1 percent – ONE percent – of the 2.7 million people who call the island home are Rastafarian.
Plus, cannabis is still illegal in Jamaica. (Although a small possession will only get you a slap on the wrist.)
You will not get a contact high when exploring the island’s rain forests and beaches.
China: Don’t eat the meat; it could be dog
There are often some truths to stereotypes, and over the years, there has been some truth to the notion that Chinese people eat dog. But the history is a lot more complicated than people know.
Starting in about 1700 BC, Chinese people did eat dog. But by the 10th century, as Buddhism became more popular in the country, it was mostly considered bad karma to kill dogs.
Dog-eating became common again when the Great Famine took hold of China between 1958 and 1961, and any meat that could be found was eaten, including dog.
Starting in 1976, following a ban, Chinese people were allowed to keep dogs as pets – which again made dog-eating pretty rare.
Today, the practice of eating dog is mostly found only in the south of China, in Guangdong and Guangxi. A study of the Chinese population found that 70 percent of people in China have never eaten dog, and more than half of the population believe dog meat should be banned.
If you are still concerned, just be sure to order chicken or fish instead of meat.
Germany: Locals drink a lot of beer
This stereotype is, of course, not a bad one. Who doesn't want to drink from boots of beer in Germany? And yes, it's true that in this country that invented Oktoberfest, locals do tend to like beer.
But that's not the only drink Germans love.
In fact, along the Rhine River you’ll find a large valley filled with different wine regions. One visit to Western Germany and you, too, could fall in love with the vineyard life, with grapes growing up terraced mountainsides overlooking the river.
Germany’s Riesling is one of the most popular styles of wine. While known for being sweet, many Rieslings are actually quite dry and crisp, and perfect for a warm summer’s day. Along the German and French border, you’ll find Sauvignon Blancs, while a true German Gewurztraminer is a spiced wine that goes well with hearty fall and winter dishes.
So go ahead and drink from boots of beer in Germany. Just don't forget to try some wine as well.
Scotland: All men wear kilts
Scottish pride is indeed reflected in the wearing of a family tartan: a plaid pattern featuring special colors and traits associated with a certain clan.
During the 16th century, men from the Scottish Highlands wore full-length kilts displaying their tartan, which were eventually shortened to knee-length in the late 17th century. The kilt became synonymous with Scotland and soon spread across the country.
But while men still own and wear kilts, they are typically used in formal wear and worn only on special occasions. They are not actually adorned on a daily basis by the majority of men and boys in the country.
Which is to say: You will not step off the airplane in Glasgow and immediately walk among a sea of kilts.
Unless you’re attending a Highland Games festival.
Mexico: Foreigners will be kidnapped and murdered
Many believe that visitors to Mexico are regularly kidnapped, robbed and murdered. There are, indeed, very unsafe areas in Mexico, and those areas are highlighted on the U.S. State Department’s “Do Not Travel” list.
But there are also many places in Mexico that are perfectly safe to visit.
Most travelers coming to Mexico are heading to beachfront destinations with dozens of all-inclusive resorts, such as those found in Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cabo San Lucas, which are not on the unsafe-travel list. The incredible cultural center of Mexico City and exemplary foodie destination of Oaxaca are also not under any travel restrictions.
Tourism is important to the local economy, and Mexico has many spectacular places to explore and kind locals to meet (Mexicans are, in fact, some of the friendliest people on the planet). Be thoughtful with your planning, and you can experience the country's charms with minimal risk.
Israel: Terrorist attacks are prevalent
If your only ideas about Israel are derived from the news, you probably know it by the Gaza Strip, a tiny portion of land in an already small country where fighting has been ongoing between the Israelis and Palestinians. But while there are places of unrest in Israel, bringing on a heightened sense of security, it is a beautiful and rather safe country on the whole.
Along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, you’ll find people surfing and playing on beaches, and high-rise hotels and fine-dining establishments in abundance, especially in Tel Aviv. In the mountainous north, organic foods and wineries provide a Napa-like environment. You can float in the Dead Sea, surrounded by desert, and stay in luxury resorts.
These are the scenes you won't see on the nightly news.