A former friend of mine once told me that visiting a particular country didn’t “impress” him. I found it offensive that someone thought a country should impress him. Who the heck was this guy, anyway? That trip marked his first out of Europe and the US. I didn’t press the issue then. Last night, however, I fear I’ve repeated his offense. I seriously offended a Canadian by expressing dislike for a certain Asian country that I lived in.
Here’s how the conversation went, via Twitter of all things (though I can’t recall exactly what he tweeted to precipitate it):
NLR: The big, long, monotonous wall that’s supposedly Great in China seemed as monotonous as its people. + I can’t stand Beijing; I skipped it.
NLR: Trying to avoid visiting Machu Picchu here in Peru. After all, I’ve got ruins 25 feet away from my house + I’ve already been to Pachacamac.
CAN:really?! a billion people and you can say they’re monotonous! i think that’s maybe a generalization. in fact i’m married to one who isn’t…
CAN: i don’t mean to be testy on the subject, but i’m always wary of generalizations about people and i focus on specific cities only…
NLR: I didn’t live in BJ; just traveled through a few times. Lived in Huludao & Shenzhen. Got to travel 2 w/ an architecture firm I consulted for.
CAN: people are always trying to get me to compare cities and peoples and i just won’t. i prob. come across as defensive..maybe canadians are!
Here’s my big flaw:
NLR: I’m glad you like it. With the exception of half a dozen people I loathed it. Memories of my time there make me empathize with Vietnam vets.
CAN: ok now that’s just ugly. please don’t contact me again.
NLR: Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you personally. Maybe you feel like I did when a friend told me 1 city ‘didn’t impress him.’ Apologies.
My heart sunk all night after our Twitter tiff. While it’d be easy for me to chuck it up to his simply having thin skin, I wanted to see it from his perspective.
Consider these different yet related examples.
Two expats in as many days have told me they didn’t like Lima. I disagree, and while I don’t plan to stay longer than my six months’ tourist stamp, I didn’t find their dislike offensive. Maybe marriage to a Peruvian would have made me feel differently.
Upon arrival in Lima, I asked locals and expats what places around Peru they liked to visit. Sitting at a table with a Peruvian and an Englishman, the former raved about Mancora. The latter took advantage of the Peruvian’s absence a moment later to just as strongly suggest I avoid Mancora at all costs. To this day I have no opinion formed of Mancora, except that there are a dozen places higher on my wish list to visit than that northern surf town. This conversation came back to me today when passing a man who was wearing a T’shirt that read: “Mancora es una puta madre” (Mancora is a MoFo). I don’t find Limenos to have an ironic sense of humour, though perhaps this T was meant to be ironic. Whichever way he meant it, some places just aren’t for everyone.
Should all Peruvians or Mancorians start a civil war because this Limeno was wearing that T? Should the Peruvian cease communication with one of his best friends because they disagree on Mancora?
I finally saw the underbelly of India after having lived there. Many terrible things happened to me there, yet my enchantment with the culture remains and I’m sure I’ll return. I can understand why others have no desire to go there. Many people have asked ignorant questions about India. Should I excommunicate them? Some places just aren’t for everyone.
My heart has sunk that this guy took such offense to my calling the country monotonous. On the other hand, after spending almost two years in a country, doesn’t one earn the right to form an opinion? In all truth I tried to love China. I tried to learn the language, understand it through its art, architecture, philosophy, literature, and history. I approached it with such high hopes. And time after time of trying to gain insight and appreciation, it just wouldn’t come. Therefore I was only too happy to leave it. While there are some points worth remembering (spending the 30th anniversary of Shenzhen’s opening with two Chinese friends; its inspiring high-speed rails; a six-year-old who made my uterus rethink having children; street food at the university where I first taught), most of the memories I’d rather just forget. We just couldn’t meet in the middle.
Now I’m wondering if those of us who travel can’t even express a dislike for a country. Is everything lollipops and cremesicles for other expats? This one’s worth thinking about for a few days.
I’d love to hear from you. Which countries have you disliked? Have you had arguments or turgid disagreements as the Canadian has with me?