The other day, I met up with fellow travelers/bloggers Johnny and Ian, who happened to be passing through Bucharest. I had met Johnny in 2010 while in Beirut and so this was a great opportunity to catch up with him and learn more about his recent travels along the Trans-Siberian Railway and all over Northern and Eastern Europe.
As we sat at an outdoor cafe in the old city center discussing a variety of topics, at one point, both Johnny and Ian mentioned that upon first impression, the people of Bucharest seemed so very friendly.
I quickly nodded in agreement because that has been my experience as well during the five months I’ve spent on and off in this city. However, even though I have without a doubt encountered an endless string of overly friendly, kind and generous people in this city, and in Romania in general, you won’t hear me claiming this country to be the friendliest on the planet.
But fear not dear Romania. It has nothing to do with you at all.
When it comes to the question “What is the friendliest country on the planet?”, I truly believe that there is only one suitable answer – every country is the friendliest country on the planet.
How is this possible?
In my travel experience, I’ve learned that the friendliness of a country has far more to do with my own attitude than any other factor. If I cross the border into Croatia, for example, and I walk around the streets of Split with my head down, treating everyone I come across as either a potential scam artist, thief or even just a source of information, chances are I won’t have the most rewarding interactions.
However, if I walk around with my head up, not caring that I’m the silly tourist, always open and interested in meeting new people and remembering at all times that everyone I meet is a fellow human being, while shaking plenty of hands, asking questions and trying to use the few words of Croatian that I’ve hopefully picked up, then I have no doubt that Croatia will seem like one supremely friendly nation.
And the same formula works for every country you visit. It’s worked for me at least, in 76 countries so far.
It is common, and quite understandable, for us travelers to be on guard at all times, to constantly worry about our safety and to lack a general trust of those we meet during our adventures. And when this happens, we tend to shy away from interacting with those around us and as a result, everyone seems much less friendly, simply because we aren’t open to meeting as many people.
But a good way to change our mentality is to imagine ourselves sitting on the steps in front of our own house or apartment building back home. There we are, just relaxing outside when suddenly, from around the corner comes a backpack-carrying traveler who clearly appears to be lost.
Some of you might immediately hop up and offer this traveler a hand. However, others might not say a word and just stare at this nervous person, wondering what on earth they are doing on your street.
But if that traveler walked up to you, smiled widely and asked if you could point him or her in the right direction, I’d imagine that most of you would offer a helping hand and make sure that this traveler ended up where they needed to go.
Just think about the difference in this person’s experience. As a result of talking to us, smiling and asking a question, when they go back to their hostel later that night, they will speak of the friendly people they encountered, the people who helped them when lost.
Well, it’s the same when we’re on the road as well. We need to put in an effort to interact and connect with the people who live in the destinations we visit. We can’t walk around with a suspicious eye, tightly grasping our backpack in fear of our stuff being stolen, assuming that everyone is out to get us. And we can’t expect every person in every nation to walk up to us, the strange foreigner, with open arms, to give us a huge hug and a flower lei and treat us to a royal feast just because we’ve chosen to visit their country.
Of course, there’s still no guarantee that a smile, a hand shake or a splattering of highly mangled local words will lead to ideal travel experiences, but so far, in my travels, I have rarely been disappointed. India and Australia, Italy and Iceland, Jordan and Turkey, Barbados and Kiribati…they’ve all been equally friendly to me.
So, forget about the question of “which is the friendliest country in the world?” Instead, just remember that wherever we travel, we, the traveler, hold the key to unlocking the friendliness of the people around us.
With this attitude, I’m quite confident that you, too, will always feel as if you are in the friendliest country on the planet.
Do you believe there’s a ‘friendliest country in the world’ or do you also think that every country can fit that description?