“What’s your favorite country?”
“Which country has the best food?”
And “Which country is the friendliest?”
These are questions we are asked frequently. This week I will tackle the friendliest country.
Impossible Questions: Favorites And Bests
The friendliest country is not an easy question to answer nor is there a clear answer. As usual, my response is a totally biased opinion, highly subjective, based only on personal experience.
It’s A Friendly World After All
In our travels, we have enjoyed an abundance of friendlessness throughout the world. I think many Americans would be shocked, not merely surprised, at how helpful and friendly most of the world is. People in other countries, for the most part, are not suspicious, frightened, or paranoid. This is merely an observation, not a criticism.
I have a couple of ‘disclaimers’ before I jump into this:
- I’m only evaluating the 17 countries we have stayed in during our 60 X 60 project.
- I apologize to my friends in the 15 countries that did not make the top 2. My apology is genuine. Of the 17 countries we’ve visited for 60 X 60 all have been friendly.
The extraordinary friendliness we have experienced is clear in the stories below.
Starting With Tacos – Mexico
The average person cannot survive after
- 10 minutes without air
- 4 days without water
- 50 days without food
- 6 months without tacos (at least for me)
So I will start with tacos.
Kim and I heard that some of the best fish tacos in the world were in Puerto Vallarta. Marisma Fish Tacos is the place for the very best fish tacos in Puerto Vallarta. We went there.
When we arrived I told the cooks preparing the tacos that we heard they made the best fish tacos in Puerto Vallarta, maybe in all of Mexico.
This simple, true compliment resulted in the owner’s uncle, who just happened to be there, sharing 9 unique homemade salsas to try and ask for our opinion. He told us how each salsa was made. He shared glasses of hand-squeezed tamarind juice, which was delicious. He brought out a sample platter of different types of fish used in the tacos. There was no intention for us to buy more, no addition to the bill, he was just being friendly.
In Albania, Kim and I ate inside the Berat Castle walls at one of the best restaurants in Albania. This small restaurant had only 4 or 5 tables. The owner was the chef. He explained each item on the menu in detail, how he prepared each, and why it was special to Albania. After the meal, at our table, he shared his father’s homemade raki (not for sale). He described his father’s process, how to drink it, and why it is unique. He sat a sipped with us, then left us to enjoy our conversation and finish the bottle.
In Beijing, my son and I arrived late at night at a deserted subway station. We exited the empty carriage, walked through the empty station, ascended the empty stairs to an empty dirt lot. Clearly, we were lost.
While we stood perplexed, the lone station attendant abandoned his post to come up the stairs and find us. Via phone translators, we came to the conclusion we were in a very wrong spot. He brought us back down to the station, put us on the next train with instructions on where to disembark. At that stop, we were met by the station attendant. She led us out of the station to a hotel. She spoke to the receptionist arranging a room for us, walked us to our room, and then went back to work. Wow!
My son and I have no idea who these people were or why they felt compelled to do so much for us. Many of our experiences in China were similar to this. You will always find help in China.
In Belize, the quality of our Airbnb was less than advertised as was the location. We were totally dissatisfied. We complained to the hosts, which is something we rarely do. They respond immediately eliminating ants and cleaning the carpet. However, they could not change the neighborhood. We told them we needed to find other accommodations.
Two amazing things happened. First, they refunded our payment for our cancelation, which they were not obligated to do. When we mentioned we were going to call a taxi because we had decided to leave the city. Our hosts changed their afternoon plans to drive us to the airport.
In Marseille, France (which those from Marseille claim is not really France) two couples heard us speaking English at an outdoor cafe. They asked us the usual “where are you from” and associated questions. We mentioned our disappointment that the castle was being renovated and we could visit it. This resulted in one of the men driving home and returning with, literally, the keys to the castle so he could lead us on a private tour.
In Guatemala, I developed an ear infection. At my usual coffee house, the waiter noticed my discomfort and asked if something was wrong. I answered I had an earache. On his day off, he volunteered to take me to two hospitals (the first one had a long wait) to have it looked at.
In Istanbul, Kim and I were walking by the Wall of Constantinople. The wall is a crumbling artifact of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire. Because it is crumbling it is closed to the public. Workmen were on top of the wall placing fencing on the sides to keep debris from falling onto the road. We waved and said ‘hi’ (in Turkish) as we walked by. They motioned us to come up, which we did. We were able to walk atop the wall which had kept the city safe for 1,000 years. An adventure few people experience.
Friendly Is The Normal
For the sake of space and time, I will not relate a story for all 17 countries. But, Kim and I have similar anecdotes from every country in which we have stayed in. These are not isolated incidences. Such random acts of friendliness happen often in the countries we have visited.
Just as I was “forced” to articulate a favorite country and identify best foods even though there is not a best country or a best food, I feel compelled to choose a “most friendly country” even though they have all been friendly.
The Friendliest Country?
Choosing a ‘friendlies’ country is difficult. Certainly, China stands out because of the ridiculous degree to which strangers are helpful and friendly. I am friends with a family in Xingtai because my son and I were stopped by the police in Beijing. The two police officers wanted to say ‘hi’ and invite us to a meal. Later they invited us to Xingtai for the weekend. China stories such as this are common.
But the country which has been the most consistently friendly and helpful, the country where the people have an air of contagious friendliness, the country we are continually drawn back too, is Mexico.
Mexico is a country, like many others, in which strangers stop their activities to lead you to your destination. They go out of their way to help and invite you to join them.
Mexicans seem to really enjoy the act of being friendly. I think more than any other country we’ve been to so far, Mexicans really understand that we are all in life together. It’s not just nice to be helpful and friendly, it’s a way of life for Mexicans.