In what must have been a blow to Pakistan’s tourism industry, Condé Nast Traveler magazine named Islamabad the world’s second least-friendly city. Perhaps Islamabad can take some consolation in the fact that at least they are not Newark, New Jersey, which, according to the magazine’s poll of readers, is the World’s Unfriendliest.
This was not a rigorously scientific study, so it seems likely that many of the readers who scorned Newark may have only visited its airport, while on their way to New York City. (Somewhat surprisingly, NYC did not make the list.) Airports are not generally known to be jolly and welcoming anywhere on earth.
Another assumption that can reasonably be made about the survey is that most of the 47,000 voters were Americans, since U.S. cities dominated the list. Five of the top ten and eight of the top 20 unfriendly cities are within the continental United States. They include Oakland, California (#3), New Haven, Connecticut (#7), Detroit (#8), Atlantic City, New Jersey (#9), Los Angeles (#12), Albany, New York (#13) and Wilmington, Delaware (#17).
You see why I think most of the voters were taking revenge on their neighbors? How many tourists from abroad say, “Hey, let’s go to America and visit Albany!”? I’ve visited several of the cities on the list — lived in one of them — and I don’t see how it can objectively be determined that Los Angeles is a more hostile locale than, say, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (#15) or Casablanca, Morocco (#18).
As I’ve mentioned before, Paris is one of my favorite places, but I know other people who associate it with rudeness. Paris didn’t make the list, by the way; with the exception of Moscow (#16), no European city did. Maybe the language differences don’t seem as daunting in Italy or Ireland as they do in Guangzhou, China (#11).
The fuzzy criteria for what make a city seem unfriendly got me thinking about places we’ve been. There have been moments of unpleasantness in Barcelona and Shanghai and Nairobi, but isolated incidents don’t necessarily make them unfriendly cities. Rudeness or hostility can pop up anywhere.
In fact, it occurred to me that the most unfriendly travel experience I ever had happened in the city where I live.
Our day had started in Switzerland and had included a four-hour layover at London Heathrow. By the time we got home we were exhausted, but needed food so we wouldn’t wake up hungry at 3 a.m. Since I had been salsa-deprived while in Europe, I drove to a little Mexican food café to get some stuff to take home.
When I walked in the door, a customer was shouting at the owner. He then turned and started to stalk out; the two men in front of me in the take-out line snickered at his theatrical outburst. The shouter whirled and demanded, “Something funny?” One of the guys ahead of me replied, “You.”
After a couple more verbal challenges, I felt the wind of a fist flying past my head. It landed on the guy nearest me, who responded in kind. Other customers jumped in to try to pry apart the combatants, and the whole tangle of them slammed into the salsa bar. I didn’t see how a sleep-deprived middle-aged man could bring about reconciliation, so I walked out the door.
Fortunately, there weren’t any Traveler magazine voters around to witness this unfriendly exhibition, or my town might have made the list, and we’re actually pretty friendly. Most of the time.