Tag Archives: Los Angeles

The World’s Unfriendliest Cities

This resident of Nairobi was almost too friendly.

This resident of Nairobi was almost too friendly.

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.

When the Olympics Came to Town

1984 Olympic Games, Los Angeles

The predictions were dire.  Experts warned that the 1984 Olympic Games were going to cause gridlock in Los Angeles; traffic would be brought to a standstill.  Traffic is at a standstill every day in L.A. of course, but somehow this would be even worse.

For those of us who didn’t flee the city, things worked out very well.  If anything, the traffic was lighter than usual, and for a couple of weeks we had a wonderful celebration with visitors from 140 countries.

The Soviet Union, East Germany and several other eastern bloc nations didn’t come to the party — they boycotted the Games in revenge for a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.  Romania showed up, though, and we all cheered them every chance we got.

There were several historical highlights at the XXIII Olympiad, including Carl Lewis winning four gold medals in Track & Field, and Joan Benoit’s victory in the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon.  Mary Lou Retton won the women’s Gymnastics all-around gold medal.

My family wasn’t at any of those events, but we attended a lot of others, and here are a few fond memories of the ’84 Olympics:

•  During preliminary competition in Men’s Springboard Diving, the dive being attempted was announced — “Forward 2½ somersault from pike position” or whatever.  No matter what the dive was supposed to be, the divers from Kuwait usually just did a swan dive.  They were elegant swan dives, but they didn’t score very well with the judges. 

•  Baseball was a demonstration sport.  We saw a double-header:  The first game matched Canada against Japan, followed by South Korea against Nicaragua.  A lot of the action that day was in the stands, where fans were busy trading pins with each other.  The enamel pins featured official mascot Sam the Eagle in a variety of poses representing different sports and countries.  Pin trading was brisk at every Olympic venue in 1984, and there still seems to be some market for those souvenirs on the internet.

•  Joaquim Cruz of Brazil defeated world record holder Sebastian Coe in the exciting final of the men’s 800-meter race.  Cruz’s winning time was 1:43:00.  After he received his gold medal on the victory stand, the Brazilian national anthem was played — it lasted almost twice that long.  Seriously, have you ever heard the Brazilian national anthem?  It’s quite beautiful, but you can feel yourself getting older by the time it reaches its conclusion.

•  One of our son’s favorite Olympic memories involved a misbegotten promotional scheme by McDonald’s.  The slogan was “When the U.S. wins, you win!”  The hamburger chain distributed scratch-offs with the names of various Olympic events printed on them.  If a U.S. participant won a gold medal in the event on your card, you got a free Big Mac.  A silver medal was worth free french fries; bronze meant a free Coke.

McDonald’s hadn’t counted on the boycott by the Communist countries, and the record medal haul for the U.S. that resulted.  Americans won 174 total medals, including 88 gold, which was at least double what McDonald’s had expected.  Brian had free hamburgers for what seemed like months after the Olympics ended.