Things that bug MadIce
Traveling and the internet.
Published on September 12, 2003 By MadIce In Blogging
I've read _Martin_'s blog about how he loved his visit to the US and about how he thought Americans were lucky. That made me think. First I wanted to reply to his post, but that would take away the intention of his blog.

We all think in stereotypes and have preoccupations when the people we meet or the views we encounter are unknown to us. Have you ever met an Eskimo? I didn't. The only thing I know about them them comes from TV, newspapers and comics. I vaguely know that the term Eskimo isn't even the correct one and isn't considered polite. So, I can be sure that what I think about them is incorrect. It is no real problem yet, because you cannot have an opnion about everything. It becomes a problem if you see it as facts.

I think that visiting other countries or interacting with other people can change your viewpoints. And often it seems that the way you viewed them before wasn't really what you thought of them and it looks like the resulting situation is always (or most of the time) an improvement. Let's give me some examples.

About 26+ years ago I went on a trip for about 3 weeks with several people from different (European) nationalities. We travelled all across Europe and stayed in a lot of different countries: West Germany, East Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Jugoslavia, Greece, France and Belgium. We often slept in the bus (it was looow budget), but we also stayed in homes of families. I came across countries that I wouldn't even dream of visiting.

We Dutch generally don't have high opinions about the Germans, but of course we went there on our trip too. The stereotypes I had of the Germans went away as soon as I arrived in Berlin. That city is great and in a lot of aspects the people there have the same mentality like in Amsterdam. Let's say it is familiar to me. The people where we stayed welcomed us with open arms. They would drive us anywhere we wanted, prepared fantastic meals, gave us the key to their house. Gave us a phone number where they could be reached. Their own phone was out of order, so they gave us the keys of the neighbours who did have a phone. Just in case. We were a bit surprised by all that. The stereotypes didn't work. I will never view the Germans the same after that experience.

During that trip we also went to East Berlin. One of the Germans who went with us (an excentric artist) thought he was a world citizen and didn't need a passport. Remember that in those days the Wall still existed, the Cold War was still going on and there was no European Union. So, the East German customs where a bit surprised by that and it took us 7+ hours to cross Check Point Charlie. That famous border crossing is as scary as I imagined it would be. Complete with towers and soldiers with machine guns on it who were aiming at us. While waiting we saw a man standing in the cold (it was the beginning of March and it was snowing) at the eastern part of the border for hours. It turned out he was a government official waiting for us. We were invited so he was there to watch over us. When we finally crossed the border (yes, the German guy did finally get a tourist visa for 3 days) the cold man wasn't happy to see us and it showed. I don't blame him. To our surprise he took us to a restaurant. In those days people where standing in a queue to get in. He rushed in and talked to some people there. We were ordered to pass the queue. When we came in the restaurant some tables were cleared. The people had to move, whether they were finished it or not, to make room for us. Needless to say we were embarrassed by this all and didn't feel comfortable. But again the average citizen turned out to be very friendly people. But all in all, not a place I would return too. That country scared me. You could almost smell the poverty. Most of these experiences were like I expected.

We visited Jugoslavia too and I loved the people there. It wasn't the tourist season, so we probably had extra attention. I remember that a friend and I entered a restaurant and we couldn't read the menu. But we saw fish being sold outside so we asked if we could show what we wanted there. That was no problem. After a while a very good meal was served. When later an english speaking waiter came in he pointed out that the restaurant's cook wasn't able to make the meal because of the exotic fish we had chosen, so the gentleman who sold the fish prepared our meal! How is that for a service!

A few years ago some friends and I decided to go to the Czech Republic. You can imagine that after the experience with East Germany I had my doubts about visiting an (ex-) eastern block country. I remembered the Jugoslavian experience and thought I would give it a go. You can see the impact of what communism has done for that country. The people don't make contact soon. In the old days even neighbours didn't trust each other. You saw speakers on every corner from which propaganda was supposed to come in the communist period. It scared the hell out of us when in the village where we stayed the speakers told about a circus coming to a town in the neighbourhood. We didn't know that is what they said until someone translated it for us. In that country times have changed and it turned out to be one of the best vacations I had in years. The prices were OK (12 dollar per person for a night (comfy house in the country with a swimming pool) and two days for free because we stayed 2 weeks (so the owner told us)), the meals great if you knew where to look and again the people where very hospitable as soon as they found out you didn't come from Germany. Czechs have a lot of German (sex) tourists (especially at the borders) who they don't seem to like, but these are considered "welcome" because of the money they bring. I would love to go back there one day and maybe stay longer.

On our way to the Czech Republic we had to pass East Germany. It looked like the color came back to that country and we saw smiles on people's faces. Nah. I don't include the smiles of those sex tourists. The infrastructure was being rebuild. No queues anymore. I read that there are still a lot of propblems there, but I doubt that those people want to return to their old situation. If I ever get the chance then maybe I will go back there. Too bad that there are so many places on my wishlist to visit.

Over the years I have been to England a lot. I love to go there. It's not the food or the beer (I don't like both very much over there), it's not the climate, but again its the people. I have been from the violent Skelmersdale to the cozy Lake District to the busy London. Hotels are not the places I enjoy and I was often lucky to find a place in an ordinary household. The English have always made me feel welcome and are good and fun company. Their humor is dry and I love that. We have family in England and my sister visits them at least once a year. In fact she and her husband are there now. I would love to go back there and visit other parts of the UK.

I come from a part of Amsterdam where people used to work in the ship yards. These are gone now, but as a result one can say because of that I have a socialist background, eventhough my parents where religious people. Your background shapes part of what you are. And yes, I know that at one point you can make decisions of your own.

About 15 years ago I started working for a small company which had their office in building with lots of other small companies. Fortunate for me there was an inhouse restaurant/bar which was kind of a meeting point in that building. After work one could find me there. After a few years my political views changed. Mind you Dutch socialism has little to do with how the US or ex-eastern block counties view it. I saw how hard people owning a business have to work and became friends with a lot of them.

The last couple of years I picked up skinning as a hobby. This is very much a community thing and that is for a part the fun of it. You meet people with different ideas too. Sometimes I wished I had more time for it. I am no longer active in the newsgroups, I am cutting back visiting WC and rarely interact on IRC. But there are a lot of people in that community who I can call friends. A lot of them are from the US and Australia. Often friends come and friends go, but there are at least two who I never want to lose. Countries that I have never visited. Their views are usually discussed in the news and eventhough I meet a lot of foreigners as tourists here in Amsterdam, you don't become friends with a tourist. But over the internet you have a change to sepak with real people about it. There is one person in the US that I would love to visit. And maybe someday I will. Internet is a kind of virtual way to travel. But it can never replace the real thing.

Sometimes, like today, I hear myself thinking: It's time to have a beer in my favourite bar and meet some people that I can touch. That's what I am going to do tonight. Meet some friends. Maybe it is home sweet home here in Amsterdam.

These and other experiences made me become more and more moderate. I am getting old.
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