You’ve got to go before you really know

Imagine a world where we all thought the same way and did the same things. Pretty bland, eh?

And yet so many of us*, when we travel, don’t embrace the differences of the places we visit. Worse still, are those who rail against places and people they know nothing about.

This happens to me a lot when I talk about living in the Middle East. It seems everybody has an opinion about that part of the world — and the most negative ones come from people who have never been to the region, and never will.

Of course, visiting (and especially living in) the UAE (let alone Saudi Arabia) can be challenging — and I haven’t been shy is writing about some of those challenges.

But if you go there, you will meet kind, generous people who will welcome you and will proudly introduce you to their culture, traditions, history and religion. And, for the most part, they will want to know more about you and your life.

I can understand that some people have what they see as political, moral or ethical reasons for avoiding some countries.

But where in the world is the utopia where nothing objectionable ever happens? If you refuse to go to Saudi Arabia because they practice execution by the sword, would it be any more moral to visit the US, where some states administer capital punishment by fatal injection that doesn’t always work properly?

I’ve not been to Iran, but a few friends who have been there on business say they were pleasantly surprised by their reception despite the negativity we often hear about the place. The locals — not just the people they were doing business with them, but people in the streets, in cafes and on trains — were pleased to meet them and eager to show them the attractions.

I suppose it can be argued that tourism “props up” bad regimes — but the likes of, say, North Korea are hardly putting out the welcome mat anyway. The really bad places are the ones that don’t want foreigners coming in and having a good look around.

It’s up to you where you travel, but don’t dismiss a place out of hand because of a preconception that could very well be wrong.

And if you truly do have a horror story to report, at least it will be first hand — not a half truth gleaned from a third-hand account on social media.

*And, yes, I have been guilty of this.

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