Country Hatred – Is it Possible?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is it that draws an individual to a particular destination. Why do I love Paris? Why does someone else hate it? During this internal travel philosophizing, I began to dwell on what it means to “hate” a country or region. When people make this short, declarative statement as an aside, they may not realize that this simple statement carries great weight.

I too have been guilty of saying that I hate a country. For example, while on a Caribbean cruise several years ago, we had the opportunity to explore Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Although we were there for less than a day, the interactions we had with local residents and store owners made us vow never to return to this popular vacation destination. In essence, we hated Jamaica.

But is this possible?

To answer this, I really had to think about what I didn’t like about Jamaica. I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t find decent food outside of Margaritaville. I didn’t like being insulted and yelled at by shop keepers when I refused to buy their crap. Actually, I think that’s the real reason why we had a bad time. Even though these merchants are on the front line of tourism in Ocho Rios, their behavior guarantees visitors will leave unhappy and even scared.  So while I may not like some of the people in Jamaica, I don’t think I really hate the entire country.

As I’ve gotten older and traveled to more places around the world, there is one fact that I keep noticing: most people are fundamentally good. It may seem a simple concept, but it’s just as powerful a thought as is hating an entire country. Now when I travel, I keep this in mind and when I do encounter rough times or the inevitable dishonest person, I remind myself that this is not the norm. The bad actors are the outliers and I should not let it color my feelings for the place I am visiting.  Easier said than done though, right?

Dunns River Falls, Jamaica
Dunns River Falls, Jamaica

The sad fact is that while my interaction with those people in Jamaica lasted for about two minutes, it forever colored my perception of the entire nation. This is unfortunately how most people react when traveling. Didn’t like your hotel in Bangkok? Bam! The entire city must be miserable. Got sick from a meal in Rome? Boom! Rome is forever off your travel list.

Intellectually, I know that this doesn’t make sense, but it is just one of those primal reactions I think most of us have. Because of it though, I have a feeling that many of us miss out on a lot of great travel experiences.

Many people visit Jamaica every year and I think, for the most part, they enjoy their experiences. Will my one encounter eight years ago forever preclude me from exploring this Caribbean island and learning more about its people and culture? Of course the answer is that it shouldn’t, but that’s something I will have to mindfully work through.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, so I should probably stop blathering, but my take away from these travel musings is that even though we all have negative experiences while traveling, we need to take them for what they are – one time experiences. Having a wallet stolen in New York does not mean that all New Yorkers are thieves and having rotten weather while in France doesn’t mean it’s an awful place.

Our travels are snapshots in time. My trip to Jamaica isn’t like anyone else’s trip experience there and it will never be like anyone else’s in the future. When we visit a new country, we see just a small glimpse of its people, culture and history. That’s why I think that when we have bad experiences, when we say we hate a place, we actually owe it to ourselves not to avoid it, but to return and see what the next snapshot will show.

Keep Calm and Carry On

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

19 thoughts on “Country Hatred – Is it Possible?”

  1. Good post! I’m in the middle of traveling and experiencing a difficult internal war with myself over my feelings in Vietnam. I was looking forward to loving it, as I’d read many other travelers experiences and love for it. So far, I’m far from love. I am struggling against dislike and disgust. Today I had a bit of a breakthrough in my own mind when I saw the Citadel in Hue, but I’m not sure yet what that breakthrough means. I hope it means some understanding and insight into why I feel like Vietnam seems to be one big tourist-trapping place so far.

    I hope I never say “I hated Vietnam.” Hopefully, as you point out, I can say, “I need to go back and figure out what I missed.” I have two more weeks, though, so perhaps it’ll present itself to me (and perhaps I’ll be able to see more clearly).

    Thanks for your post,

  2. You know what is interesting is that I really didn’t like Ecuador at all, it felt really bland. But then I had to travel through it to get to Peru and stopped in for an independence day in Cuenca and three weeks later I’m still here.

    It made me realize that it’s so dependent on your experience at that moment, especially the people you meet. My first 3 weeks were blah but now I love the country.

    1. You and I (and others) have talked about this a lot. Every place is great. And every place is horrible. Just depends on what happens to you there and who you meet. I have hated a country that everyone I know loves (Ethiopia) and loved a country that a ton of people hate (Vietnam). And everything in between.

      We are travelers. It is hubris to think we “know” a place. Relax, enjoy the ride, and hope to meet a few cool new people and see a few cool new things.

  3. I had some really bad experiences with Holland and Belgium, and while I do want to give both another shot, those initial experiences have really colored my perception of both countries.

  4. Good post Matt. Agree that we make impulsive judgements on an entire country (or even continent) based on the flimsiest of evidence. A bout of food poisoning or a pickpocket can easily do it. I’ve heard so many negative things about Vietnam. On the one hand it might knock the country down my pecking order of places to visit. On the other hand I want to go and see if it’s really like others have said as I know how differently we each experience the same places. Food for thought.

  5. After I visited Jamaica several years ago, I said that I’d probably not go back. It’s a beautiful country and I’m happy to travel anywhere, but my experiences with the people were not good (and I’m not judging an entire country based on the people I met). I figured that most of the people who absolutely love Jamaica are never actually leaving their resorts. But I’ve never seen the point of spending all of your time at a resort and not venturing out to see the country. We were hassled, insulted, deliberately (we believe) given wrong directions, etc. Actually, the best experience was climbing the falls at Ocho Rios – we were in the middle of a rainstorm late in the day so were by ourselves — no guide, no people around.

    I agree that you Would I give Jamaica another chance? I might, but there are so many other places in the world to visit yet. I don’t think I can spare the time.

  6. Thanks for the comments guys, nice to see I’m not alone.

    Cathy – funny we had the same experience in Jamaica. I guess it wasn’t an isolated experience; not that I ever thought it was.

  7. You know, I went there 15 years ago on a cruise myself and felt exactly the same way. I’ve always felt guilty about never wanting to go back because I know that there are lovely resorts, beautiful people and an amazing culture. But the guy threatening me with a beating to get off the public phone (hey it was pre-mobile phone days) and the physically aggressive vendors trying to force me to buy knit caps by bruising my arm really freaked me out. I’d traveled all over Mexico and never felt like I might get punched for being a tourist… I’m totally willing try again though… CHA in January!

  8. Great post -as I do radio interviews all day today about screaming kids on planes… your post reminds me of the view many have of flying with kids. One child per flight can ruin it for the entire generation.

    Perspective is important.


  9. Great post! I have this internal struggle too and although I want to give these places another try- I feel like Cathy in regards to having sooo many other places I would like to travel to and the idea of giving “hated” cities more of my time doesn’t seem worth it. I think for Americans, who most of us only have 2 or 3 weeks of vacation time- returning to one of those cities just doesn’t make any sense.

    I also find that I don’t judge the city, but myself. What about me doesn’t mesh with the city? Finding the answer to that oftentimes helps me figure out where I do and don’t want to travel to next!!

  10. Interesting. I’ve been to places I didn’t enjoy as much as others, but I haven’t had an experience bad enough that it made me hate an entire country. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far. I’ll probably feel differently once we begin our RTW trip. LOL

  11. This is a very interesting post, I so can relate to it.

    I tend to be very strong-opinioned about the places I don’t like, this has a tendency to make me look as a narrow minded person, which I (hope) I’m not. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that I hate Paris, which is true in a way, I find that people there are the most unfriendly I have come across in any other destination I’ve ever been to. This said, it is also true that I found Paris to be one of the most gorgeous places in the world. But however tempting it might be to visit Paris for the third time, I will always rather choose a friendlier eastern European destination over it.

  12. Great post! I think it is a natural reaction, and only human, to let your experiences colour your perception of a place.

    Some people leave South Korea (where I live) HATING the country because they ended up with a shitty job here – and think that all Koreans are dishonest and liars. Obviously that’s not true – if so, nobody would ever re-sign their contract!

    Personally, my most “hated” city is Gaziantep in Turkey. The weather was unbearably hot, the food was crappy and too expensive (I could see the glimmer in the restaurant owner’s eyes when he realised I spoke neither Turkish nor German), and there was a ridiculously loud music shop right below my hotel room.

    Yet, I chose to go here necause my Lonely Planet Turkey guide raved about the city – so, surely it must have something good, even if I had a miserable time . In saying that, I have no intentions of re-visiting the place any time soon, however!

    1. LOL Tom, I’m sorry you had that experience, but we all have them. I just think it’s interesting how people can have such different impressions of the same destination.

  13. Ouch, Jamaican shopkeepers sound horrendous! I don’t think I’ve hated any country I’ve been to – there’s always places I like and others that I don’t. I believe that hating a city is very possible, though, and even one as well-loved as Rome – because I happen to be someone who feels that way despite everyone I know loving it!

  14. I have to be honest. First off, I have Jamaican roots. I was born in Jamaica, but moved to Michigan when I was little. We came back to Jamaica and I left again.
    Now to the point. I’ve observed that when you visit for a while, people at times will actually “worship” you. Then if you’re around too long, business as usual. I’ve met some really horrible people as well as some nice ones. The drivers are scary. People at times will just plain bump you out of the way so they can go about their business. And in some stores or business places where you require customer service, people can be rude.
    I mean Jamaica can be a nice place. It’s beauty is rather unique in comparison to the rest of the world. Before you visit, do some research about the place before you visit. And be very careful and know exactly who you’re going with and where you’re going. It’ll save you a lot of trouble.

    1. it just comes down to personal taste. Not every person can like every place. Has nothing to do with anything other than gut feelings.

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