Reputations can make or break you. Whatever else may change around you, or however you yourself may change, your reputation and the reputation of the people and places around you largely remain consistent, constant, shape your view of the world, and when they do change, chances are good you’re going to change somewhat along with them.
Shakespeare knew that, as his character of Cassio cries out “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” And how many of those oh-so-popular British drawing room period dramas have had plot points turn on the quest to ruin or save someone’s reputation?
Whether you’re a lifelong fan of the Brontes and the Bard, loved Brideshead Revisited or adore Downton Abbey, you know just how important reputation can be, and that importance extends to everything from restaurants and d to cities and, yes, entire nations.
After all, who wants to go to a city or country with a bad reputation? There’s undoubtedly a certain set that might like that idea, but for the vast majority of us, when spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to drive or fly across continents and seas to take in the sights and sounds of a foreign country only to find a rude welcome?
Which nations are the “friendliest” out there for would-be tourists and travelers, and what is it about them that makes them so inviting?
So, here’s a look at the top 10 most tourist-friendly nations.
Oh, Canada. Could you imagine a list of polite and friendly countries without your own “home and native land?” True, it’s a stereotype that Canadians are overly-polite and friendly (albeit a largely complimentary one) but in that all-important area of international reputation, Canada is regularly finds itself near the top of lists counting down the world’s friendliest nations.
Interestingly enough, Canada’s perceived as especially polite by its more boisterous neighbors to the South. If you’re an American, then chances are you can rattle off a whole list of places which are “stereotypically rude.” New Yorkers get a bad rep sometimes in the rudeness department, as do Chicagoans and Philadelphians. (Thankfully, we native Los Angelinos aren’t rude—we’re too fickle and vain to find the time.) Still, Americans on the whole tend to love their Neighbors to the North, and find them extremely polite by comparison.
Maybe it’s the fact that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence—or border—and Americans think of the best, most idealized version of Canadian life.
Or maybe the grass really is greener, and there’s just something refreshing about Canada for visiting Americans.
Or maybe Canada is just a great place to visit, American or otherwise, if you place a premium on politeness.
No matter how you slice it, Canada still remain a gold standard in the eyes of many Americans—except for when we faceoff in Olympic Hockey every four years.
There’s a lot to like about Belgium. For starters, it manages to strike a perfect balance between being just prominent enough to stick out on the map without having to feel the kind of metropolitan strain as Paris, London or Milan. What’s more, because it, like Canada, is a mix of—among others—English and French speakers, there’s a good bit of diversity, which is always a great sign when searching for nations which are likely to be friendly to tourists. Belgians are typically very helpful when it comes to assisting travelers with basic tasks, so feel free to ask locals—politely, of course—if you need any help.
Sticking with lowland European nations, both the Kingdom of the Netherlands in general and the Holland region in particular are especially beloved on the world stage.
The Netherlands stands as a model nation to the rest of the international community.
The Hague hosts the International Court which, if more symbolic than effectual at the moment, nevertheless stands as a symbol of justice throughout the world.
Amsterdam is one of the true jewels of not just Europe, but the world. Each great world city has its own identity, and a variety of elements to which it owes that identity. For centuries, Amsterdam has stood as one of the most accepting, libertine, bohemian and beautiful cities in the world, with an atmosphere that’s at once distinct and welcoming. Persecuted minorities, such as Europe’s Jewish population, have long found sanctuary in Amsterdam, and the city’s fabled Jewish Quarter is really a sight to see.
Amsterdam is a model of tolerance, and a city that should rank high on any “to-visit” list.
Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland
Leaders in education.
Leaders in government transparency.
Leaders in pollution management, economic stability, and friendliness towards tourists.
What can’t the Scandinavian nations lead the world in?
(Well, hockey, for one—Canada over Sweden to retain the Gold! And the USA is left to wait and wonder for another four years, alas.)
But all four of these nations make for great tourist destinations if you’re looking for a friendly and welcoming environment. Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki all rank highly in that regard, but be forewarned—they also top charts when it comes to the cost of living as well. Still, these nations are well worth the expense when it comes to local friendliness.
The Republic of Ireland
The fabled Irish writer James Joyce may have felt exiled from his native Ireland, but decades later, the land that has become the Republic of Ireland is filled with some of the friendliest and most colorful locals you’re likely to see.
Religion is and has been a big deal in Ireland for centuries, of course, and while Ireland’s generally tolerant of all religions, it’s still Catholic by a huge majority, meaning that it’s an especially-tantalizing prospect if you happen to be of the Catholic faith. Ireland takes the best virtues of that faith and uses them to create an environment that’s built on good works, humility, and grace alike, meaning that locals are more than willing to help visitors out—just as long as you keep the history of the area straight. “Ireland” and “Northern Ireland” are different entities altogether, with complex and intertwined histories, and the history between Ireland, the British, Americans, and Canadians are more complex still. Just make sure you have it straight, and you’re sure to have a great time in Ireland—Dubliners and all.
If you’re looking to leave the Northern Hemisphere for a bit but don’t quite feel like leaving behind the familiarity and comforts of the West, you might want to give New Zealand a try. Kiwis generally rank near the top in friendliness (just as long as you don’t mistake them for Aussies). This is an especially nice option if you’re looking for somewhere that’s halfway between “exotic” and “home.” Kiwis are very proud of their native land, and know all the twists and turns it can take—take advantage of that patriotism, pay compliments to their country, and they in turn are likely to be more than happy to help you see what makes New Zealand stand out.
If you’re looking to leave the West behind for a bit and travel to East Asia, you may want to give the glittering metropolis of Seoul and lovely South Korea a try. Seoul is an incredibly-modern city, on the cutting edge, quick to offer you all the comforts you could ever ask for. Simply put, South Korea takes “service with a smile” to the next level, and enjoys a good deal of cultural and religious diversity, which makes for a warm and welcoming atmosphere overall.
Now, life in South Korea can take some getting used to, and native South Koreans can have a strong sense of national and cultural pride. One particularly egregious mistake that far too many Western tourists make is to essentialize, and commit the unforgivable traveler’s sin of mistaking the customs and culture of one nation for neighbor.
Imagine being an Israeli, and having someone walk up to ask you the best way to get to Tehran. Now, you’re naturally going to be just a bit confused—and perhaps concerned—before you realize that this someone is an American college student on a trip for Spring Break, and they’ve just gotten “Tel Aviv” and “Tehran” mixed up in their heads. No big deal…until they add the kicker—“Same difference, right?”
Or just imagine how you’d feel, as a Canadian, if a visitor from another nation treated “Canadian” as synonymous with “American,” rather than being a distinct national identity.
That’s just disrespectful, not to matter ignorant, it’s no way to ingratiate yourself to the locals, and it sadly happens a lot with Western tourists visiting East Asian nations such as South Korea. There’s a strong love for East Asian art, literature, TV and culture in the US and Canada, especially along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. That also leads to plenty of mishaps—assuming South Koreans are going to be altogether enamored with anime, magna, or other Japanese art forms is a good way to offend locals. On that note, be aware of at least the basics of the historical and political situations regarding the nation you’re visiting and its neighbors. To revisit a previous example, you wouldn’t revisit Israel without bearing in mind at least a broad outline of the oh-so-complex and heated geo-political situation regarding, say, Israel and some of its neighbors, or the significance of the Old and New Cities within Jerusalem. Likewise, visiting South Korea without a clue as to past Japanese and Chinese involvement in the peninsula—or, worse still, remaining ignorant about their neighbor north of the 38th Parallel—is a quick way to ruin your stay in Seoul.
Avoid these faux pas, and you’ll likely find South Korea one of the cleanest, most charming and welcoming environments a traveler could as for.