Before you start writing your complaints, I want to address any concerns that this opinion is borne from some nasty thing like jingoism or even overly enthusiastic national pride. While I could never see myself living anywhere other than the United States, my pride as an American falters with every new headline about how regularly this country betrays its own citizens.
Now that we have that ugliness out of the way, let’s get to it. I have to admit to a measure of disingenuousness here; there are actually a number of places in the world I’d love to visit. The thing is, I’ve heard more than enough stories from Americans traveling abroad ranging from mild inconveniences to borderline life-threatening events to convince me that the world is a hostile place not just for Americans, but for tourists in general. Here are some highlights.
1. Fake Friends in Istanbul
My dad traveled to Turkey for a business trip recently. He said he hadn’t been in the city for more than an hour before he’d been accosted by a number of seemingly well-intentioned individuals. It was only thanks to a thoughtful preemptive heads-up from a colleague that he got away unscathed.
If you visit Istanbul, you’re going to have a hard time keeping to yourself. Don’t be surprised if you’re approached by somebody promising to welcome you to the country by buying you a drink. Whatever you do, don’t go with them; you’re about to be taken to a wildly expensive bar, where your new “friend,” and probably some of his friends as well, will offer to put half the tab on their credit cards – except they never do.
By the time you’re ready to leave, you’ll have amassed a gigantic bill, and your Turkish buddy will be nowhere to be seen. Suppose you refute the charges? Let’s just say there’s probably a poorly lit back room with your name on it.
2. Mobster Tour Guides in Rome
There’s no getting around the fact that Rome is one of the most beautiful places in the world; traveling there tends to feel as though you’re looking through a window into another world, and even another time. Unfortunately, you’re probably going to be within spitting distance of a mob member for the entirety of your stay.
Mobsters have been deeply entrenched in Italian society for a very long time now, charging shopkeepers for “protection” and even offering visiting foreigners tours of the local landmarks. If you ever visit Rome and begin to suspect your tour guide knows about as much about the Colosseum as you do, you’ve probably just been given a tour by a member of the mob – and you’re going to pay a premium for the privilege.
3. Shoe Shiners in Rio
Rio de Janeiro is known for many things, including a well-earned place among the world’s most promiscuous cities. Unfortunately, it’s also known for a number of popular scams that prey on unsuspecting tourists.
The shoeshine scam has become something of an art; the practiced scammer may bump into you on the street and “accidentally” drop his brush on your shoes, and insist on giving you a “free” shoeshine to thank you for picking it up for him. Afterward, he’ll charge you an astronomical fee and make a scene if you refuse to pay up.
I like to think the closest analogues we have here in the States are either oil scams or all of those ridiculously beautiful Mediterranean people who hang out at those kiosks in the mall, insisting on polishing your fingernails with their Dead Sea soaps if you make so much as an instant of eye contact. Just keep on walking, and you’ll be fine.