Don’t offend your foreign visitors by making assumptions! A common mistake, especially prevalent among those who live in rich countries, is to assume that no other country enjoys more freedom than theirs. The automatic (and often incorrect) assumption toward international visitors that their country of origin must therefore be less free is a huge etiquette mistake.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a frank and open discussion about personal freedoms in both countries; in fact, this type of dialogue should be encouraged. But when the person from the host country adopts the automatic assumption that the other country is less free, it can smack of condescension to the other person. Furthermore, you will be surprised at how often this attitude can be just plain incorrect.
Find out some tips here of how to have positive dialogue with the overseas visitor and find out more about their country and its freedoms – without appearing condescending.
1. It’s easy to overlook restrictions on freedom which you don’t personally experience on a daily basis
If, in your daily life, you do not go to buildings or attractions in your city in which access is restricted and if most of your travel is between work, home and entertainment, you may simply not be aware of some restrictions on freedom which your visitor has noticed. And likewise, the international visitor is likely to have a different set of restrictions on freedom in their own country which they’ve never noticed because they have grown up with these as ‘normal’.
Of course, this is assuming both parties live in countries where these restrictions are subtle, infrequent and appear as a minor inconvenience. Obviously, those living in more extreme conditions such as a police state or under martial law are likely to be already aware of restricted freedom themselves. Unless your visitor is from an obviously very oppressive regime such as that, please don’t assume their freedoms are necessarily less than yours. Open up dialogue with the visitor first – don’t come to that conclusion on your own.
Remember, what might seem like a normal fence in an appropriate place, or a run-of-the-mill security measure to you may stick out like a sore thumb to an overseas visitor. This may negatively impact an international visitor’s view of your country’s level of personal freedom.
2. Unless the visitor has already commented favorably on how much freer your country is than theirs, don’t assume your country IS necessarily freer than theirs
Just because the foreign visitor’s home country is more left-wing, or more right-wing, or has different laws, or a different constitution, and so on, does NOT automatically translate to that country having less freedom.
In many countries, often people are examining different sets of freedoms. Whether it is freedom of speech, of movement, of internet privacy, of surveillance laws, and so on, different countries differ slightly in different areas. Odds are the other country may be freer in some of these areas of life and less free in others. Or maybe the other country is actually less free overall than your country after all. However, this conclusion should only be reached after a frank dialogue with the international visitor and not be a preconceived notion of yours which is held onto despite what the visitor says.
It can come across as insensitive if it is obvious to an international visitor that you consider their home country less free than yours without knowing anything about life in that country. How would you feel if someone assumed your country was less free than theirs (even if you didn't agree with them)?
3. Reasons for any restrictions on freedoms can sound like excuses to a visitor
If your visitor has noticed and commented on any restrictions on speech or movement in your country, or perhaps an increased level of surveillance, then he or she may be interested to know the reasons behind these. You then need to be aware that these reasons, no matter how valid they may seem to you, can come across as excuses.
For example, if you traveled to visit a country where people were not allowed to congregate publicly in groups of more than, say five people, you might think that sounded oppressive. But the people there may point out that in the past there have been trouble and riots and this is a good way to ensure everyone’s safety. Although this might just sound like an excuse for oppression to you, the rationale may be a valid reason to that person.
Likewise, there are things which may come off as unnecessarily restrictive to the overseas visitor about your country, despite the rationale for it. Even if you think that your own country’s issues are nowhere near as extreme the example above, you would be surprised at how noticeable things are to other people, even if the issue is only a minor inconvenience to you. If you live in a rich first world country and think that this situation won’t apply to your country, you could be very surprised.
4. Your visitor may not be frank with you about their perceptions of your level of freedom
Even if you have a frank discussion with the visitor involving his or her perceptions of your level of freedom, you may have to encourage them nicely to be as honest as possible in this area.
For example, the overseas visitor may have something going through their mind like”THAT was supposed to be a free city? Heck, it was crawling with police and if I stood still someone official would come up to me and ask if I was OK! I felt like I was in a police state!” But what they will say to you is something like “There was more security than I am used to in my home country, but I can see why it is necessary.”
This is because the visitor is trying to be polite to you, a resident of the country they are visiting. They won’t want to seem like they are criticizing your country to you. So (unless your visitor is normally an outspoken person) you will most likely get the watered-down version of their impressions of your freedom. If you want to know what they truly think, make it clear you are genuinely wanting to know their impressions and that you want them to be completely honest.
You could try questions such as:
- “In this country we have a law that says…. … does your country have a similar law?”
- “How does your country deal with the issue of …. [internet privacy, terrorism, etc]?”
- “In your country, would someone’s political leanings affect the way they are viewed professionally by a boss or colleague?”
- “What would happen in your country if….. [you put up a blog criticizing the leaders, etc]?”
5. Patriotism is fine – you’re allowed to love your country and the visitor is allowed to love theirs
Remember that your love of your country does not hinge on whether an international visitor thinks it is more free, or less free, than their own country. So a visitor’s viewpoint is just that – a look at your country through a fresh (but not necessarily impartial) set of eyes. Assuming for the moment that the overseas visitor is not actively trying to be offensive, there is no need to take negative observations about government policy personally. You can be patriotic and love your country without getting upset if everyone doesn’t view it the same way. By all means point out the positive things you love about your country to your visitor.
Debate and discussion from different viewpoints is productive and eye-opening, but ultimately you and the international visitor don’t need to see eye to eye on every last thing. And just as you love your country, the visitor will love theirs while still enjoying the experience of visiting your country.