I guess I should preface this semi-rant by saying I am one of the least judgmental people on the planet. Whatever floats your boat, as long as it isn’t hurting others, is fine by me.
But I’m really never going to be much of a fan of intolerance and the intolerant.
A few days ago, I was having lunch with a couple of my friends that I hadn’t seen since I got back. We were chatting about places I went to, liked, disliked and all the post-trip talk that I’ve become used to (and enjoy — I like talking to people about traveling, in the hope they will do more). A mutual friend of ours came in and took a seat next to us and asked the almost-automatic first question I get these days: “Where was your favorite place?”
Considering I was gone sixteen months and went to forty-four countries (and really liked all but about three of them), this is a toughie, but how I now generally answer it is, “well, loved tons of them, but for a suggestion of a great spot for a couple week vacation, I’d say Turkey, Namibia, Panama, Cambodia or New Zealand.” I don’t remember which of these I tossed out to him, but Turkey was one of them.
He frowned immediately upon hearing Turkey and so I asked if he had been there. He said he had and that he really disliked it. Upon my asking why, he said that he didn’t like the dirtiness and the call to prayer bothered him. I had totally forgotten he was a very conservative Christian — the type that wore it on his sleeve.
Personally, I have no idea how anyone could dislike the call to prayer. It is haunting and beautiful. Admittedly, the first call is at about 5:15 in the morning, but still, it is one of the true trip highlights for me in my entire journey. In case you haven’t heard it — here is the best one I heard on the entire trip. The early morning call in Stone Town, Zanzibar, right next to the hostel I was staying at. There is obviously nothing to the video, but take a listen.
What became quickly clear from talking to him was that it wasn’t the cleanliness (I didn’t see Instanbul as a dirty city at all) or the wake up to the call to prayer or any of that that he didn’t like — he just didn’t like that everyone was Muslim. I made some comment about loving Syria and all of the Middle East and feeling amazingly safe there and got back from him a reply that was basically, “but they are all trying to kill us.”
It was time to move the conversation to something else, before I said something offensive.
I do understand that people have different comfort levels in different places. The crazy hectic pace of Vietnam turns a lot of people off. The lack of personal space in Africa strikes some the wrong way. The rudeness of New Yorkers is certainly no turn-on. And so on and so forth, but for some reason this particular conversation just made me internally shudder a bit.
There is a great big, fun, exciting world out there to explore, but a good bit of the greatness will be missed unless you are willing to check some of your long-held prejudices at the door and go experience a place with an open mind. You might not like what you see, hear, smell or experience, but at least go into it with an open mind. I just got the sense that he went there knowing he wouldn’t like it already — for all the wrong reasons.