Survey Ranks ‘World’s Most Unfriendliest’ Countries

Have you ever been to a country that just seems to give tourists the cold shoulder? Now, there are some figures behind those unwelcome feelings; the World Economic Forum has put together a report that ranks countries based on how friendly they are to tourists.

The extensive analyses ranks 140 countries according to attractiveness and competitiveness in the travel and tourism industries. But one category, “attitude of population toward foreign visitors,” stands out.

According the data, Bolivia (pictured above) ranked as the most unfriendly country, scoring a 4.1 out of seven on a scale of “very unwelcome” (0) to “very welcome” (7).

Next on the list were Venezuela and the Russian Federation, followed by Kuwait, Latvia and Iran (perhaps when visiting one of these countries, you should try your best to not look like a tourist?).

On the opposite side of the scale were Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco, which were ranked the world’s most welcoming nations for visitors.

Tourism infrastructure, business travel appeal, sustainable development of natural resources and cultural resources were some of the key factors in the rankings. Data was compiled from an opinion survey, as well as hard data from private sources and national and international agencies and organizations such as the World Bank/International Finance Corporation and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), among others.

The report also emphasized the need for continued development in the travel and tourism sector, pointing out that the industry currently accounts for one in 11 jobs worldwide.

All of the results of the survey can be found after the jump.

Attitude of population toward foreign visitors
(1 = very unwelcome; 7 = very welcome)

Friendliest

1. Iceland 6.8
2. New Zealand 6.8
3. Morocco 6.7
4. Macedonia, FYR 6.7
5. Austria 6.7
6. Senegal 6.7
7. Portugal 6.6
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 6.6
9. Ireland 6.6
10. Burkina Faso 6.6

Unfriendliest

1. Bolivia 4.1
2. Venezuela 4.5
3. Russian Federation 5.0
4. Kuwait 5.2
5. Latvia 5.2
6. Iran 5.2
7. Pakistan 5.3
8. Slovak Republic 5.5
9. Bulgaria 5.5
10. Mongolia 5.5

Have you ever visited somewhere where they didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat? Alternatively, have you visited somewhere on the “unfriendly” list and had a great, welcoming experience? Let us know how your travel experiences compare with the survey’s ranking in the comments below.

[via CNN]

[Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse, Wikimedia Commons]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: Free Alcohol And Other Reasons Why Ohrid Is Europe’s Last Great Unspoiled Place

On a frigid day in January 2003, on the Feast of the Epiphany, dozens of men and boys were waiting to jump into the icy waters of Lake Ohrid. As hundreds of onlookers stood on the shore in Ohrid, Macedonia, an Orthodox priest threw a large cross into the water and the swimmers tore after it in the belief that capturing it would bring them a year of good luck.

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One of the great joys of life in the Foreign Service is how it enables you to discover places you’d ordinarily never make it to, not as a tourist but as a local. I had never even heard of Ohrid before joining the Foreign Service, but over the course of a two-year tour in Macedonia, I visited the enchanting lakeside town more than a dozen times. On each visit, I’d make a new discovery – a church I hadn’t noticed before, a different vantage of the lake, a beach club – that kept me coming back to the place that got under my skin more than anywhere else in the Balkans.ohrid in snowBut it was that first visit in the depths of winter when my wife and I felt certain we were the only foreigners in town that I will always cherish. I had lived in Skopje for three months but both my car and my wife had just arrived in country. We were married twice in the previous nine months – once to get my wife on my travel orders and once for real, but had been living apart, me in Washington and then Skopje, and my wife in Chicago, where she was finishing a graduate program in public health.

We were finally together and I wanted to take her to Ohrid, the place every local person insisted I had to visit. Skopje may be the capital of Macedonia, but Ohrid is the country’s heart – the city that holds a place in every Macedonian’s heart. I was happy to see my old car again, even if it did seem odd that it now had a peculiar looking CD diplomatic plate on it. And the ride along the winding, mostly two-lane road from Skopje to Ohrid was a neat introduction to Macedonian driving culture for both of us.

“People pass on blind curves,” my wife said. “Don’t they care if they die?”

We drove straight to a lakefront promenade just beyond the city’s historic core, with no clue that it was an Orthodox feast day, and saw all the spectators and cross swimmers in their speedos. The competition to get the cross was fierce and the young man who emerged from the water with the prize clutched it like a baby, kissing and fondling it, as friends and relatives swaddled him in blankets and hailed him as a conquering hero. He was the King of Macedonia for a day.

We followed the departing crowd and the trail of gypsy music toward the center of town and found a crowd of people around a huge, bubbling hot cauldron of rakija, a brandy that is the country’s national beverage of choice. A jovial middle-aged man with coke-bottled glasses was ladling out plastic cups of the delicious stuff that warmed our chilled bones. I pulled out my wallet to pay for the drinks but the man waved us off.

“Gratis,” he said.

At first I thought he was buying us drinks because we were foreigners, but I quickly realized that no one was paying. A free, hot alcoholic beverage was flowing on the ancient streets of Ohrid and as the crowd warmed up, people began to dance in tight circles to the live gypsy band. Half drunk men in funny little caps wanted to get to know us, despite the language barrier and the party was on.

“In the U.S., there’s no way anyone would be giving out free alcohol at something like this,” I remarked. “Plus, everyone would have to show I.D., get wristbands, and the whole thing would be sponsored by Miller Lite or Best Buy.”

It was a beautifully organic, free little celebration and I still can’t recall a more convivial scene in my life. After the band and the revelers dispersed, hours later, we visited a host of stunning medieval churches with frescoes that were still vivid and beautiful, despite their antiquity.

Lake Ohrid is said to be three million years old and the town itself is one of the oldest inhabited settlements in Europe. Ohrid’s churches contain some 800 Byzantine style icons dating from the 11th to 14th centuries, and Sveti Jovan Kaneo, perched dramatically next to the lake, is one of the most stunningly situated places of worship in the world. Locals say that Ohrid has 365 churches and is the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet.

ohridThe streets of Ohrid are a joy to get lost in – we climbed up and down steps in every direction, not knowing or caring where we were going and sat for ages watching children play soccer in the courtyard of an ancient church.

Late in the day, we drove outside town to Sveti Naum, a tiny, ancient church right near the Albanian border. I doubt that more than a dozen people could fit into Sveti Naum at one time, but it’s one of the holiest places I’ve ever been to. It was very dark, with just a few candles lit, and all one could see were the eerie haunting old frescoes on the ceiling and walls. It’s the kind of place where even an atheist might feel the presence of God.

On the way back to Ohrid, we saw a small pack of kids halting traffic on the road, as they rushed up to each passing vehicle. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on, other than that passing motorists were giving the kids some money. They made their way over to us, and we could see that they had the cross that had been thrown in the water that morning. Perhaps one of them was the younger sibling of the young man who had retrieved it?

After deducing that we didn’t speak Macedonian, one of the youths switched to broken English.

“Give us money and you will kiss the cross,” he said. “For luck.”

We gave them the Macedonian equivalent of a few dollars and got to kiss the cross. And it did indeed turn out to be a great year for us, but the luck didn’t kick in immediately. Several hours before, we had checked into a 10€ per night room after seeing a “Zimmer” sign outside someone’s apartment, and we agreed to stay there after a quick look. But then when we returned in the evening, we realized that the little apartment was ice cold.

I don’t recall if the place had a formal heating system that was just set very cold or what the problem was, but the woman who ran the place gave us about a half dozen heavy woolen blankets and we were just fine.

Over the course of the next two years, we kept returning to Ohrid. We found a little hotel called the Villa Sveti Sofija that became our home away from home and in the summer, we liked to patronize the town’s lakeside bars and beaches. Even on a hot summer night, the temperature by the lake dips dramatically and I used to feel like I’d died and gone to heaven when sitting at a lakefront bar on a cool, starry night sipping $1 bottles of Skopsko, the local beer.

I never got around to jumping in the lake in pursuit of the cross, but I’m the kind of person who prefers not to exhaust every option in a place I love because I like to have an excuse to return. If I ever make it back to Ohrid to swim for the cross, I hope there’s still some warm rakija waiting for me.

Read more from “A Traveler In The Foreign Service” here.

[Photos by Dave Seminara, Nikolovskii , moeafati and plepe on Flickr]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: How To Avoid Posts Where You Might Get Eaten Alive

tribe in papua new guinea cannibalsHave you ever received a phone call from someone who was hoping to entice you to live in a country where cannibalism is still practiced? I have.

“I have a great opportunity for you in Port Moresby,” said Hollis, my State Department Career Development Officer (CDO)/used car salesperson.

I Googled Port Moresby from my office at the American Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, and the results weren’t encouraging. And when I asked a more senior person at the embassy what he thought, his first reaction told me all I needed to know about the place.

“Papua New Guinea,” he said. “Don’t they still eat people there?”In the peculiar world of the Foreign Service, diplomats are always obsessing over their next post. No matter whether you’re in Paris or Bangui, it’s hard not to think about what’s next, thanks to the unique bidding system, where State Department Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) typically bid a year or more in advance of taking up a new post.

The practicality of this system is that if you’re in a two or three year assignment, you typically know where you’re going next near the midway point of your tour. If you love your post and are heading somewhere dreadful next, you have plenty of time for the apprehension to build, but if you’re excited about your onward assignment it can make even the worst job or post seem bearable.

If you have a one-year assignment to a danger post, you typically bid right before or after arriving in say, Kabul or Baghdad. And since serving at a post like that gives one some serious bidding equity the next time around, nearly everyone manages to go somewhere they want after serving in conflict zones. So your ticket to Afghanistan can be tempered by a ticket to Sydney or Rome that’s already in the bag by the time you land in Kabul.

If you’re a traveler who has thought about joining the State Department’s Foreign Service, but want to know more about how likely you are to be able to live in the regions you prefer, this is a primer on what to expect if you join the Foreign Service.

First tour: FSO’s start their careers in a class called A-100 and are given a “directed assignment” to their first post. Officers can express bidding preferences but whether you get what you want is a real crapshoot. If you have a foreign language proficiency, your chances of going to that country/region are good, but don’t bank on it.

Career development officers (CDO’s) take a variety of factors into account in deciding who goes where: job/career fit, family and school considerations (i.e. they are less likely to send someone with school age children to a post with no accredited schools), health considerations (if an FSO has a family member with health issues), language ability and the timing of when the job is open versus what job and language training the person would need to fill the position.

Second tour: The second tour is also a directed assignment but here’s where things get really tricky, as far as bidding strategy goes. Junior officers can only get one full language course in their first two tours, and they have to do a consular job as well. So if, for example, you exhaust your language training on the first go around, or don’t fulfill your consular obligation, your bidding options can be severely hampered.

In my case, I was given Albanian language training prior to departing for my first post in Macedonia, and since I wasn’t proficient in any other foreign languages at that time, I could only bid on jobs at English speaking posts and jobs, which didn’t require foreign language proficiency.

The second assignment is supposed to be based upon bidding “equity.” Those who are at the toughest posts – and here, toughest is defined by those with the highest hardship and danger pay ratings – have the most equity, and should get the first pick of assignments.

But in reality, FSO’s with connections or good karma sometimes manage to float by from one good post to another while others go from bad posts to even worse ones. I loved living in Macedonia, but since it was rated as a 20 percent hardship post at the time I was bidding for the second go-around, I thought I would have plenty of equity to get one of the 20 jobs I bid on for my second tour.

tobagoBut then I got the Port Moresby phone call from Hollis, who explained that I didn’t have enough equity to get any of the 20 posts I’d bid on, and would have to take my chances with the leftovers. CDO’s are very much like used car salespeople, so he was trying to push the places that no one had bid on. After weeks of wrangling, I was given Port of Spain, Trinidad, which wasn’t at all up my alley, but seemed quite acceptable compared to Port Moresby.

Mid Level Bidding: Once FSO’s get tenure, the directed assignment process is over and officers lobby and interview for jobs based on their own merit. The equity system is still in play but less so. In decades past, some FSO’s managed to specialize in one geographic area, but these days, with huge missions in Baghdad and Kabul, no one can get away without at least bidding on hardship posts, and many officers are getting sent on unaccompanied assignments in dangerous places against their will.

Tips: In an A-100 class, it’s essential to try to find out through the grapevine as much as you can on who’s bidding on what. The most important thing to gauge is what jobs everyone is putting at the very bottom of his or her list. Let’s say, for example, that nearly everyone has Khartoum as the bottom of their list, but you have it somewhere near the middle of your list. Well, guess who’s got a pretty damn good shot of spending Christmas in Sudan?

In general, you want to present bid lists that make sense and that you can defend rationally. Trying to tell CDO’s you prefer Dublin, Sydney and Prague because they have good beer in each place is a sure way to get a one-way ticket to Dhaka. And last, but definitely not least, if you have high-level connections, use them, and remember that you can always negotiate.

Bottom line: Joining the Foreign Service is a little bit like joining the military, in terms of signing your fate over to the government. It’s obviously far cushier, pays better and is less dangerous, but you can’t completely control where you go and you can get sent to places you do not want to go without your family members. If you’re flexible, adventurous and not extremely risk averse, it might be a good career option for you. But if you’re just hoping for an easy way to live in Sydney or Rome, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Read more from “A Traveler in The Foreign Service” here.

[Photos by Dave Seminara and friar's balsam on Flickr]

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: My Secret Foreign Service Wedding

wedding photoToday is my ten-year wedding anniversary, sort of. Does it make sense to celebrate a wedding that was a secret, five-minute affair that was capped off at a nearby Taco Bell over chalupas and 99-cent churros?

I asked my wife to marry me just days before joining the Foreign Service in 2002 and we had to set a wedding date without knowing what country we would be moving to or when we would depart.

When you join the Foreign Service you start out in a two-month long training class called A-100, which takes places in Arlington, Virginia. At the conclusion of the course, you’re given a flag representing your assignment and, depending on the job and the country, you can spend the next one to nine months in job and/or language training.

This uncertainty makes it difficult to deal with landlords but even harder to plan a wedding. Nonetheless, we planned an August 10 wedding in Chicago, and tried to bid on jobs that entailed as much training as possible. In late March, I was assigned to Skopje, Macedonia, with six months of Albanian language training. This meant that I’d be in the U.S. for the wedding, so we initially felt relieved.

But we soon learned that nothing happens in the Foreign Service without a mountain of red tape and logistical hurdles. Our departure for post was scheduled for early October and old Foreign Service hands, including “Dink,” our kindly A-100 course coordinator, told us that a mid-August wedding might not leave enough time for the bureaucracy to get Jen (my wife) on our travel orders.In layman’s terms, this means that the government wouldn’t pay for her travel to Macedonia or ship her household effects. Spouses of Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) need medical and security checks, and all these things take time, so Dink advised us to go to a courthouse and do a legal marriage ceremony before the real deal to get the ball rolling.

Jen was initially resistant to the idea but eventually her practical side and our desire not to pay to move to Macedonia won out. The sole condition she laid out was that we wouldn’t tell any of our friends and family members. We could get married in a legal sense but would pretend as though the event never happened.

On Tuesday, March 19, 2002, we visited the office of a kindly octogenarian named Joe Newlin, who married couples right down the hall from the Arlington Country Court House in Virginia. Joe was a delightful old man who wore plaid golf pants and had his office decorated with streamers and articles about his practice. He claimed to have married more than ten thousand couples, “some of which were still together,” he joked.

Joe married us right in his office, for a small fee, right underneath some plastic signs, streamers and a paper, wedding bell. Joe also took a couple photos of us and on the way out gave us a complimentary pen, which was emblazoned with his slogan: “I Mary (sic) U.” We’ve moved six times in the last decade and I have no idea where those photos are, but somehow, the pen has magically stayed with us (see photo).

free pen for getting marriedWe celebrated our sham wedding with a fine banquet at the adjacent Taco Bell and headed back to the Foreign Service Institute, where we bumped into Dink.

“Dink, we took your advice and got married,” I told him, knowing that Jen wouldn’t care if he knew of our scheme.

Dink’s eyes bulged out of his head and he crouched down to hug both my wife and I.

“Congratulations,” he bellowed, before turning around and telling several of my classmates the “good news.” Before we knew what was happening, a host of colleagues came over to congratulate us. Jen was not pleased.

“This was not our wedding,” she reminded me before adding, “not a word about this when we get back to Chicago.”

And there wasn’t a word about it – not to our families, any of our wedding guests or even the minister, who did not know that we had already been married legally for six months at the time he pronounced us man and wife. In fact, most of our friends and family members will be reading about our “appetizer” wedding for the first time here.

We’ll never know if our first “wedding” was necessary or not but it was a fitting introduction to what some call the Foreign Circus. Over the years, we’d come to learn that lots of Foreign Service couples end up rushing to the altar because of impending departures for posts or other reasons. The nomadic nature of the job can force relationships to either progress or end, sometimes before they would otherwise. We plan to celebrate our anniversary twice this year, almost certainly at someplace nicer than Taco Bell.

Photo 1 is from our “real” wedding in Chicago.
Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: Help us get away with murder

police tape

For Bashkim, a 25-year-old Albanian-American dishwasher, the trouble all started after he started having an affair with his boss’s wife. When his boss heard the rumors, he immediately confronted his wife.

Luljeta claimed that Bashkim, who was nearly 20 years younger than her, had raped her in the diner, after hours, on several occasions. Her husband, Illir, called the Anchorage police, who investigated the claims and discovered that Luljeta had actually paid for motel rooms used for afternoon trysts with Bashkim. The police dropped the charges but Ilir was irate and unsure of whom to blame.

Several months later, Bashkim traveled to Kicevo, a small city in Macedonia, the country of his parents’ birth, for the first time, along with his father, Nick, and cousin, Tony. Arranged marriage is still common amongst Albanian-Americans and Nick wanted his son to meet a woman they wanted him to marry.

The trio met with the young woman and her family in a café in downtown Kicevo, a shabby, provincial city with a substantial ethnic-Albanian community, and wedding plans were sealed over coffee and cigarettes in the traditional Albanian custom. But as the group walked out of the café, a masked man dressed in a joggers outfit opened fire on them, with bullets hitting Nick and Bashkim in the head.

Tony was hit in the buttocks, but managed to disarm the gunman, who fled into a getaway vehicle. The victims were rushed to a local hospital, where Nick, 46, was pronounced dead on arrival. Bashkim was seriously wounded but made a full recovery, as did Tony. A few months later, Ilir was extradited from Alaska to Macedonia to stand trial for murder.

When Americans are locked up abroad, American Foreign Service Officers (FSO’s) will visit them in prison and will typically attend their trial, if possible. But what many travelers and expatriates often fail to understand is that Americans are always subject to local laws and judicial proceedings – even if they are capricious and backward.

FSO’s can provide detained Americans with a list of local attorneys, help the American get in touch with people in the U.S., and try to ensure that the American isn’t being mistreated in the prison. They can also explain the local law and what the court proceedings are likely to entail but they can’t do much more than that, and this often creates friction.I once had to deal with a recently naturalized American citizen from Bulgaria who was arrested in Macedonia on an Interpol warrant for mail fraud, among other offences. He spoke no English and his ties to the U.S. were sketchy at best, but his son was on the phone every day harassing us about why we weren’t “doing more” to get his father out of prison.

“He’s an American citizen,” the son cried. “You are the American embassy! Do something. Get him out!”

The son kept telling me that his father’s imprisonment was a violation of the Geneva Convention and he encouraged me to study that document more closely to find ways to get his father released. I wanted to tell him that there were no special provisions for Bulgarian mafia thugs in the Geneva Convention and that I hoped his dad rotted in prison, but as a civil servant tasked with “helping people” I would simply mutter platitudes like, “Geneva Convention, OK, I’ll look into that.”

America may be the world’s lone superpower, but, no, we do not have the power to get oversea Americans out of prison, even if we believe that they’re innocent. (And in that case, there was overwhelming evidence against the Bulgarian-American and he was convicted.)

Shortly after I arrived in Macedonia for a two-year tour at the American embassy, my boss asked me to follow Illir’s trial in Kicevo, a two-hour drive south from the Macedonian capital, Skopje. Despite the fact that Illir owned two restaurants in Alaska, we found out that he was actually living in the U.S. illegally, on a long-expired tourist visa. So as representatives of the U.S. government, he wasn’t our problem. But since the victims were U.S. citizens, we wanted to follow the trial.

Two years before I arrived in the country, Illir was acquitted of the murder charge. But in Macedonia, the prosecution can appeal an acquittal, and a year later, in the appeal he was found guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. As Bashkim exited the courtroom, a 65-year-old woman, who was later identified as Luljeta’s mother, lunged at him with a large kitchen knife but was knocked down by a bystander.

Illir appealed the conviction and I was in attendance for the court proceedings, along with a local employee from the embassy named Ljupka. It was my first time in a Macedonian courtroom and I couldn’t help but wonder why there was a huge pile of at least 100 old typewriters in the corner of the room.

“This is Macedonia,” Ljupka said. “Who knows?”

After getting shot on his first visit to Macedonia, and nearly getting stabbed by Luljeta’s mother on his most recent visit, Bashkim elected to stay in Alaska for Illir’s appeal, so Illir was the focal point of the proceedings. He had two defense strategies. The first was to highlight his illegal status in the U.S. He argued that he couldn’t have left the U.S. to come to Macedonia to kill Bashkim because then he wouldn’t have been able to re-enter the country to attend to his restaurants.

But after the prosecutors showed evidence that Illir had used his old Macedonian passport to cross into Macedonia by land from Albania less than 24 hours before the murder took place, he tried a different tact. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read off a list of names.

“What’s going on?” I asked Ljupka.

“He says that he’s spent the last year trying to bribe his way out prison,” she said. “And he’s naming all the people he gave bribes to and how much he paid.”

Some of the people he was naming were in the room but it didn’t matter. The conviction was upheld and Illir spent the next seven years in prison. I’m told that Bashkim, the former dishwasher, now owns his own restaurant in Fairbanks. His father is gone but not forgotten.

Twelve years have passed since the murder took place and I’m told that Illir, who never confessed to the crime, more or less has his old life back. He somehow found a way to get back into the U.S. and is keeping a low profile in Alaska, presumably keeping a close eye on his wife.

Note: the names of the individuals mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

Photo via Tony Webster on Flickr.