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: Don’t Take Your Thanksgiving Turkey For Granted

us army soldier eating with thanksgiving mealFor some Americans living overseas, finding a Thanksgiving turkey can be an ordeal. Not every American eats turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but when you live outside the country, these kinds of cherished American traditions can take on a sense of heightened importance to the point where re-creating an American style Thanksgiving dinner, even if you’re in Dushanbe or Khartoum, becomes an obsession.

My wife was the Community Liaison Officer, a job that some have described as a sort of cruise director, at the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, and finding turkeys there fell under her vague job description since it was considered a “morale issue.” Americans take for granted the ability to walk into any grocery store in the country and get what they need for a Thanksgiving dinner in ten minutes, but in many parts of the world, it can be a serious scavenger hunt to get the items you need.One year, when I was posted in Trinidad, I spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for Karo syrup for a pecan pie recipe. (I had no idea at the time that other recipes don’t require it) I must have visited every store in Port of Spain before I finally found a bottle and felt as though I’d scored a golden ticket for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and their family members have one luxury that most expats don’t – the ability to order products online and have them shipped to a U.S. address. Those who are at posts with an APO address can get things quickly, but everyone else has to wait anywhere from a week to a few weeks or more to get their mail. But no matter how you slice it, you still can’t order a turkey on Amazon.com.

soldiers eating thanksgiving dinnerAt the time we lived there, it was impossible to find turkeys for sale in Macedonia, and, unlike larger posts, we didn’t have a PX or a commissary that sold them, so my wife had to do some detective work and ultimately found a way to get birds from a military base in Kosovo and have them trucked down to Macedonia. It wasn’t as simple as driving over to the local Safeway but we probably appreciated them more.

With a little effort, expats can usually cobble together some semblance of a Thanksgiving meal but the hardest part of being overseas is having to spend the holiday season away from family and loved ones. I arrived at overseas posts for the first time shortly before Thanksgiving on three occasions: Skopje, Macedonia, Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Budapest, Hungary, and it’s always a little odd to arrive at a new post without any of your household effects or cookware before a holiday like Thanksgiving.

Even if you’re the most repellant jerk in the world, someone will invite you to Thanksgiving dinner. At some posts, the Ambassador will invite singles, newcomers and other strays to dinner and in others, people just informally make sure that no one is home alone without access to turkey meat unless they want to be.

In a way, it’s kind of a remarkable thing the way FSOs host fellow colleagues they barely know for this really important family holiday. Can you imagine having Thanksgiving dinner with a work colleague you barely know in the U.S.? We had kind souls host us in Port of Spain and Budapest and, in our first year in Skopje, I went to a meal hosted by the Ambassador. On other occasions, we introduced local friends to our favorite American holiday.

We were grateful for the invites we got, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it can be a little depressing to spend Thanksgiving with a collection of people you don’t know well. No matter how good the company is, you can’t help but wish you were with your real family, rather than your Foreign Service one, which can feel very much like what I imagine a foster home experience is like. And I never had to serve in a combat zone, where Thanksgiving dinner means waiting in a buffet line with a tray.

There are lots of advantages to the Foreign Service lifestyle but being away from family members during holidays and important occasions is probably the biggest drawback. Those of us who are fortunate to be with family members and near readily available dead turkeys this year should raise a glass and toast members of the Foreign Service, the military and every other American that’s serving their country and dealing with ad-hoc bird meat and improvised company this year.

Read more from “A Traveler In The Foreign Service”

[Photo credit: US Army Africa on Flickr]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: Dreaming Of The Balkans From A ‘Tropical Paradise’

trinidad man lounging in hammockI might be the only person in human history to move from Macedonia to Trinidad. But in the peculiar world of the Foreign Service, unusual transitions across the globe are par for the course. I have Foreign Service friends who have recently moved from Ecuador to Poland, Paraguay to Bangladesh, Hungary to Zambia, and from the Philippines to Ireland. It’s a nomadic lifestyle, where Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) generally stay in each country for just 1-3 years and when they leave an obscure, hard-to-get-to post, they have to swallow the fact that they’ll leave behind some friends and colleagues they might never see again.
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Overseas tours are relatively short because the State Department doesn’t want FSOs to “go native” while overseas. The reality is that by the time you get comfortable in a place, it’s just about time to leave. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how much you like your post and where you’re headed next.homeless man in trinidadWhen I found out I was headed to Port of Spain, Trinidad, for my second assignment mid-way through my two year tour in Skopje, my Macedonian colleagues joked that I was soon going to be leading a Jimmy-Buffet-like life of leisure with warm breezes, cold, tropical drinks and long afternoons spent swaying in hammocks on a beach. But one of the senior-level FSOs at post knew better.

“I’d never bid on Trinidad,” he said. “You never want to get stuck in a country you can’t drive out of, unless it’s Australia or New Zealand.”

And I knew he was right, but there was nothing I could do. The first two tours for FSOs are “directed assignments” and I’d been directed to Port of Spain, after being told that spending two years in Skopje hadn’t given me enough “bidding equity” to go to any of the posts I’d bid on. I grew up in Buffalo and, although I like going to a beach on vacation, I’m not a tropical country guy.

But the Foreign Service is a bit like the military in that you pretty much have to go where they send you, so that’s how my wife and I found ourselves on a flight from Miami to Port of Spain eight years ago this month, on my 32nd birthday. Arriving at a new post in the Foreign Service is a singular experience that’s hard to relate to if you’ve never done it.

Someone meets you at the airport, usually a driver and a family that’s been assigned to be your social sponsor, and, in most cases, you’re taken to your new home. In some cases, a post might reach out to you before you’ve arrived to see what your housing preferences are – city versus suburbs, location versus commute, house or apartment, etc. But in many cases, they do not, and on this day I had no idea where “Bird” the Trini driver who’d come to pick us up was taking us.

prostitute in trinidad port of spainMy heart sank when I saw our depressing neighborhood and our tacky, cramped apartment. In Skopje, we had a beautiful, spacious apartment that was 5 minutes from the embassy. It wasn’t a pedestrian friendly city by any means, but you could walk just about anywhere in town. And if you didn’t want to walk, you could call a taxi that would arrive within five minutes and take you wherever you wanted to go for the equivalent of $1.

In most career fields, you expect to have an upward trajectory in terms of income and living standards, but that isn’t always the case in the Foreign Service. You can find yourself going from a mansion one day to living in a hooch in Afghanistan the next, and your pay can go up or down dramatically depending on the hardship and cost of living ratings of each post and whether your spouse can find work.

Within a day or two of arriving in Port of Spain we were able to take stock of how our fortunes had fallen. Our apartment was smaller and much less nice than where we moved from and we were 30 minutes from the embassy in a downscale suburb where there was nothing of interest within walking distance and cabs might or might not arrive hours after you called them. My pay was reduced by more than 20% because Skopje improbably had more hardship and cost of living pay, and my wife’s pay had been cut in half because she went from a full time job in Skopje to a part time job in Trinidad.

woman in tobagoMoreover, the cost of living in Trinidad was far higher than Skopje and, though there were beaches about 30-45 minutes away, Port of Spain had a much higher crime rate and a city center that was both shabby and depressing, not to mention dangerous after dark. (V.S. Naipaul, a native of Trinidad, couldn’t wait to leave and seldom returned to visit once he left.) I liked the local people very much, but the city of Port of Spain? Not so much.

We also went from a post run with Swiss efficiency by a career diplomat to a completely dysfunctional post run by a college friend of George W. Bush, with, well Caribbean efficiency. (The Ambassador, like several other high-ranking W. appointees, was a fellow member of Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale.) It was a post that people either loved or hated and, to be fair, there were indeed people who enjoyed the place.

For FSOs, bidding research is a serious issue. You try to gather all the intell you can on the jobs and places that appear on your bid lists. But the reality is that if you’re living in Bosnia or Mali, there’s only so much you can find out about what life is like in Mongolia, Paraguay or wherever. Sites like Real Post Reports are helpful for trying to get a feel for what a post will be like, but for many posts, like Port of Spain, you might find that the half the reviews say that a place is wonderful while the other half say that it’s awful.

And since the Foreign Service is a three-degrees of separation kind of institution, many people aren’t willing to share the negative aspects of a post with bidders unless they know the person well and trust them, for fear that people will find out that they bad-mouthed a post. The other mistake some people make in bidding, especially travelers like me, is using travel guidebooks to research countries.

The problem with this approach is that there are a lot of countries that are wonderful to visit but not so great to live in and vice versa. If I had arrived in Trinidad for a two-week vacation, my opinion of the place would have been totally different. Your perspective on a place changes depending on how long you’re supposed to be there.

We read “The Rough Guide to Trinidad & Tobago” while in the research stage of bidding and when I later brought this book to post, my local co-workers considered some of its advice laughable. For example, the book praised a tough area called Laventille as being the “beating heart” of the city but my co-workers told me that Laventille was so dangerous that even telephone repairmen and other municipal workers refused to go there.

The reality is that you never really know what a place will be like to live in until you actually go there, and a post is, in many ways, only what you make of it. In most occupations, if you like your job, your house and your overall situation, you simply stay put and enjoy it. But the Foreign Service is not like most careers, and there is no option to simply stay put and enjoy a good thing when you’ve got it.

Our mistake was dwelling on what we had in Skopje rather than just trying to make the best of the hand we’d been dealt in Trinidad. But shortly after we arrived at post, I got very sick and suddenly our complaints about Port of Spain were put in stark perspective. An illness can be both a curse and a blessing. For me, it made me realize that in life, you can lose a lot more than just a good job or a nice apartment, so you have to be grateful for what you have and forget about what’s gone.

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

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

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]