No-go area

This morning a tweet from Drew McWeeny caught my eye. He’s subsequently deleted that tweet, so I can’t quote it exactly, but he was commenting on the recent election results in France and Greece, and he said something about both France and Greece having elected Neo-nazis. I (and several others, I think) replied that France had in fact just elected a socialist president. He replied apologising for the confusion. It seems he had read a comment from someone else which confused socialism with National Socialism, put two and two together and came up with Nazi. He tweeted a retraction, so no harm done.

What stayed with me for a while afterwards was the hashtag he’d put on the original tweet. Again, as he’s deleted it I’m relying on my own, not exactly fautless memory, but it was something like #notagoodtimetovisiteurope.

Now I’m sure he put this on with tongue in cheek. I don’t think he or anyone else would seriously turn down the chance to visit France solely because a right-wing government had been elected. Or would he? Would you? As a tourist, does it make a difference to your enjoyment of exploring a country if you have major ideological differences with the current administration?

I’ve heard people say in the past that they didn’t want to visit a particular country because they didn’t want to support or appear to condone an oppressive regime, as if visiting, say, China means that you’re turning a blind eye to their human rights violations. I have two problems with this. One, people travel to foreign lands on holiday for many reasons, like a desire to see a different culture, see their monuments and landscape, meet the people, eat the food. No one I know thinks to themselves “I approve of Sweden’s progressive government, which is why I’m going to fund them with my tourist pounds/dollars/euros”. Two, even if you say that you don’t want any of your money to go, however indirectly, to a government with which you disagree, then you’re going to have to be very careful with your shopping. Object to China? Try buying a consumer product which isn’t made there. Issues with Israel? Pay attention to where your fruit and veg comes from. Not easy, is it? And, I’d argue, not very effective either. If you look hard enough you can find something to object to in pretty much any country you can name, but I don’t see that as a reason to stay home.

In fact I’d say that it makes it all the more important for people to go there and interact with the locals, exchange ideas, and spend your money there. After all, some of your money may end up in government coffers, but some of it will also benefit the people who may desperately need it and who aren’t necessarily to blame for the state of their country.

I despise Silvio Berlusconi and everything he stands for, but that didn’t stop me living in Italy for a year and visiting regularly afterwards. I went to the US last year, but if I’d decided to go a few years earlier I don’t think the presence of George W. Bush in the White House would have put me off. Now there are some places I’d think would be fascinating to visit but feel that I can’t simply for safety reasons. I’m thinking of various places in the Middle East and Africa. And there are places like North Korea which would also be interesting but where the restrictions imposed on tourists are so heavy and the freedom to move around, take photos and ask questions is so limited as to almost defeat the object of travelling there.

But politics is usually a fairly transient thing and often increasingly removed from the inhabitants’ day-to-day lives, and I don’t think it should constitue a serious barrier to those wishing to broaden their minds and expand their horizons through travel.