One of the most revealing things about traveling abroad is finding out what people from other countries really think about people from your country. Not to disparage my compatriots, but travel acquaintances of mine have sometimes expressed surprise that I’m so soft-spoken compared to the stereotypical perception of Americans who travel

My Dutch and Swedish friends have told me that Australians are the most respectful and sociable travelers, while they and others have asserted that Brits are the worst (another country I call home… whoops). We should all celebrate travel for the opportunity it awards each one of us to learn more about one another and formulate more informed opinions, but what about the countries we call neighbors? Proximity, cultural exchange, and discourse can create some fascinating results, as was the case in a survey conducted by Americans about Canada. 

president trump shakes hands with justin trudeau of Canada
A picture’s worth a thousand words.

At first glance, the results paint an enviable picture of Americans when compared to their northern neighbors. According to the survey we believe we’re more intelligent, funny, and attractive than Canadians. But in a surprising streak of self-awareness, these more superficial positives actually make us less-fulfilled and more insecure as individuals. By decent margins, Americans believe that Canadians are happier, more tolerant, and more polite than we are. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are divisions amongst Americans in these opinions. More so than men, women tend to believe that Canada has a higher standard of living than the U-S of A, an opinion overwhelmingly shared by Clinton voters in 2016 as opposed to Trump voters, who possess a staunch belief in the unmatched standards of American life. 

traffic in central london
a colorful row of houses against the sky in london

While such surveys about personality traits and quality of life are hard to find when looking at other countries around the world, there have been some questions asked, particularly of Europeans, whose answers offer insight into their personal opinions of one another. Considering that all of these countries still possess their distinct cultures and customs, it’s no surprise that opinions are most pronounced over things neighbors tend to share: food. Le Pain Quotidien can be found all over Europe, as can tapas, pastel de nata, and kielbasa, but whose cuisine rules supreme? Survey says it’s Italian, with 80% of Brits and even 73% of statistically snobby French  expressing their taste for it. However, less than a quarter of Italians want to eat French food, believing in the superiority of their own cuisine, which aligns with their neighbors’ opinions. And although the British want to leave the European Union, the results say that they favor continental cuisine over their own. 

Relevant to travelers, the preference for foreign food is matched by a preference for foreign destinations among Europeans. When asked about the appeal of visiting their capital cities of Rome, Paris, and London, less than 4% of Italians, French, and British said that these were the most exciting destinations in the world. An overwhelming choice of a dream trip for these Europeans and others was New York City, while Tokyo was the second-most desirable destination for many respondents. For Americans, Australia sits perennially at the top of our travel bucket lists, but somewhere in our own country — Hawaii — ranked second in a survey conducted this summer. We also return the love for Italy, and Japan takes the number six spot. 

tourists in the roman coliseum

What does all of this tell us? Well, in a time when nationalism and even xenophobia have reared their ugly heads, I think these results are cause for optimism when it comes to globalism and the openness it promotes in our attitudes. The survey reminds me of this great ad from HSBC, whose message that Britain is no longer an island speaks to the larger fact that we are all inextricably linked together in this modern world. Putting up walls and trying to restrict people’s movement doesn’t just cause division, it openly defies reality and means that more prosperous nations aren’t holding up their side of the bargain. But regardless of what institutions decide, we can keep dreaming, traveling, and educating one another on how life looks for us. Whether we share a border or are separated by vast oceans, we’re all neighbors now. We must do our best to act like it. 

What are preconceived notions you have had about other countries before visiting?

Header photo by Kranich17 on Pixabay. Other photo credits to CNN, Ilinca Roman, Toa Heftiba, and Ben Lee.