Take the 2-minute tour ×
Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Being an Arab with Arabian looks, after September 11 things have changed dramatically when Arabs or people with similar looks (Indians, Pakistanis, Turkish, Kurdish, Iranians...etc) go to the west side of the world (Europe and North America).

Some people just keep giving you 'that look' and I am not talking about racism here. I will give you an example.

In one of my flights from New York to Los Angeles (6 hrs flight) me and my friend were the only Arabs onboard a 767 wide body aircraft (around 200 passengers). Whenever I stood up to open the overhead compartment to grab something from my bag I would have that look from people. People would stop eating or reading or smiling and just keep looking at me till I am done and I am sure they are expecting me to take a bomb out or something like that! If any one else stood up and opened a compartment no one would even care!

Same exact looks were also found in a train from Paris to Amsterdam. The funny part is when we arrive people who gave me those looks would smile at me and some even would talk or ask questions...it is like they are thanking me for not killing them :)

Another time I was taking a helicopter tour in New York, and when we were onboard there were two young American ladies and they were kinda shocked to see me and my friend onboard, They literally were making prayers and looking at us! And again after we landed they were talking to us and even took pictures together!

Another example would be in restaurants specially fancy ones, malls or museums.

Another funny thing, my friend's name is Osama and he has all funny kinds of treatment because of his name. People sometime can be so superficial and treat someone in a suspicious way just because his name.

For me it's funny but not always! Sometimes this bothers me a lot specially when you are the one being picked up from hundreds of people for a random check from a police officer and the way they deal with you sometimes is totally weird, they treat you like a potential threat while all you were doing is having some fun!

What's in your opinion the best way to avoid this?

share|improve this question

This question has an open bounty worth +50 reputation from MeNoTalk ending in 7 days.

One or more of the answers is exemplary and worthy of an additional bounty.

6  
Wear a NY Yankees hat, they will think you are from NYC. –  patrickinmpls May 24 '12 at 16:12
3  
Live with it. I can perfectly understand why New Yorkers would be suspicious of people who look similar to the kind that killed several thousands of them in a couple of hours. You can either ignore people's ignorance or try to explain to them that "not all muslims are evil". I think you'll find your life to be easier choosing the first option. "they treat you like a potential threat" - you have to understand that you are. While racial profiling for whatever reason is frowned upon in the US, its the best way to mitigate risks. –  littleadv May 24 '12 at 16:49
12  
@littleadv I disagree with you, if Arabs destroyed two towers killing 5,000 people caused this, Then following your concept we should think the same of US citizens because they have destroyed two Muslim countries killing few millions.. This is a wrong way of thinking I have to say and I totally disagree... Religion has nothing here and I do not recall mentioning about it.. and FYI not all Arabs are muslims and I never said that I'm muslim... –  MeNoTalk May 24 '12 at 17:01
2  
@HaLaBi I might be wrong, but Americans are not exactly adored around the globe. I've lived in several countries, out of these the only country in which Americans were liked by the local population was the US. I agree with you that this may be the wrong way of thinking, but that's the way the humans think. We generalize and try to sort things into patterns. That's how it works, you can rant and complain, but its not going to change any time soon. –  littleadv May 24 '12 at 17:17
2  
As a westerner living in Japan, I totally understand where you're coming from. While it's not necessarily negative feedback I get here, I feel the Japanese "well intentioned racism" all the time. You just gotta get used to it, unfortunately. :) –  deceze May 25 '12 at 4:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I can't say that I completely understand your situation (I am, after all, of European descent), but you should not be surprised to find out that

Some people are stupid have prejudices

I have indeed been treated sometimes differently for being Eastern European (and proud of it!), and the thing that I found works best is to just ignore them and pretend that you don't know what they are doing. Acting in a way that reinforces their stereotypes won't help, neither is being defensive, so be very polite (the more annoying they are, the more polite you should be) with the people you meet and try to "behave like them" in certain situations.

In 99% of the time, the prejudices stem from the fact that they have never (or rarely) seen a people of your ethnic descent in vivo, and all their opinions towards members of certain ethnic groups come from mass media and other prejudiced people.

All being said,here are some things that might help:

  • Appearance. While people of ethnic origin other than European are common for many European countries, clothing style is pretty much uniform all over Europe. Traditional clothing is virtually not seen, and wearing it would definitely cause more raised eyebrows than it would otherwise. Please note that I'm not trying to denigrate the clothing style of a particular culture, but the train of thought of many people goes along the lines of looks different->is different->is unknown->I don't like them.

  • Behaviour. Be polite with people, even if they are annoying jingoistic pricks. Smile at them when making inadvertent eye contact.

    • Don't try to start an argument with them that you are a normal guy and just because you look or are named in a particular way doesn't mean you behave like that. Don't answer back. You are not going to win this one. Best tactics is to smile and ignore them, even if you are right. Especially when you are right.
    • Ignore their suspicious look and hushed remarks aimed at you -- take the moral high ground and pretend these things don't affect you.
    • Certain religious practices tend to alarm ignorant people, so avoid conducting them in the presence of others if possible.
  • Language. If you are in the presence of people that don't know your language, try not to use it when you are talking to your friend and other people are also part of the discussion. I always switch automatically to English in such situations, even if the people that don't understand the language are a minority. This shows consideration to the others and demonstrates you don't have second thoughts and are not talking behind their backs. Of course, if it's only you and your friend, you can talk in any language you like, but as soon as another people join the conversation, it's common courtesy to switch to English (or other language common for the group you are in). Of course, other people should be doing exactly the same when you are in your presence, but sadly this won't happen nearly as often.


And now, some of my favourite personal examples of overturned stereotypes: I have a friend of Iraqi descent who is a fervent Catholic, has been to Jerusalem more than a few times and goes to church regularly. At the same time, another friend of mine of Bosnian descent is a Muslim, although you can never tell from the way he looks and behaves. And finally, yet another of my friends from Ethiopia made a furor at a certain defense contractor company when he appeared with dreadlocks and baggy pants on a project presentation, and proceeded to blow their minds with his competence. They were utterly confused and later my friend told me that this was one of the most satisfying moments of his life.

share|improve this answer

Namaste MeNoTalk!

In my experience, and my opinion, behaving in a friendly and respectful AND assertive manner goes a long way.

I am a what people would call a "white South African", and have travelled in Turkey, Greece, Egypt and Indonesia, to name a few. In spite of dressing modestly (long skirts, arms completely covered and hair covered) I was constantly physically harrased when in Turkey, and definitely stared at everywhere I travelled, so I can empathise with your dilema. The perception of many people is that all western women are loose, or sexually available, and easy. I had to stand up for myself or be abused.

Now I realise that we are talking about separate issues here, but the bottom line is that most people are ignorant. I found out that by talking to people, telling them about my beliefs and showing my individuality, let them see that they could not put me in a box with all their other generalisations. They began to respect me once they knew where I was coming from. If you see someone staring at you, give them a friendly hello and take it from there. On the other hand, do not put up with any harrasment.

Not all of us in the west are ignorant and predjudiced. There are some spiritual and non judgemental people here too.

I wish you joyous and pleasant travelling experiences, and maybe you would like to visit Cape Town someday.

(By the way, I also had to convince a lot of people that not all white South Africans are racist, we are usually automatically branded that way!)

share|improve this answer

I'd like to preface this with saying that I don't agree with the prejudice but I acknowledge the fact that it exists and with that painful point in mind here are my thoughts and advice.

The bad news is without actual interaction, it's really hard to change somebody's silent prejudice. To put people at ease around you that you are not going to actually speak to, it helps to reduce cultural differences. To get fewer looks in America, dress the way a responsible American of your age would and learn some of the local customs. As a warning, don't dress as a caricature of your target culture. Your goal should be to blend more then anything.

For somebody sitting next to you, strike up a conversation and find some common ground. Be sensitive to the fact that they may just not want to talk at all. Personally I don't mind small talk but on a long flight I prefer the movie.

Humans are naturally suspicious of things that are different. Your goal is to reduce the perceived differences to a degree that triggers the behavior from strangers that is tolerable to you. The longer you're going to interact with them the more effort you will need to put into building a connection. This will work about 80% of the time. The other 20% would probably require too much work for it to be worth your energy.

share|improve this answer
3  
trying to blend in too much can also raise suspicion. After all, that's what terrorists do, try to blend in so they go unnoticed in their target societies... It's effectively a no-win situation. Live with the idea you're going to have to have to do more than natives to get people to trust you. As you said, it's the same everywhere. If Europeans notice it less it's because most of the world will pretend to like them just to get them to part with their money, not because they actually do like them. –  jwenting May 25 '12 at 6:05

While a different type of attention, as a blond Caucasian people would stare when I was walking around South America, and point, and you'd hear "gringo, gringo" and often some choice words after that. A few cheery words back in my awful Spanish would get a laugh and they'd carry on as per normal.

I had a friend who was of Sri Lankan descent, who grew a beard in London. We came back from Norway once, and left him alone for a minute in the airport. As he stood there, two policemen immediately came up and started questioning him, and did a background check. Once that was done they were all friendly, and it could be random, but it made you wonder.

When it comes down to it, we all have our prejudices, warranted or not, big or small. And we have to realise that so do other people. We judge on appearance, on name, on voice, on what they're wearing. And it's stupid, yes, but this is how we have survived for millenia - by making snap judgements. It's a built in thing.

Of course, in today's modern society, we have the freedom to self-evaluate and realise that these are often unfounded. Partly it's the media's fault, partly stereotypes. Unfortunately, not everyone does this, or may not do it at first.

As such, you have two options. The first option is to just accept it and ignore it. I got used to being stared at, and had fun with it - wave at people, walk up to those making comments and use them to ask for directions or whatever. Diffuse things.

The second option is to try and reduce the differences between you and them. This puts people at ease. Just saying hello and having them hear a friendly voice helps. If you are ok doing so, dressing more like the locals to fit in. With people being scared on a helicopter ride, ask where they're from etc, and maybe take a photo with them early on to show that you're also just another excited tourist.

Something I've found is that the more travelled backpackers - often (but not always) - tend to be more familiar, easier at making friends - mainly because they've realised people everywhere are just that - people, for the most part trying to live a happy life with friends and family.

Of course there are a small few who are narrow-minded enough that you won't be able to change them. Be friendly towards them anyway, but accept that it's not necessarily worth the effort, and some will always be hostile or suspicious.

share|improve this answer

I am from a super minority and travel 4 times a month and based on my experience:

1 - First look clean and healthy (no red/yellow eyes)

2 - Pack clean and feel free to use the post office to send over things that could irritate the custom officer

3 - Prepare your documents and fill all forms before getting to the counter

4 - Look at your passport as he/she checks it (do not look at them in the eyes - few will know that)

5 - Travel light is a standard.

share|improve this answer
    
nice answer, but what's with the red/yellow eyes thing?? –  MeNoTalk May 30 '12 at 14:33
2  
Red eyes = too tired or drunk, yellow eyes = drug usage. This is not a rule but it is how people would tend to think. –  user2471 May 30 '12 at 14:53
2  
Can you explain number 4? –  Andrew Grimm May 30 '12 at 22:46
3  
What's a 'super minority'? –  Ankur Banerjee May 31 '12 at 8:57
    
I assume #4 is a way to defer / submit to the custom official's authority and show you're not challenging them. I do the same thing when I get pulled over by a cop and cross my hands on the steering wheel. You don't do it because you're weak, you're just choosing to avoid any pointless confrontation. –  RWL01 Jun 12 '12 at 12:57

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.