Misconceptions and fear of the foreigner

When I tell Singapore that I travel alone, they either say that:
A) it's so dangerous,
B) I am such a loner, I am weird to travel alone, don't I get bored travelling alone?
C) I am brave, or
D) They would like to travel with me.

Not that I care what people think or say about me, but I would like to discuss the attitude of people in category A. The main problems are misconceptions and fear of the foreigner. People in category B are afraid to be alone [see, Solitude vs Loneliness: http://yu-kym.blogspot.com/2009/06/solitude-and-loneliness-anti-social-and.html]. As for those in category D, I don't think they know exactly what they would be getting themselves into if they travel with me!

Misconception #1: Darker skin = fiercer people
Many Singaporeans have a fear of foreigners, especially people of yellow or dark skin. If I were to tell them that I'm going to Europe on my own, not many of them would say it's dangerous.

Perhaps the Caucasians whom they see are the ones who are dressed in shirt and pants in the office. This causes them to (incorrectly) think that all Caucasians look and behave this way. I have travelled to the US, the Middle East, Western Europe, and a number of Asian countries. The scariest and fiercest people I have encountered are the gypsies in Rome - and, as you know, they are white-skinned. Some of them would mind their own business or dance and sing on the street to raise money, some are pick-pockets, some would physically attack tourists. I hope that Singaporean will stop thinking that people of darker skin tones are scarier than those of fairer skin because there is no truth in that at all.

Misconception #2: People in less developed countries are more likely to cheat and harm you.
Another misconception is that people in the less developed countries are more likely to "cheat" and harm tourists. We need to understand and see things from their point of view. Extracting an extra few dollars from tourists is a way of life. They do not see it as cheating. Why should it be considered as cheating if the tourists willingly hand over the money?

True, the locals can be persistent and they might take advantage of your ignorance and poor negotiating skills but since when was being persistent and a good negotiator a crime? In the office we do that all the time in business transactions.

I had a bad experience in Egypt with a carriage driver. My partner and I wanted to the go the train station which was about 8 minutes' walk from the hotel. A carriage driver asked us if we wanted a ride. I said I would only ride for 20 Egyptian Pounds (EGP) (SGD$5). The driver did not agree so I walked away. But my partner talked to the driver and called me back to take the carriage. I asked him whether it was 20 EGP. He refused to answer my question but only said not to worry because he had negotiated a price. However, it turned out that he did not agree on the price with the driver. He thought the driver would be happy to accept 40 EGP, which was double of what I would have agreed to pay, so he offered that towards the end of the ride but the driver took advantage of the situation and demanded 80 EGP. While the argument was taking place, we reached our destination and I was about to alight on the right side of the carriage. But at that point, he paused from the argument and reminded me to alight on the left side which was safer. We paid 80 EGP. I was more pissed off with my partner than the driver and strangely enough my partner was more pissed off with me than the driver too. Anyway, my point is,
- don't blame the locals for taking advantage of the situation if you failed to be smart about it yourself, and
- the locals might want your money, but they also don't want to cause you physical harm (99.99% of the cases).

Misconception #3: People from certain countries are rude.
Many Singaporeans regard people in China as rude. I've been to Beijing and Shanghai. The people in Beijing speak so loudly that it sounded like they were scolding me but I found that if I listened long enough, they are actually trying to help me. They only speak that way because it's just their accent!

My partner and I were stranded far from Beijing city in the cold evening rain in some town where the toilets in the shopping center did not have doors. The people there helped us get a "black car" (private car illegally used as a taxi) back to the city without ripping us off when they could have.

Regardless of differences in skin tone or income levels, we are all human beings. There are almost just as many nice people and just as many crooks in every country. Take precautions and follow your instincts.

Is there any place on earth worse than Singapore's Newton Circus hawker center to get ripped off?


Anonymous said...

it is so true that most singaporeans are a judgmental lot.


Anonymous said...

I realize the same misconception is happening everywhere. We judge people based on our background and experience. However, we didn't realize that at the end of the day it could be the people from our same background who would be the first one to judge us from head to toe.

Yu-Kym said...

I just got ripped off in Siem Reap at a guesthouse! I arrived rather late and paid US$20 per night including breakfast. The correct rate should have been US$10 because I was having lunch and I heard that rate quoted to another tourist. The owner offered me the room rate of US$13 and reduced it to US$10 for the following night after I said I was going to change to another guesthouse. I was still charged US$20 for 3 nights, so I said no thanks for the next night at US$10 - I was going to the guesthouse literally next door that charges US$8.

Anonymous said...


if you ever arrive at Paris around midnight by train, DO NOT try to skip the designated taxi stand. Also do not accept any porter who 'kindly' help to carry your luggage; he will invariably be in cahoots with the pirate taxis who are waiting to rip you off -either their cab fare or a recommended hotel.
Just wait patiently for a regular cab at the designated taxi stand.
My wife & I were with our two young kids ( 2 & 3 years old) and this 'helpful' porter came with a trolley (we could not find any on our own) and help us with our luggage. We had just arrived at midnight by the bullet train from Switzerland. He tried to steer us to the pirate taxis. We were pretty tired and it was tempting to cut the wait at the designated taxi stand. People in the stand waved frantically at us to join them.
I was hesitating but luckily I sense something was rather faked about the 'porter'. When I insisted om joining the Q, he became demanding and wanted money for helping us with the luggage. I decided to pay him 50 French francs to get rid of him. When we joined the Q, those in front of us smiled constantly at us even though we did not understand a word of what they were saying.
Finally a guy spoke to us in English and informed us that we were lucky to have understood their frantic hand signals. Some tourists were known to have been robbed by these pirates. Always join the designated Q, he advised. These rogues only come out after the police changed to the midnight shift - less patrol officers, he explained.

Yu-Kym said...

Thanks for sharing! Glad you are ok.

Anonymous said...

Heard that in Turkey ", fair skin people " who are actually your tour guides will try to cheat you by making you buy $1.4k USD leather jackets to bring home to Singapore to wear! They are fair skinned!