Minority Travelers' Forum: 2004
Have any guidebooks been particularly helpful? Are there any places in Europe you'd discourage other minorities from visiting? How do you deal with stares or "special" treatment in areas that rarely see a minority or mixed-race couple? Please share your minority-related European travel tips and anecdotes here.
Travels of Black Female
I took my first trip abroad at the age of 45. Except for a brief stay with friends in Brussels and Paris, I spent two weeks in Amsterdam, Luxumbourg and London alone. I smiled and received smiles in return. No problems and no hints of problems. When my 'white' husband accompanied me in 1999 and 2002, again no problems and no hints of problems. I see more stares here in America than I ever did abroad. Throw in experiences in Bermuda and Canada, I'd say that a smiling, friendly face translates well in any language. Also, I'm a great believer in praying before and during a trip. That smooths paths as well.
Sacramento, CA USA Fri 11/19/2004
Just returned from Rome..my that place is Amazing! I have to admit I was somewhat nervous about how we would be treated even though I had read in a guide that *while Africans face discrimination in Rome western African Americans who could be distinguished by dress and mannerisms are generally unaffected by this type of racism*..
I am embarassed to say and it seems laughable now, that I spent weeks trying to decide whether or not to remove my hair braids so as to avoid giving the appearance of being African. I thankfully decided in the end that, as one poster below elegantly put it, the world is bigger than those who are petty minded and I was determined to see Rome as myself. I am convinced that a smile and a genuine attempt to speak the language can and will put most at ease. Apart from a very minor incident at a Gelato shop,which i attribute to rudeness as opposed to anything else, my partner and I had a wonderful time.
Imagine if I had allowed my fears to keep me from seing St. Peters Basilica, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the countless other sights I saw in Rome....ask yourself who would ultimately suffer....
Charlotte, NC USA Fri 11/19/2004
I found Germany, France, Holland, Austria, Sweden and Norway to be friendly places. If there are incidences, I first try chalk it up as usual rudeness which we sometimes experience on the streets back home. I?ll? always remember the kindness of a German in Heidelberg, while walking back from Heidelberg castle I was lost in the back streets, and it was getting a bit late in the evening. This ?kinder spirit? took his time to walk me to the bust stop, waited with me there, to make sure that I get on the right bus for the railway station.
I hope that I?ll be able to pay back to a stranger with the same kindness, who might be looking for direction in my town.
For those of you, who have never been to louver before, just a suggestion. Take your time, give it at least couple of days, to see 1 or 2 of it?s galleries well, and, then assume you will be back. It?s an awesome and overwhelming experience, to see this much work, of masters, at on place. In Amsterdam, do rent a bike (make sure it has locks for front and back wheels), and follow the flow of locals and explore this diverse and beautiful city. A picnic on a bench, at the banks of it?s canals can be a memorable experience.
In Europe people try to guess whether I?m Brazilian, Italian, from India, Turkey or Morocco, and, then I see a grin on their face, when told that I?m a blue blooded American representing all of it?s diversity. It helps to break down the stereotypes on all sides. What I leaned during my travel, is that Europe is as diverse culturally, ethnically and religiously as we are, that I shouldn?t assume too much either, and stay open minded.
Chicago, IL USA Fri 11/12/2004
Postive Travel Experiences
San Pedro, CA USA Wed 11/10/2004
Travelled across much of Western Europe and encountered hostility, ESPECIALLY in Spain. It's not that I was not served, but the minute I would walk inside the trains people would move away or change seats or stand! rather than sit next to me. Nobody said anything to me that was racist, but actions speak louder than words.
In Madrid, people would stare at me often and even if I stared back, they would not look away and had a hostile face. I found that even young college students were racist -- just like I found in Greece.I will not be returning to Spain or the UK anytime soon. Ironically though, Spaniards seem much more racially aware about racial features, etc than the British.
NYC USA Tue 11/09/2004
Interracial couple in Germany
I am caucasian, my wife is Asian. We recently visited Germany and had few problems other than some rude people and some general stares and glares. It did not seem to me we were exposed to anything worse. For the rude people we met, there were plenty more who were helpful and courteous. I think the only time things seemed a little too uncomfortable was in Baden-baden. Perhaps there are regions in Germany where one is more likely to encounter problems than others.
Columbia, SC USA Tue 10/12/2004
I want to add a little of my experiences travelling abroad and comment on some of the posts.I am a 28 y/o black female and over the last three years I have been to London, Amsterdam, and Paris(and plan to travel to Portugal and Spain this summer). My experiences overall have been great.
Amsterdam was the best with such an open attitude and diverse amount of people. I experienced no racism, probably due to such a mixed culture. I met many friendly open people and would to spend a year or so there.
London was also diverse and again I met many interesting people. There were a couple of instances of hostility in stores until I said something and, upon hearing my american accent, it changed quickly. I met african and carribean immigrants who told of the racism they experience daily. Oddly, they seemed to think the U.S. was better with the racial interaction and most dreamed of coming here.
I was in Paris for only one day and met equally friendly and rude people. Couldn't tell if it was from racism though.
As you should all know by reading these posts every experience will be different. There is no ideal country where conflict between races or racism doesn't exist. If your from the U.S. I should think you very well equipped to handle this. As long as there are people in the world there will be some who enjoy trying to make someone miserable. Don't let them. Enjoy your trip:)
USA Fri 10/08/2004
My European Experiences
Just to add my experiences, I am an African American student currently working in Holland on a business internship through my school, and in terms of race issues here is what I've experienced. Now, my experiences in Europe prove to me that its no where near as blatant as in the states, but its no oasis either. Paris is a very segregated city, Holland is cool for blacks, but very hard on Turks and Morrocans, and Germany near the Rhine is not racially friendly.
For example, for entertainment, being that I am 23, the types of activities I participate in surround going out, clubbing, whatever you want to call it. Its a sad reality that I cannot go to certain locations with my coworkers because of the color of my skin. Now I'm not stupid, in terms of dress clothes I am a professional so my attire fits the locations we attend, but still I am the only one who gets denied, and it hasn't happend once but three seperate times.
What I find in this area is that cultures usually stick together, I can get into a hip-hop club, but not a techno, or enter a polish bar. People tend to stick with themselves, which for some is fine, but I can to Europe to learn about new cultures not live in culturally isolation so its a little disappointing.
Venlo, Lim NL Tue 10/05/2004
Over the last decade, the Czech Republic have experienced an influx of people from around the world do to its transition to a free world economy. If you had been apprehensive in 1992 (the first time I made my visit) I would have conquered with your feelings. Fast-forward to 2004 and you are not going to stick out anymore than you would in Boston.
I have had (and to a point still have) 'looks of curiosity' when I travel through Poland but that is when I travel outside Warsaw and Krakow. I am going to a blues festival in Toru?, Poland this November and I am looking forward to the experience. You have the right idea. Go and experience these areas for yourself and make your own determination.
I do not want to take this tread away from its intended purpose (which is travel) but I want to make this point. Racism, bigotry, and just receiving a 'look of curiosity' are very different reactions and it is my belief the term 'racism' is tossed around too excessively. I will leave it to each of you to determine the differences in these terms.
I have a feeling this is endemic with the current generation because when I grew during the 1960's, it was instilled into my psyche to meet intolerance with hard work to become superb in the things you attempt.
I have seen figures that less than 20 percent of Americans have passports. If that figure is true and since Blacks only make up 12 percent of the population in the US, how many do you think hold a passport? Enjoy your travel and realize that you are trendsetters.
Indialantic, FL USA Sat 10/02/2004
Our experiences in Paris and Italy
I definitly agree with a few of the postings (ie Nique's 5/11/04) that state everyone has their own experience but mostly it's good and just go a travel because it is absolutely worth it.
As far as my experience as part of an inter-racial (black/white) American couple traveling in Europe, everything has been positive. We took our first trip in November 2001 to Paris and had a wonderful time. Neither of us noticed any negative reactions, etc. My boyfriend happened not to like Paris because, in his opinion, it was dirty and the people were rude. I vehemently disagreed and disagree with him on that point. One time a waitress was a bit rushed with us...but so what. I think this is indicative of how everyone will have their own experience and interpret things differently. (I also agree that simply learning a few basic French words works miracles as the French will be more receptive and then likely respond in English).
In March 2004, we traveled through Italy and had a wonderful time. We started in Rome and met wonderful people. We didn't notice any personal anti-American attitudes even though a huge peace demonstration/march was going on. (Yes, you'll see some anti-American grafitti but most of it is anti-Bush/gov't not against Americans personally). We took a day trip to the castle at Caserta and got a couple of odd/suprised looks there but mostly from a few old men sitting in a smokey bar at the train station. Off to Florence, Pisa, thru Milan, to Vercelli, Aosta, Courmayer, Mont Blanc, Chamonix France and Venice. All wonderful experiences!!! And my boyfriend loved Italy and can't stop talking about it. So, on Italy we agree.
When we were in Vercelli thru Mont Blance, we were with our close Italian friends. And, in response to one of the postings below re: Italians and Japanese......My friend works for a Japanese company and when we were standing in line for the cable car at Mont Blanc we saw two Asian men. She, trying to be friendly, said Konichiwa (sp?) and they replied that they were Korean. My friend was embarassed and apologized. We then ended hanging out together during our trip to the top of Mont Blanc. After, when we parted company, my Italian friend commented on how embarassed/stupid she felt be her mistake.
All I can say is GO! Be open to new things. Shrug off negative experiences. Have a great trip.
Alexandria, VA USA Thu 08/12/2004
I'm Italian my girl friend is African American. We both have traveled through out Europe together and seperately. My girl friend and I visited Spain on both occasions together and we encountered the gammit of insults from being refuse proper service at resturants to having the "N" word shouted at my future wife. The idea of spending my money in a country which treats its visitors in such a fashion does not appeal to me. We will not be going back. There are far too many safe interesting European destinations that will appreciate our time and money. Trust me when I say Avoid Spain.Spaniards are far too ignorant.
New York, NY USA Sat 07/24/2004
I am an American Black woman and I live in a small town in Austria near the German Border. I have found out that generally most Germans have been very friendly towards me and the Austrians have not. It took a month before the grocery store cashier stopped throwing my money to me. Where I live there are a lot of Turkish people and most are hard working and friendly as well, however many Austrians I have talked to have very unpleasant things to say about them.
Here just like in the US people are stereo typed and generally the locals don't want an outsider who takes whatever rights they have away.
I say live and let live...We all need to work and meet our basic needs and as long as there is the common ground of respect we should all be able to live together.
Austria Mon 07/12/2004
The wonderful city of Paris
I just returned from a 13-day trip in Paris, France 2 days ago. I am a 23-year old black female and this was my first overseas trip AND I went alone. I experienced no problems in Paris whatsoever (no theft, rudeness, etc) and I could speak a little of the language -- enough to get by (in other words, what I learned in french class during my high school years paid off as well as my trusty little "French at a Glance" book that I took along with me).
The one thing that I recommend for anyone going to Paris is to try to speak their language. You'll be glad that you did and you'll find that you'll meet Parisians that will speak to you in English when you've at least made an attempt to speak in French.
Paris is one of the most diverse capitals I've ever seen. For a first overseas trip and going alone, I knew it was going to be a momentous occasion for me and I stepped out on faith. I was really pleased to see such a mixed population, not only of tourists but the locals as well. People of many ethnicities are represented including Americans, Asians, Africans, Indians, etc. I truly enjoyed this trip and blended right in. I even made a few friendly and helpful acquaintances (of different races) along the way. I had taken a fake wedding ring which I wore the first half of my trip, but I packed it away mid-way of my trip because I wanted a better chance of meeting people, which I definitely did. You'd be surprised at how quickly they notice your left hand to see if you're married or not (haha).
I look forward to returning to Paris some day. Maybe I'll travel with someone the next time to share new adventures. And do I regret going on my first trip alone? No way!! I'd do it again! Taking a trip alone to a country where a different language is spoken makes me feel like I can conquer anything and any place now! I'm already ready to start planning my next trip! :-)
Augusta, GA USA Fri 05/28/2004
Go and find your own experiences.
Some interesting posts on this site, good, bad and SILLY! Look Europe is like the rest of the world. There are racists everywhere, and good people everywhere. I have traveled often for the last 12 years. Mostly in Europe. It is like the US was and still is in some ways. Some countries like France and England are more diverse and open(not all over each country) Others(yes Spain to some extent, but NOT all Spainards!!)are not. Northern Italy is more relaxed than the south etc etc. We travelers of color need to get out and explore as much as possible. Much of the racism I've seen is more due to ignorance than anything else. Hey look at what they have done to each other! I've had many more good experiences than bad. I've had European friends and girlfriends and overall I find that more Europeans are accepting than not. If I have 5 good experinces and 1 bad , I will not dwell on it.
Last year I was in Rome walking with a Italian female friend. She is very attractive, tall and quite worldly and I'm 6'5 and 215, so people will stare anyway. We sat down to have a drink and his burly man walked by paused, shook his head and began giving us dirty looks and mumbling, I stood up slowly, as if to see what he wanted and he quickly moved on. Minutes later our lovely waitress complimented us on our clothes, height and chatted me up about American basketball with some evident knowledge of the game. She was quite nice. Things like this just happen. It's life. I try to enjoy myself and forget about those that are in the dark. What else is there to do?
LA, CA USA Tue 05/11/2004
Antwerp was Good to Me
Hmmm, it is sometimes strange how different peoples' experiences can be. I spent 3 days in Antwerp (stayed in a youth hostel), had a good time, and would definately return someday if I didn't have other countless places to see first. I didn't experience any overt racism, and didn't detect any subtle racism either -- but that's not to say I wasn't stereotyped, or racism doesn't exist because I know it does. It's all about who you cross paths with, and when. In one particular instance, at an Italian restaurant in Groenplaats, I was asked by a waiter (after being identified as an American by my accent) if I played basketball. I said "no," and he replied with incredulousness "An American that doesn't play basketball?" Quickly followed by "but you are probably to short--right?" Being 5'4" and 145 pounds I said "yes." Of course the images non-Americans have of Americans (both Black and White) are from American t.v. shows, movies, and televised sports -- so who knows if he asked because I was American as his statement implied, or because I was Black. I tend to believe the former rather than the latter. Anyway, the guy was very friendly, and gave me dessert free of charge. I also ate at a place outside of the central train station and had no problems getting outside seating. I met local girls too, and one in particular (very pretty White girl I met on a tram) took the time to show me around and give me a short history lesson on Antwerp. One interesting thing she told me is that the community across the river Scheldt (somewhat opposite the Steen "castle"), which houses a large portion of the Black (African) community in Antwerp is called "Chicago Town" by some locals. It is a reference to the American city infamous for segregating the larger White population from the Black and "immigrant" communities, through housing discrimination/redlining. This shows that racism or other forms of discrimination do exist in Antwerp, but at the same time... it exists throughout the United States too. It's the same as the cab issue. I'm sure the previous poster has had problems catching a cab in Miami too, and if he hasn't he should try catching a cab here in Washington, DC, the nation's capital, or Philadelphia, or Boston, etc.... Unfortunately racism is everywhere (in varying degrees) -- along with all other social ills (sexism, poverty, homelessness and panhandling, greed, etc....) , and you can never completely escape them regardless of where you are, so you just have to be strong and make the best of the situation when confronted with them or else you won't be able to go/vacation/travel anywhere. Just my 2 cents.
Washington, DC USA Wed 04/28/2004
Antwerp Shame on You!!!!
Visited Antwerp Belgium back in late March 2004 as a day trip from Amsterdam. Let me just say that my brother and I were amazed at the racism. Now I'm very aware of some of the problems that countries have with immigration and that some groups don't even attempt to assimilate and all that. But that doesn't change the fact that racism is that I hoped I'd never have to deal with on my European Vacations.
I mean first we leave the Antwerp's Central Train Station and go right up the street to a Pizza Hut for the buffet and when we ask to sit outside since it was a beautiful day the waiter checked with a manager-type who said no that section isn't open. Then my brother notices a table of six white men and women having lunch outside? I was shocked because in my 3 total European trips I'd never expericed racism. Rather than completly going off on this dude we just ate, paid, and left. Then on the way to that Spanish Inquistion Castle on the river we tried to hail a cab and the first cabbie looks right at me and shakes his head no and I'm really getting mad at this point but lucky for Antwerp we were able to finally get a cab and it was a White female who you could tell was nervous and just talking and talking and talking because she was uncomfortable but what can I say she did pick us up but you can tell that two Black guys over 6 feet tall and I'm about to 240 really made her a bit shaky.
So in closing Antwerp is a very beautiful city (I can't lie) but they'll never see me or my Euros or any of my close friends Black, White,Hispanic, Etc Euros ever again because I've told all my friends of the treatment we received and I felt it was my duty to let ya'll know also.
***** Was in Brussels back in 2003 for a concert by The Roots and my wife and I had no problems. ******
Keep traveling good people and see as much of the world as you because you can bet that I am!!!!
Peace and Love to All,
Miami, FL USA Tue 04/27/2004
Travel in Spain
Its been my experience while traveling through Spain that there is little chance of avoiding racism in that country. It does help however to spend the majority of your time in large cities like Barcelona which are more accustom to seeing Black & Asian Americans. Just be very careful while visiting small towns also learn abit of Spainish so you are able to communicate with the police if need be. There have been reports of people dressing up as police officers who run scams on tourist in order to bilk them out of money and documents.If you are stopped by one of these genius' ask for their ID and don't give them your documents or money and don't follow them ,try to move to a more public place.
Englewood, NJ USA Wed 04/14/2004
I am a black male in my early 40's and have traveled throughout Western and Eastern Europe for the past 4 years. Other than some friendly stares, I have had not problems. There was one incident of overt rudeness in a Hungarian bath but it was no more than I have experienced by people having a bad day in the states. In September I will travel to Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania again (I did the western Transylvania region in Romania last year). Does anyone have any feed back on this area of Europe, especially Turkey? Or if any of you were planning to be in these areas in September, I'd love to hook up with you. Becoming a Globe Trekker is the best thing I could have done to rejuvenate my life.
Pomona, Ca USA Sat 04/10/2004
Racial Profiling in Spain
I'd like to add my thoughts to this discussion. I am a Black-American male and I've been to Spain (Barcelona, and Madrid, in the summer of 2002). Thankfully I was never profiled or harrassed by the police -- but I was prepared with I.D. as I had heard Spaniards were largely racist toward Blacks. No one was ever rude towards me, but at the same time no one was particularly friendly either.
Out of the 14 countries I visited in western and northern Europe, I'd say the Spaniards and Germans were the least friendly toward me. More so the Spaniards than the Germans. Ironically, my best new friend from my trip that summer is a Spaniard from just outside of Barcelona. She is very cool and we are still in touch to this day. So although the vast majority of a particular population may have issues toward you because of your skin color, there are always some good people in that very same population who will show you the courtesy and respect you deserve. And for the record... I quite enjoyed Barcelona and would definately go back.
Washington, DC USA Wed 04/07/2004
Italy & Switzerland
I was in Italy & Switzerland in September 2003; I agree with one of the earlier postings in that there are few black travelers in Europe. In Florence, I recall seeing only a handful of black tourists. In the larger cities (Florence, Zurich), the people (especially the Swiss) were welcoming, however, in the coastal Italian villages I encountered many (sometimes prolonged!) stares. I stayed at the Relais Cavalcanti in Florence, which I highly recommend.
Atlanta, GA USA Wed 02/25/2004
I would say from my experience that London was very color-blind towards tourists.
USA Sat 02/21/2004
Laissez les bon temps
I recently returned from an eight day trip to Paris with my mother. As a Black American female, I was concerned about the treatment that we would encounter in Paris, first as people of color and secondly as Americans. However, once we arrived at CDG and then our hotel, my fears were eased. The hotel staff treated us professionally and they were an immense help as we tried to turn on our heater! We ate at a lovely Italian cafe across from our hotel and we met other Americans eating there who were also in Paris on vacation. The ownwer was a lovely Parisian-Italian-Egyptian man who always treated us kindly and he even provided comic relief some nights!
There were many instances of kindness on behalf of Parisians exhibited towards us. We were pulled into a bistro for lunch by a vivacious host near the Musee d'Orsay. I was first playfully berated by a lively and spunky French waiter for my very " Ugly American" behavior of drinking my Coke out of the bottle at a chichi bistro. Later in the week he invited us back into the very same bistro for a free hot chocolate as he saw us walking back to our hotel one evening. I remember that my mom attempted to leave him a tip after our free drinks and he refused saying that we were his friends.
We visited all of the main tourist
attractions via a tour company called Cityrama, including Versailles,
and we never encountered a problem. There was one minor incident at another
cafe near our hotel because we believed that the waitress was a little
slow to serve us. However, soon she passed by our table and promptly served
us and we had no further problems. Overall, I had a wonderful time and
I would caution that of course racism exists everywhere, unfortunately,
but one should never let that stop him or her from travelling. I just
advise one to be safe and to make smart decisions. Also, a few phrases
in the native language never hurts, but if you do not know any, a smile
is understood universally!
Houston, TX USA Sat 01/10/2004