Deconstructing worlds friendliest people

Written by New York Times | Updated: Mar 31 2013, 08:55am hrs
Breaking down that perennial question and breaking it down, with the help of Twitter and some travel experts

Seth Kugel

Which country has the worlds friendliest people Its a preposterous question for many reasons. Yet writers, guidebooks and travellers cant seem to stop asking it. Admit it, youve returned from a place and declared to your friends that its people have got to be the friendliest people on the planet. I certainly have.

But today I declare I never will again, and I ask you to join me. Its not because such judgments are wild generalisations of culturally complex places, nor because most travellers have been too few of the worlds countries to speak authoritatively.

To tease out the elements of niceness, I asked the dreaded question one last time on Twitter last week, but insisted that people specify what made their country of choice so friendly. The answers flooded in: the Japanese will go out of their way to help visitors, Estonians are kindhearted people eager to share their rich history, Filipinos are always smiling and will help anyone no matter their own situation. So here, with the help of Twitter, input from colleagues and my own personal experiences, is an initial proposaladmittedly still unscientificfor kingdoms within the domain of friendliness, and what countries might be contenders for each crown.

* Most Hospitable. That is, those countries where you cant smile at someone without getting invited to have a drink or share a meal. The Greeks and Turks are my obvious choices, but from others input it looks as if theres a hospitality crescent reaching around the Middle East and into North Africa. Any country where strangers stand a fighting chance of scoring an invite to a weddinghello, Indiagets a nomination as well.

* Most Welcoming. A related category, but more general: nationalities that may not necessarily slaughter a pig for you or insist you stay in their house free, but who are just simply kind, laid back, pleasant people who are happy to see you. Frequently mentioned candidates: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti and Canadian Newfoundland, raising the possibility that island living is an influence.

* Most Helpful. My Twitter feed was filled with stories of locals going out of their way, often literally, to help lost travelers: giving rides (Indonesia), holding their hand as they walked them to their destination (Ireland), shutting down their shop to accompany them through the city (Japan). My vote goes to China, where people upended their day to help hapless old me with notable frequency.

* Most Positive. Not as in They have so little, and yet theyre so happy!thats at best a clich and at worst condescending. Im talking about countries where across the income spectrum people seem to instinctually and contagiously smile their way through the day. The Caribbean region as a whole is my nominee, but many wrote in to declare that Thailands smile-per-capita rate was sky-high. My limited trips to sub-Saharan Africa makes me think those who know the continent better than I will dispute those choices.

* Warmest. Not quite the same as most positiveinstead of smiling constantly, people in these places make you smile constantly and laugh frequently. They love to talk and are good conversationalists, but avoid talking about their problems. I nominate the Brazilians. Pauline Frommer, the guidebook creator and radio host, who suggested the category, also included Brazilians, adding the Irish and Italians.

* Most Fun. If you had to share a vacation rental with a house full of X, what nationality would X be Im tempted to nominate the Finns, simply because theyre into co-ed naked saunas. Ireland and Scotland won raves on Twitter, but if fun for you is inseparable from music and dancing, Id consider adding Cubans and their neighbours, the Dominicans, to your beach home fantasy.

* Most Genuinely Interested in Meeting Outsiders. Where are people interested in meeting tourists, even if only for curiositys sake In my experience, this tends to happen in places that dont get as many visitors as their neighbours, so lets rule out Parisians and Venetians, and choose Colombia over Peru and the Midwest over New York City.