Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Why tolerance tops this traveller's bucket list in 2019

Ditching stereotypes and travelling with an open mind needs to be a priority this year

Oktoberfest is celebrated around the globe, including Dubai, by people from many different countries. Courtesy FoodPhotography
Oktoberfest is celebrated around the globe, including Dubai, by people from many different countries. Courtesy FoodPhotography

I will always be a Scot. Granted, my accent may have distorted from gravelly Glaswegian into an internationally lilted drawl, which has been described at one time or another as Canadian, Irish and even Australian. And, yes, I’ve acclimatised to the warmth of the desert so well over the past 10 years that what most people in Scotland would think of as a heatwave is irre­futably jacket-weather for me. But I don’t celebrate New Year – it’s Hogmanay. I eat haggis – even if it is the vegetarian ­version. And I will always call soda “ginger”.

Over the years, I’ve had a fair share of Scottish stereotypes thrown in my ­direction – from people asking ­whether the male members of my family always wear skirts, to being accused of miserly behaviour, or asked if I colour my hair to cover up my natural red tones. There are probably many more that I don’t even know about, and they come from every direction on a compass, from as far away as Brazil to as close to home as England. They also exist for every nationality.

Last year, discourses on “them versus us” ­bombarded the media spectrum. FromBrexit to a border-control policy that shut down the United States government, and a gender discourse that was brewing for far too long – the overriding theme of division ran deep around the world.

'Travel is fatal to prejudice'

With the UAE declaring this the Year of Tolerance, I’ve decided that one thing I’m putting at the top of my 2019 travel wish list is a reminder to visit places with an open mind, and to make a conscious effort to look beyond all of our differences.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens – better known by his pen name, Mark Twain – once said: ­“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and ­narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” In my opinion, this has neverresonated more than today.

As we travel, we can look ­beyond all borders – nationality, gender, race and class – and use words, ­written or spoken, as a point of departure. We can choose to be conscious of what we write, say and share, using our letters and images as tools to cross limits ­instead of as a means to underpin obsolete boundaries.

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Everyone has something they can bring to the table. Language, traditions and ­cultural ­nuances all enrich the world we live in.

Where cultures merge

After landing in a new place, I’ve often found myself seeking out something familiar. For example, after a month in the Kathmandu Valley, during which I ate only vegetarian food and drank chai tea, I remember the excitement I felt when I ventured into a bar in the Nepalese capital and saw Irn-Bru on the menu. I was 7,000 kilometres from Scotland, but here was something that truly reminded me of home. Moments such as these can be emotional, which simply adds to the self-development that travel affords us.

Sourcing an Indian roti in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor or discovering American hot dogs in the Pudong district of Shanghai are similar examples of cultures fusing ­together, while a visit to Osaka isn’t marred by dinner at Vietnam Sakaba Bia Hoi, one of the city’s best international restaurants. If anything, it’s enhanced by it.

The same goes for cultural traditions. The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro wouldn’t be the same without the samba, but, if only Brazilians got to dance, it would spoil the fun. Oktoberfest is a German festival celebrated around the globe. ­Hogmanay might be a Scottish thing, but the people celebrating under the fireworks in Princes Square are made up of countless nationalities.

Travel helps us venture out of the wells that, entirely by chance, we were born into, which is why, as I put together my visit list for the months ahead, I’m making sure that non-judgment is as high on my travel ­agenda as renewing my passport.

Updated: January 5, 2019 02:39 PM

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