Meet the nations where warm and welcoming is a way of life
People are kind. It’s the one truism that comes shining through when you travel. Sure, you may occasionally come across “a bad egg” (as your gran might say). But for the most part, you’ll meet folks who’ll go out of their way to welcome you and help you.
The world, then, is full of the great and the good. But what about nations as a whole? Are there some countries that are predisposed to be even friendlier than the norm? And can a warm, open attitude manifest itself as a cultural trait? We take a look at the evidence:
With its high standard of living and robust welfare state, Sweden is not only one of the happiest nations on the planet – it’s also one of the friendliest. Research by the booking site Hostelworld finds the Swedish city of Gothenburg to be world’s friendliest urban hub.
The title is based on 10 categories of behaviour, including how often residents socialise, trust in friends and openness to others. Another Swedish city, the capital Stockholm, comes second on the list, with locals ranking sky-high on liberal and community-minded values.
Friendliness is a quality that’s closely tied to a caring, sharing spirit. And few people excel at this like Kenyans. In a 2017 World Giving Index created by the Charities Aid Foundation, Kenya was the only country to appear in the top five of two major categories: most generous country (where it came in third), and the country where people are most likely to help a stranger (fourth). The ratings were based on the percentage of respondents in the survey who had donated, volunteered and helped a stranger in the past month.
This generous mindset may be down to the concept of “harambee” – a Swahili term for “all pull together” – that appears on the Kenyan coat of arms. “I think the harambee spirit has inculcated in Kenyans a strong sense of giving,” Kenyan Caroline Teti of the nonprofit GiveDirectly tells NPR. “People traditionally view individual pressure as a matter that should concern the whole community. In many communities in Kenya, people gave materially to other community members under distress.”
A 2018 study by the global network InterNations names Mexico as the third friendliest country in the world when it comes to welcoming foreigners. Data from 13,000 visitors living in 188 countries places marvellous Mexico in pole position thanks to the ease of making local friends, and also the friendly attitude demonstrated towards foreigners. A buzzing party culture can’t hurt the situation, either. Did someone say tequila?
How friendly a country is also depends on how affectionate it’s feeling – and in the case of the Philippines, the answer is a lot. According to a 2013 Gallup World Poll, this tropical island nation is the world leader for love. Over 90% of people in the Philippines report feeling loved on a typical day, whether via family, friends or in a romantic sense. As if those dreamy beach scenes weren’t enough – there’s also a whole lotta warm, fuzzy vibes flying about…
Oman is another country that ranks as a great place to live abroad, according to foreigners based there. “Omanis are very hospitable to strangers,” Nizwa-based blogger Nicole Brewer tells the BBC. “With their strong Islamic background and belief, they love to help their neighbours or those in need, and will easily bring a stranger or new person into their home for coffee or dates or fruit.” Happily, this Arabian Peninsula state is also one of the sunniest places on earth, and is only just opening up as an adventure destination – get in now before the crowds descend.
A 2017 report by the World Economic Forum places charming Croatia as one of the world’s most tourist-friendly countries. This doesn’t mean hordes of visitors; rather it’s a reflection of how well visitors are catered for when they’re there. Croatia packs a punch when it comes to its hotel rooms and ATMs per capita, along with its environmental sustainability and natural resources (hello, Plitvice Lakes National Park). Add in island yoga and vineyard safaris, and it’s happy days all round.
In 2014, the World Economic Forum posed the question, “how welcome are foreign visitors in your country?” to people in 140 countries around the globe. The survey was intended to “measure the extent to which a country and society are open to tourism and foreign visitors”. Morocco emerged as one of the top ten most welcoming places next to the likes of New Zealand and Portugal.
“In our culture, it’s very special to take care of people and to welcome them, and to show them as much as you can of your country,” confirms Flash Pack’s Morocco guide, Issmail Bizzou.
When content agency Big 7 Travel grilled its 1.5million members on the friendliest cities in the world, the Canadian city of Vancouver hit the top spot. Travellers to this West Coast metropolis hail the “extraordinarily friendly residents” along with “an amazing multicultural community who band together to make visitors feel welcome and safe at all times”. Montreal also made the top 50 edit, thanks to the friendly locals who “are always on hand to recommend a hidden gem to eat or drink.”
Perhaps because of this affableness, Canada was also classed as the world’s most trustworthy country in a poll earlier this year. And another survey places it in the top ten of the world’s most friendly countries; 81% of foreigners based in the country are struck by the welcoming attitude of residents.
With a population of just 320,000, Iceland may be a small nation; but it’s also a super-friendly one. In anecdotal evidence of traveller responses on the website Quora in 2016, Iceland was consistently ranked as a welcoming place. “By far the friendliest place I’ve ever been is Iceland,” reads one typical response. “Everyone seemed really happy to have us there. People were excited to tell us about the country and the history.”
It must help that Icelanders are an opened-minded lot: a separate study by expat site MoveHub found Iceland to be the most liberal nation on earth, with the smallest gender pay gap and record levels of personal freedom.
Data confirms the wideheld perception that the USA is a very friendly place. Revisiting the Sociable Cities study by Hostelworld, we can see that no less than four US cities make the cut – the most of any one country in the top 20. Chicago, Boston, New York City and Baltimore all make it into the list of most outgoing hubs, as told by 12,000 residents in 28 countries.
Results show those living in New York City eat out on 89 occasions a year (the most of any city globally), closely trailed by Chicago residents. Meanwhile those in Boston see their friends a sociable three times a week. These cities, along with Baltimore, are the places where openness and connection reign supreme.
Global bank HSBC grilled over 18,000 people living abroad on their favourite places to be – with Vietnam landing a place in the top ten. Those based in the country say it’s easy to integrate with locals, who in turn make them feel secure and welcome. Plus, you know you’re in a good country when past-times include breakfast phở and Abba karaoke. How could you not make friends?
Friendliness is something that goes hand-in-hand with being considerate and concerned for your fellow beings. It’s a quality that the Dutch have nailed, with the 2019 Best Countries report singling it out as the nation that cares most about human rights. The Netherlands outranked several other famously altruistic countries, including Norway, Canada and Sweden, to lead the list.
Egalitarian values lie at the core of Dutch society; equality for all is the founding part of its Constitution. And a strong commitment to human rights is a natural byproduct of this mindset. “Us Dutchies hold the firm belief that everyone has the freedom of choice and lifestyle – as long as they don’t harm anyone else with it,” confirms writer Arwen Kok.
Photos: Shutterstock, Laurent Perren, Toa Heftiba, Juan ignacio Tapia on Unsplash