So I’ve been in Mexico City for a week, and will be here for at least seven or eight more, something I haven’t written about, because, well, why should I have anything interesting to say about Mexico City? I just got here and I don’t know anybody. Ideally this will change. I spent a large portion of that week listening to people with more interesting things to say at Postopolis!DF in between bouts of delicious food.
As a conscientious traveler, I took advantage of the concerns of my government and read the State Department Travel Advisory for Mexico. It’s a terrifying and salacious document, full of narco-terror, resort rape, taxi kidnappings, prison torture, natural disasters, rehab cons and killer hotel pools. Nothing like the State Department to make a country seem like a land of corruption, violence, and crime, as if American news media didn’t already do that enough.
Of course, the tables can be turned, since foreign ministries issue their own travel reports about the good ol’ U.S. of A. These reveal as much, if not more, about the country issuing the warnings, a fascinating look at cultural norms. A friend forwarded me the travel advisory from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the U.S. — a Google-translated synopsis follows below.
First of all is the obligatory warning about terrorist attacks, with a helpful link to the terror alert system, which apparently still exists.
With that out of the way, the ministry takes care to outline the particular neighborhoods to avoid in major U.S. cities. Specifically, the ones where black and hispanic people live. And helpful maps!
- “Boston traffic on foot and at night should be avoided in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury.”
- “Do not go alone in Harlem, the Bronx and Central Park at night.” Not sure how Brooklyn didn’t get a shout out here.
- “Washington: avoid areas northeast and southeast, and the bus station and train station ‘Union Station’ at night.” Apparently the French haven’t been alerted to the district’s newest nightlife branding effort. There’s even a shuttle so you can avoid the prolish bus system! Well, it’s probably better to declare half the city off-limits at night. Don’t forget, “The Anacostia neighborhood is not recommended day and night,” so the French will have to forgo Nation of Islam bean pies on their visit.
- “Philadelphia: avoid frequent the northern districts except group.”
- “Baltimore is considered a dangerous city except downtown.”
- “Chicago: avoid the West Side and south of the city after 59th Street.” This was a sop for Hyde Park, so feel free to explore the wonderlands of State and 35th!
- Some of the sharpest words are reserved for our most French of cities. “New Orleans: do away from tourist areas that are the old square (French Quarter) or the Garden District, including that day. At nightfall, walk out, whatever the area, including Garden District would take a risk statistically significant (with the exception of the busiestcentral streets of the old square). Also, do not walk around with bags or equipment visible value (cameras), even in broad daylight in the busiest areas. Do not hesitate to take a taxi, even for a short distance. … In general, it should always be on guard, not to stop when you are arrested, not to resist in case of aggression or racketeering: possession of weapons at an attacker is common.”
- “Los Angeles: Large areas should be avoided in particular neighborhoods east, south and south-east as Watts, Inglewood and Florence.” I have no idea why tourists would go to these places, unless their itinerary has been shaped by Dr. Dre songs. But better to exercise caution.
After that embarassing show and the cursory warnings of natural disasters, we move on to some rather interesting cultural differences.
- “Medical infrastructure is excellent, but expensive. There is no social security agreement covering the health insurance between our two countries. In an emergency, an ambulance only provides a priority upon arrival in the emergency department of the hospital (conditional admission to a financial guarantee).” Yes, other countries warn their citizens of our fucked-up health care system!
- As in any good militarized nation, “Americans are generally very respectful of the law, respect is expected of tourists who are required to comply strictly with the regulations.” And don’t forget that in a police state, your ass could be beaten for any suspected insubordination: “In case of contact with the police, it is imperative that we do not raise your voice, make no sudden movements or aggressive and not make false statements.” Ne me taze pas, l’homme!
- And then of course the legendary romantic inclinations of the French must be attenuated to: “Remarks, attitudes or jokes, harmless in the Latin countries, can lead to court. Complaints of sexual harassment may also be filed against the minors.” And a good note to end on: “Having or attempting to have sex with a minor constitutes a crime punishable by law. The law severely punishes all forms of use, encouragement, persuasion or coercion of minors in the production and dissemination of explicit sexual images, using traditional or electronic.” Sometimes we find out a little bit more than we expected!
I haven’t spent any time looking up other nations’ travel advisories, but I can only hope they are as revealing and entertaining as these.