Use Miles & Points to Fight Prejudice

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Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  – Mark Twain in the Innocents Abroad

I got home at 2:30 am yesterday from the Frequent Traveler University in New Jersey (more on that later) and had to wake up 3 hours later for work, so apologies for slacking off with the blog.  I’ll get to your comments and emails soon!

But I wanted to share one of the main delights of traveling – the ability to actually go to different places and see how people who you thought were different from you, are really quite similar to you.  Or to see how people who are stereotyped as behaving a certain way (for example, that the French or New Yorkers are rude) act in a completely different way than what is expected.

Pity for the lost traveler

As humans, we’re programmed to classify people and groups of people into “In” and “Out” groups.  We like the “In” groups who share the same interests as us or who look like us at the expense of the “Out” groups whom we dislike.

It’s very easy for us to think in terms of “us” versus “them.”

For example, fans of rival sports teams and colleges demonstrate this usually benign behavior.  We look at folks in the “Homeland” as good and look at folks foreign to us as bad.  And we can be manipulated fairly easily into ghastly behavior by playing to this sense of “In” groups (noble and strong) and “Out” groups (the enemy who is different from us).

But as humans we almost always have the same human nature, and once you scratch the surface, we act the same way and are usually motivated by the same end goals regardless of where we are.

In a previous post, wise Million Mile Secrets readers shared what they love most about traveling.  JFA wrote “I love traveling as it reinforces the fact all of us are much more alike more than not.

And Sara A wrote “I love traveling because it makes me a more open minded accepting person… to see different people in different places living different lives that ultimately aren’t so different at all. What a fun adventure!

New Jersey

“The armpit of America” my boss said as I told him I was leaving for New Jersey.  The popular media would have you believe that New Jersey is filled with foul mouthed, short tempered, drama queens.

My experience was completely different.  Sure, the traffic was heavy, but the people were great!

At Newark airport, I had a checked bag, a back-pack, a carry-on stroller bag, and a long cardboard box with the Million Mile Secrets posters and stands.  Of course, I couldn’t carry them all, and was stumbling along the way to the rental car counter.  “Let me get that” said one gentleman, as he helped carry the unwieldy cardboard box.  This was a completely unexpected, but very welcome gesture.

It took me 1 hour 30 minutes to make the 15 minute ride from the Newark airport to my hotel because I missed the exits a few times (three to be exact, if you must know).  This was WITH a GPS unit.

The second time I missed my exit, I went through the same toll lane which I had used before.  The lady at the booth recognized me and asked me where I was going.  She then told me how to get to the hotel.  But I must have looked confused, because she then wrote down directions to the hotel and gave them to me.

On Sunday, after dinner with the witty Rapid Travel Chai (more on that later too!), I was backing the rental car out of the parking spot, when the car to the right reversed down the street to let me out.  “Oh, he must be after the parking slot,” I thought.  But no, it was a genuine act of kindness, because the car followed me down the street and across the intersection and made no attempt to claim my parking slot.

Bottom Line:  Miles and points can do more than just get you to places.  They help you realize that human nature hasn’t really changed over the years, and that we’re way more similar than dissimilar.  They help you dispel myths about other people and cultures and realize that we’re all in this together.

We have nothing to lose when we travel, but our prejudice.

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23 responses to “Use Miles & Points to Fight Prejudice

  1. Chinese proverb says people are born nice

    Great you had met good people.

    I don’t know NJ
    But I know NY has subway sys, how about NJ?

  2. I’ll just say this: The Parisians specifically and to a much lesser degree are stereotyped as rude because of the culture. I say this based on having a wife both fluent in the language and with a graduate level French education. 🙂

    I’ll also say that I have nothing against NJ except for the fact I can’t fill my own friggin’ gas tank. I have the same issue with Oregon – otherwise I absolutely love the city of PDX. Never been to NJ other than to drive through so can’t comment on the people of Newark, or Secaucus, or Cherry Hill or anywhere else.

  3. Daraius, a delight to spend time with you and Emily.

    Mark, NJ has an extensive rail network of commuter trains and light rail lines runs by New Jersey Transit. Prices are not cheap, though and it is confusing to follow the schedules and lines as they are geared toward rush hours. There is also the PATH train which runs between NYC (Herald Square and World Trade Center) and NJ, operates like a subway and runs 24 hours (with huge gaps in the wee hours) but is clean, comfortable and cheap, accepting payment from their own card and the NYC MTA MetroCard. There are great hotels on the water with stunning views of Manhattan at Exchange Place, Newport and Hoboken stops. Check out the Hyatt Exchange Place for starters, out in the water on a pier, breathtaking. Good weekend rates for most as they are primarily business hotels.

  4. AlwaysTravel

    Darius,
    It was so nice meeting you and Emily at FTU this weekend! And learning how to correctly pronounce your name. I’ll help make sure the other bloggers get it right next time…! Your post today is very refreshing. I was born and raised in NJ, and I can’t tell you how often I find myself feeling defensive about it! People constantly make negative comments about it (such as your boss) even when they have never been there. And as I mentioned Saturday night on the way to dinner, most of the bad reputation comes from stereotypes that are actually about NYC or Philly. (Not that those are any better.) I am so happy to hear about your multiple positive experiences this weekend with the locals. It’s true, people in the Northeast are not always openly friendly like they are in the South or Midwest. But I think you hone in on a great point that once you scratch the surface, most of us are more similar than we think. I agree that travel, especially travel out of one’s comfort zone, is the best way to shrink prejudices.

  5. I completely love and support your point. And yet, it pains me to admit that the only two places my wife and I have been to in the last 3 years (since we’ve been serious about travel) that we found unpleasant were both in New Jersey: Trenton and Newark. Oh well, some stereotypes exist for a reason

  6. FYI, once you leave the EWR area, New Jersey is beautiful. Head west or south to the interior part of the state.

    As for those darn New Yorkers (me), if you asked 10 of us for directions, 9 would be able to offer them, and one would take you to your destination. We may have a gruff exterior, but inside, we’re like putty!

  7. Steve Schwartz

    Wonderful post Daraius – there’s a reason your following has grown so quickly!

    Funny story in terms of Parisians. My wife was a French teacher years ago so when we go there, she handles the conversations and questions. After asking for directions multiple times and only receiving “Hello” in response, we realized that Parisians have certain expectations of courtesy and will call you on it if you deviate from their norm. Every single interaction went much better when they began with “Bon jour”!

  8. D, Don’t feel bad about the driving. That is one of the most confusing group of roads in the country. Missing a turn or ramp can mean a long semi impossible turn around. I’ve been in NJ my whole life and still have to pay attention to the signs when leaving the airport. Most people in NJ are pretty cool. It’s the dry or even brash whit and way of talking that can be off putting or even insulting to people from more “polite” areas.

  9. @E
    LOL!! Yes, I am also born and raised in Jersey. I think that is a part of the issue…we are a sarcastic, dry witted group (at least up in North Jersey where I am from) and I think it may come across as rude and foul mouthed to people who grew up in more “polite” areas. Remember we are also one of the most populated states by size which adds to the confusion and traffic congestion. I can see how it can be overwhelming to someone who didn’t grow up here. And I have gone through the turnpike tolls by EWR multiple times and on more than one trip there as well. Those turns can be killer!

    @James
    You cannot base your opinion of NJ on Newark and Trenton. I love Newark because I was born there and lived there until junior high, but it is very urban and fast-paced. Trenton is our state capital and is in the same boat as Newark…urban and fast-paced. Venture into different, more suburban areas and you will have a totally different outcome!

    @D
    I am so happy you had a great experience in my home state! I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else. We have great people (please, please do not go by the reality shows you see on tv-that’s not how we are at all!), great transport systems, a major airport hub and I live 25 minutes outside of NYC (give or take a few minutes with traffic). Oh, and the food is pretty good too!

  10. New to your site and loving it. I’m glad you had a great experience here in NJ. We are NOT what reality TV makes us out to be (ok, maybe 1% of us is)! And the Turnpike really does suck and is also not representative of roads in NJ. 🙂

  11. Born and raised in NJ but have mixed feelings about the state. It’s nice having mega shopping malls in almost every town, the shore not too far away, and the cities (NYC, Philly) not too far away either.

  12. Daraius (as I type, I am going over the pronunciation I learned from Emily’s video you posted recently), thank you for this wonderful post. I read Rapid Travel Chai’s post about your dinner together before reading your post. I have not had the pleasure of meeting you three in person, but have been fortunate enough to exchange emails with you and Stefan. I believe that your willingness to help others selflessly is the very reason why you experience kindness all around you.

    We humans are over 99% the same genetically. Allow me to share something that drew me into a hidden gem during my recent trip to DC. It is a quote by Kahlil Gibran at his DC memorial:

    “I love you, my brother, whoever you are, whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple or pray in your mosque. You and I are children of one faith, fingers of the loving hand of one supreme being, a hand extended to all.”

    We all shall strive to be the change we wish to see in the world.

  13. So what’s worse? NJ highways or downtown Chicago roads – a la the three levels of Wacker Drive?

  14. My husband and I were in Paris 7 years ago celebrating our 30th anniversary. We were using the local transit system to get around. My husband has a high school knowledge of French and I know maybe 5 words. There were signs up at the bus stops letting riders know about a strike planned to protest the Olympic Committee visit. Several other riders realizing that we were not French and had no idea what the posters said made sure to explain what was going on so we would not find ourselves stranded. We found the French people to be very helpful and polite. Of course we also had to accept that the no smoking section of a restaurant was whichever area that no one was currently smoking and subject to change at any time.

  15. Nothing to lose….except your luggage

  16. Have always found the prejudice about the Parisians a bid strange. My impression of ALL big cities is that they are full of people who have a lot on in their lives and don’t easily interact with strangers.

    But having said that I have always found people (except in Russia and some fomer Eastern Blok states) very helpful when you try and engage. What noone likes is the expectation you will act like a tourguide. So be friendly and try to relate.

    In France I have found even a basic attempt to use French works wonders. no matter how basic your French may be, yes a simple “Bon Jour, parlais vous Angais” works wonders.

    On the otherhand, treating people like servants and not making an attempt to relate with them (e.g. assuming they speak English and if they don’t thinking speakly loadly will change it) never seems to go down well.

  17. This is a great topic. I moved from Vancouver to Houston 5 years ago. One of the first things my friends from back home asked was “Doooo peeeople talllllk liiiike thaaaay’is down there?”…. No, not at all. In fact 99% of people in Houston have no idea that I didn’t grow up in Texas.

    Our company recently had some expansion stuff going on and as a result we had people from all over the country fly in to help us out for a few weeks with extra staffing. One of the gents was from Brooklyn and had the classic “no R” New York accent. His voice stuck out like a sore thumb. But he was so nice that we were friends within 5 minutes of working with each other.

  18. Just got back from France. Love the buildings and the staff at Park Hyatt. Other than that, sadly, I have to say the French are mostly rude. And the CDG staff particularly useless as they failed to allow me the use of a lounge when my onward Business ticket allowed me to. Rude and useless.

  19. Bonds: That’s too bad that you think French people are mostly rude. Did you even try to speak some French?

    I find the stereotype about Parisians being rude to be completely untrue, so long as, like some other posters allude to, you at least attempt to speak some French and follow their cultural expectations on polite behavior. I have had Parisians walk me to the metro station I was seeking; I’ve been given free little gifts, once a bar of soap at a perfume house, and little macarons to taste in pastry shops. I have never once in the multiple trips (totalling more than a month spent there) experienced a French person treating me poorly. But I’ve told many people who were planning to travel there, that I’m convinced that’s because I start every conversation with a polite “Bonjour, Monsieur / Madame” … followed up with a “Je suis desolee – je parle un peu le francais, mais pas bien. Parlez-vous anglais?”

  20. I tend to believe that stereotypes are more true than people give them credit for, but it’s very unpopular to run around spouting them as fact (even though you’d probably be right more often than not).

    Anyway, in this case, I also would have a hard time basing my opinion of a place based on a TV show, particularly one as idiotic as Jersey Shore. Also, I think at least half the cast members on Jersey Shore are from various cities in New York, so if anything, it’d seem to be more a reflection on New York than New Jersey.

    That said, I think I’d prefer the FTU be in a more central, New York location next year 🙂 A lot of us ended up going out to NY anyway…

  21. Regardless of the actual people living there, after having been there, I would still call New Jersey (or at least Northern New Jersey) the armpit of America. It is swamp afterall, and the terrain is not real interesting in my opinion.
    And sure, there may be nice people there, but I have known plenty of disgruntled folks who have spent a majority of their lives in New Jersey.

  22. Not that I am prejudiced–I meant some alright people there, and suppose you can have disgruntled folks anywhere.

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