So I’ve been wanting to write about this for the longest time, but since it’s a very sensitive topic, it’s taken me a while to put it together. Today, I’m going to talk about the kinds of discrimination you will very likely have to face at some point in your travels. It’s pretty much inevitable so, as promised, I also want to portray the dark sides of seeing the world.
Now you might think what forms of discrimination could a white girl from an industrial country possibly encounter? Well, there you have it already. I’m a 20-year-old girl. And on a hot day, I will no doubt dress accordingly and wear shorts or a dress. I also have no issue going places and doing things by myself, but when it comes to traveling certain parts of the world or even just a specific area of a major city (of course everything in life is a risk, something might as well happen to you just a block away from your home, but it’s safe to say that traveling does increase the chances), you hear the same things over and over and over again: If you’re female (!), avoid these areas, don’t go places by yourself at night, travel in a group, the list goes on and on.
Probably every single woman reading this has experienced catcalling at least once in their life, and it makes me sad that we live in a world where that’s an okay thing for men to do, when the other way around, nobody would ever think to do it. Because it’s simply not okay to do it to anyone. If you’ve ever been to South America, for example, you can probably relate to this on every level. At home, I have occasionally experienced catcalling, but compared to being in Bolivia, it was nothing. After a couple of months, I eventually got used to it (because what can you even do about it, especially if you’re a guest in another country and grateful to get to be there) and didn’t even really notice it anymore, but I’m sure those of you who have been there can agree that one of the first words you’ll pick up as a non-Spanish speaker will be “gringo” (yes, for a change also men are being called out) or “gringuita” and so on.
Speaking of Latin America, have you ever heard of a “fee for foreigners”, for “extranjeros”? Yeah, I hadn’t either, but it’s a thing. The first time I came across it, I was on a trip to Sucre, Bolivia, and we were going to the famous Parque Cretácico. None of us had heard about it before and one of my friends was extremely upset by it and tried to negotiate a better price for us (technically we had a sort of temporary resident status and were working/ volunteering there and not just tourists), but there was no way. Usually it’s only maybe five bolivianos (less than 1€/ about $1) more than the regular entry fee and I do get where they’re coming from (as most extranjeros are from rich industrial countries), so I’m willing to pay a couple bucks more to someone who tries to provide for their family on an extremely low Bolivian salary. One time I did get very upset it about it too though, which was when we drove out two hours in the most uncomfortable vehicle on dirt roads to Tiwanaku, a Pre-Colombian archeological site. Regular entry fee: 15 Bs. – yes, that’s totally reasonable. Extranjeros: 100 Bs. – wait, what?! We could not believe our eyes, and the only reason we didn’t turn back, was because we had already come all the way out there and there was literally nothing else to do. In the end, we barely had enough cash left (yeah, we didn’t learn from our mistake right away, this actually happened the day after we got back from Rurrenabaque for those who have read the first part of this series) for a ride back to La Paz and we did not at all think the price was justified for the experience that we got. (Although this is beside the point for this post, I’d just like to point out here that many guide books etc. praise Tiwanaku as one of Bolivia’s must-sees, but in my opinion (and those of a bunch of friends who have gone there as well), it is not really worth it. The landscape of the altiplano is stunning, but we were very underwhelmed by the actual historic site.) Anyway, for the most part I really understand the reasoning behind it in a country like Bolivia, but it’s definitely something to get used to.
But even during my first long stay in the US, I experienced some (very mild!) forms of discrimination because of my nationality. I would have people simply disregard certain aspects of my personality, just because they were different from theirs, by calling them by the F-word (as I like to call it): foreign. A phrase I would hear almost on a daily basis was: “Well, that’s because you’re foreign.” Simply because I strongly dislike tomatoes and do therefore not like ketchup, that’s got nothing to do with me being “foreign”. That’s because I cannot stand tomatoes like thousands of other people on this planet. So no, foreign is not an adequate adjective to describe my personality but yes, it does offend me when that’s all people can see anymore once they hear that I’m apparently merely “foreign” and nothing else but that. It may not sound like a big deal to everyone, but I really struggled with it until I voiced to people that it was bothering and offending me.
Obviously everyone has different experiences, I’m merely giving an example from my personal observations and I absolutely love the two countries mentioned and consider them a home. They simply served me well as an example as I have spent an extended amount of time there and have a good idea about it. There is another story which actually inspired me to write about this topic, but I’m saving that for the next post to keep it more general for now. I cannot mention enough that I in no way want to talk bad about anyone or anything or generalize my personal observations, I simply want to share some impressions to try and paint a full picture for you.
You’re very welcome to share your own experiences in the comments or message me about anything! Fee.
Juger, c’est ne comprend pas. Si on comprend, on ne juge pas.