When people come back from a vacation, what do they always say?
If they went to Hawaii, then sure, they talk about the beaches. If they went to Switzerland, they talk about the skiing. If they went to Italy, they talk about the food.
But by far the most common refrain I hear from the recently-abroad, regardless of their destination, is: oh, the people were just fantastic. So nice and welcoming. Totally open to talk, and very curious about what life is like here.
Germans say it about Americans. Americans say it about the Japanese. I myself have said it about Cubans, Mexicans, Spaniards, and probably more. People even say it about places inside their own country. I just love the people out there in the Midwest.
My theory, then, is this: most people in most places are friendly to travelers most of the time.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s wise to wander aimlessly around whatever foreign country you please without regard for the possible consequences. But I do think that it means that if you’re somewhere you’ve never been before, you have a reasonably good chance of striking up an edifying and interesting conversation with someone around you. This is doubly true if you vacation in a place that normal people actually live. It’s possible to have edifying conversations at a resort in Cancún, but they’re probably just going to be with other Americans.
I don’t know what says more about humanity: that the above theory is true, or that people inevitably seem so surprised to have good interactions with the locals while traveling. It’s as if our default reaction is to assume the people at our destination are complete assholes, and we’re floored when they turn out not to be. Which doesn’t really make much sense, because who would want to travel anywhere that the people are accepted to be actively hostile?
Once you start assuming that the people around you could be as interested in you as you are in them, traveling becomes a lot less scary and a lot more interesting.