Garett Jones  

Bahrain Travelogue: Friendliest People on Earth?

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Last week I visited my GMU colleague Omar al-Ubaydli.  Omar now lives and works in Bahrain, a quick drive over the King Fahd Causeway from Saudi Arabia. 

A few of Omar's other friends from around the world joined in the visit so with scale effects working in our favor he kindly arranged two days of adventures for all of us. The much-appreciated tour (including a desert camp) was put together by IT blogger Saud Albuainain with help from some of his friends at YPS, an NGO he co-founded. Having a programmer, an MD, and other professionals as tour guides was something I could get used to. 

My friend Matt Devries came along and later wrote this on Facebook, reprinted with permission:

Thank you to Omar, our host, and to the people of Bahrain for the amazing warmth and hospitality...Garett and I drove from one end of Bahrain's islands to the other. We visited small towns and large. We went to grocery stores, malls, souks, neighborhoods, mosques, beaches, desert sites, and a tree. Everywhere we went we were meant with kindness and openness.

I completely agree.  Before the tours with Saud, Devries and I rented a car, drove everywhere, and experienced many kindnesses plus excellent food from small shops offering Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and many other cuisines plus fresh bread beyond imagining.  

Almost three years ago Tyler blogged a report claiming that Bahrainis are the friendliest people on earth.  Tyler had his doubts. 

I haven't visited enough countries to rule on the matter but of the roughly two dozen countries I've visited, countries with a variety of productivity levels, it's easily the friendliest (to tourists) in my sample.  

From this tourist's point of view: no shakedowns, no trickery, the ripoff culture is quite absent. 

Cavalier explanation, a version of which is commonly embraced by Bahrainis: It's been a nation of expatriates for centuries, people moving in and out, sometimes conquering sometimes trading, so getting along with people a little different from yourself is a skill that pays off.  

Adam Smith's pin factory--where the workers engage in diverse tasks--works better if people get along.  

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CATEGORIES: Economics and Culture

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Joe Cushing writes:

I thought every country I visited was friendly. Turkey stands out though. England, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Japan. I feel like it's worth mentioning Canada because their government treated me nicer than my own government treated me. My own government questioned the crap out of me, searched my truck, then questioned me about what was in my truck--papers for a real estate analyst internship. The Canadian government didn't treat me like a criminal.

Left Outside writes:

My Bayesian priors suggest having a programmer, an MD, and other professionals as tour guides maybe made your trip better than otherwise.

Maybe Bahrainis are nicer than other people, perhaps that means you should make a bigger deal of their repressive government than you otherwise might.

Ken B writes:

Re Joe Cushing. Yup. I'm Canadian and I recently got grilled and made to line up by armed US agents when I was *leaving* the USA. My Canuck friends all find the same thing: an adversarial attitude. I get bad reactions when I cannot hear the border guard's question and ask him to repeat it. Friends with Nexus cards get the treatment too, one was asked why she had one. Never a problem with the Canadian agents.

Silver writes:

1. I found Finnish people to be outstandingly friendly. (At first they sure didn't look friendly, but as soon as we started talking, they were all sunshine.)

2. Re your cavalier explanation: Wouldn't the fact that Bahrain has long been a land of transient foreigners argue against genuine friendliness and for rip-off behavior, etc.? After all, the less likely you are to meet a person again, the less incentive there is to cooperate instead of defecting.

Grieve Chelwa writes:


I am just wondering if your "roughly two dozen countries" also includes some African countries. I have met some very nice and friendly people in my travels through Africa. Nigeria, Kenya, Congo DRC and my own native Zambia easily come to mind. South Africans are also to some extent quite friendly but unlike the other African countries. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that South Africans were not taught much about the external world during the apartheid era and the blockades and sanctions also reduced the scope for interactions with people from the outside (somewhat like your Bahraini hypothesis).

The African countries notwithstanding, the most friendliest people on the planet in my opinion are Singaporeans. They are just a delight to speak with on their trains and will always go out of their way to help out a tourist who seems to have lost their way in the city-state. The explanation, here as well, seems to be a significant degree of interaction with outsiders in days gone by: For starters, Singapore has been for a longtime trading post that attracted lots of people from different parts of Asia and the world to its shores.

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