Why do we think that other countries are better than ours?

travel

It all started when I first listened to Taylor Swift’s new song Welcome to New York.

She romanticizes the feeling that she got when she first came to New York, the city of bright lights and bustling people.

I mean I’ve never been to New York so I guess I don’t have much to go from there other than Hollywood movies and Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind.

taylor swift new york

But it made me wonder why Taylor is so quick to praise this other-worldly place, and how we’re so quick to do the same ourselves.

If I ever meet anyone from France, or Vietnam, or Norway, or even New Zealand, I’m filled with this sense of awe, and think of how lucky that person must be. I put myself in their shoes for a moment, and imagine how my life is like if I grew up there, or studied there, or worked there.

But here’s the thing: the other person does the exact same thing.

They reminisce about Singapore, whether they’ve been there or just seen pictures, and they talk about how it must be like to live and eat and shop there.

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We are constantly fascinated by the idea of travel, and we have this romantic notions of tourism and living somewhere else. People from Singapore are fascinated when I tell them I study in Australia. And people in Australia are fascinated that I come from Singapore.

It’s this sense of otherness that they have not experienced before, and they absolutely love it.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, but the weirder bit is when people get embarrassed or awkward of their own homeland.

I met a filmmaker in Singapore who is from New York a year back. He came to Singapore as a student in the New York Tisch School of the Arts (the ill-fated school that no longer exists in Singapore, but that’s another story).

After finding out that he’s from America, I asked him the one question he always gets: why come to tiny Singapore when he’s from America, the huge land of opportunities?

staten island

He wanted a change of scenery. And he got embarrassed when I kept asking about his hometown in Staten Island (one part of New York City) and said that he got so bored of it and the same places that he kept going to.

Instead, he much preferred to walk around Singapore, and talk about Singapore. To him, Singapore was a completely new world and he loved it, and his own homeland didn’t really feel that way.

I meet people in Melbourne who sort of feel the same way. They get embarrassed to say that they’re from Melbourne, and then proceed to talk about how much they want to go work in London, or travel to Cambodia, or study in the USA.

What is it about “the otherness” that we humans find so utterly fascinating?

Is our own country so dull that we can’t stand it? If that’s so, then why would someone else want to come to our country? Why is someone else imagining at this very moment, that they’re us?

paris

When we talk about our own country, we’re immediately drawn into saying something we don’t like about our country, whether it’s corruption, or cleanliness, or lack of funding in the arts sector.

It could be something lighthearted like laughing about Singapore’s chewing gum ban. Or it could be an outright complain about how our ministers are corrupt and there’s only one ruling party who’s so utterly ridiculously incompetent (this doesn’t reflect my personal views about said party).

Why are we so quick to put our own country down while praising other’s?

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Maybe it’s because we’ve spent our formative years in one country, our first 15 to 20 years of our lives in one particular country. And this is enough time to make us pine for somewhere else.

That time has shaped our lives, but also our ideas that our country is too boring. We’re waiting for something new, something better, something different.

We think that there’s far more beyond our shores, which is true in a sense. But we’ve developed something called the ‘cultural cringe‘, where we think that our own culture is inferior to other people’s cultures. We gaze at the geishas’ painted faces and kimonos, we dance to the beat of Brazil’s Mardi Gras, we reminisce the Renaissance period in Rome. 

rome

We like them, we admire them, we wish we were a part of them. And sometimes that translates over to us not liking our own culture, or thinking its less colourful, less fun, less vibrant. 

While waiting at a gym once, I watched a mother and her son and daughter come out from gymnastics. And for a minute, I put myself in their shoes. Going for evening sports classes, running out without a coat even though it’s Winter outside because the car’s just nearby anyway, driving home to a house house, with two storeys and a picket fence and a dog. 

I’ve never lived in a house before. I’ve never lived anywhere that’s lower than 5 storeys high. I can’t imagine what it’s like. But I’ve always tried. I always have this romanticized notion that it’ll be wonderful (even though it probably won’t, with the lizards and roaches and fear of someone climbing in through the window). It’s this sense of otherness that I’ve never experienced. 

In my head, it’s romantic.

house and dog

We’re filled with this desire to experience more, we’re waiting to relish in something new. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But sometimes we’re waiting so long that we’ve forgotten to look at what we already have.

– Fari Wu

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26 comments on “Why do we think that other countries are better than ours?
  1. I guess we always see the bad side when we’re inside… But… Everywhere we goes, there’s good and bad.. It’s just the matter on how we see things..

  2. Good piece of article ! Well I will say that why we think grass is greener on the other side but it is a normal human nature.
    We always want a change from the daily routine and same goes for the place too and nothing wrong in it as with new places, new people we learn something new about the place, about the culture And make some beautiful memories.
    travelling to a new place always bring some kind of enthusiasm and energy in me so I kind of like visitING new countries.

  3. One thing I can tell you for sure is that most Canadians, the land I love, do not put down their country. We have a great pride for the True North and are quick to defend it. I do think that people love to romanticize other places when they travel and this is just so they can change up the routine of their normal lives.

  4. I suppose many people are attracted to the unknown. The grass always seem greener on the other side, right? There’s no one perfect country and I believe that wherever we are, we should always appreciate that we have roofs over our heads and can live peacefully in it. Even some of those who live in war-striker countries, refuse to leave their hometown. Home is where family is. Wanderlust, as the name suggest, is just a lust. An urge to try something new, to visit someplace foreign. Thank you for writing this post – you really helped me appreciate what we have in Singapore.

  5. Why are we so quick to put our own country down while praising other’s? Exactly my sentiments. There may be a few things we don’t like about our own country, but surely, we can name some good things too.

  6. Nice, I never thought of it that way. I’m not much into travel, maybe that’s why other countries don’t impress me much. I’m already contented with where I am now. Been to Africa, some parts of Asia and North America, that was for 2 years. But when I got back to my home land, I just couldn’t imagine leaving again unless it’s for Israel. That is a whole different matter, the promise land. To be honest, my passport has been expired for 2 years now, and I don’t have the urge to renew it yet, since I don’t have plans to leave the country I’m pretty grateful to be living in pretty soon. 🙂

  7. It is of general fact that every time we read and see from the pictures or television or from any social media of a certain place being promoted and all that of good things about the place is well presented we are carried away and fascinated. But for me, there is no place like home. – Gil Camporazo

  8. I guess it varies from one person to another. In my case, I’ve had my share of wanting to live in another country, but now that I’ve been to other countries I cannot imagine myself living elsewhere ( except for Japan ) … for now. I guess at my age now wherein I’m almost established, it would be very challenging to make that big of a move. No matter how corrupt my country’s government is and despite that we get at least 20+ typhoons each year, my country is still the place that I consider home.

  9. Grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. But once you have been there for some time, you always long to go back home. – Fred

  10. That’s the beauty of travelling. One can see the good and bad side of the place. Australia is a great place to see so is Singapore. BTW I’ve been to Singapore and planning to have a second visit there.

  11. As I traveled more I began to love my country more. It is not because my country is better or what, the simple thing is that I was born here, my family, friends, roots and history are here. A place call home, even it is not as good as outside but its my nest.

  12. I feel you. Singapore’s a pretty great place overall IMO. However I still envy friends from the European cities every once in a while and wish I could stay there permanently. Possibly becos I spent one of my best period of life when studying in Europe (Netherlands). If I were to really work and stay in Europe for good, I may start missing Singapore instead. The grass is always greener on the other side.

  13. As they say, the grass always seems greener on the other side. 🙂

    This is actually a reason why I’d love to travel more. I’ve thought of trying to live in another country, but since it won’t be possible at the moment, traveling and seeing other cultures is enough. 🙂

  14. Interesting thoughts babe. I have always loved travel, but home. To me, it’s Singapore. I have never quite wanted to leave – I really appreciate what we have here. Much as I want to explore the world and see all it offers, no, I don’t wanna leave permanently. Maybe this is call rooted ness, maybe it comes with age and having a family 🙂

  15. I like your last sentence. People tend to forget what they already have. But it’s also not many people have the luxury of travelling overseas to study or even stay for a period of time. Travelling open up our horizon and expose us to more stuff! I love Singapore and love talking about Singapore to people, but I also love going to other country and survive there myself.

  16. Wherever we are in the world, there is always the mentality of the grass being greener on the other side. I guess this applies to everyone, even those who came from successful countries.

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