Beware of the polar bears in near Ny-Alesund, Norway. They might attack you.
I read a news report that said the U.S. Department of State warned Americans that polar bears were a serious threat to a traveler’s safety in Norway and I thought it had to be an exaggeration. However, I foolishly looked up the state department’s travel information for Norway and it turns out I was wrong.
The American government really does want us to be wary of polar bears.
We tell people to be on alert for a lot of unusual things when we issue travel advice. Usually, it’s based on the fact that customs vary from one nation to the next and what might be acceptable behavior here is not considered OK in another land.
ABC News has done articles pointing out the absurd things that can be found in travel warnings issued to Americans who are about to head oversees and to foreigners who are about to come here.
My favorite might be Germany’s warnings about America. Apparently they think we don’t like naked people. Apparently they’ve never seen an episode of “NYPD Blue.”
I jest, of course, but it got me wondering what our government warns Americans about foreign countries. I didn’t want to read the full ABC report on this topic, because I wanted to be surprised when I saw it for myself on the state department’s website.
We warn Americans to be wary of hanging out in discos where lots of Americans hang out. Now, there are two things to point out here.
The first is that Americans are being warned to be cautious about hanging out at discos. I know the term “disco” is used more loosely in Europe that in America, but I find it humorous that we’re warning people to avoid hanging out in something that sounds like a relic of the 1970s.
The second is that Americans are warned to be cautious about hanging out around other Americans. Apparently we’re our own worst enemies in Germany.
It continues by warning Americans about the threat of “hooligans, most often drunken skinheads” who “have been known to harass or even attack people whom they believe to be foreigners or members of rival groups.”
OK, are we warning people about the dangers of traveling to Germany or Alabama?
It’s also illegal to attempt to take items that glorify Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich or the Nazi Party out of Germany. So if you were hoping to buy a “I Heart Hitler” poster while you’re in Berlin, you can just forget about it.
Of course, the federal government has strange warnings about other countries as well. Take France as an example. Americans are warned that soccer matches can be dangerous.
You all know soccer. It’s that game that, in America, is mainly popular among suburban families that own SUVs. Apparently it’s dangerous to attend a game in France because they have “occasionally degenerated into violence that continued into the streets.”
Now, the only Americans who are likely to attend a soccer match overseas are major soccer fans and they are probably already aware of the sport’s reputation for having rowdy fans in Europe. It’s actually what makes the sport fun.
Here’s a quick run through of some other noted threats.
In the Netherlands, it is illegal for a foreigner to visit a “coffee shop” because a “coffee shop” is a licensed place that sells illegal drugs. Only the locals are allowed to use forbidden drugs.
It may seem like a cruel stereotype, but Americans are warned that organized crime — in other words, the mob — is a major threat in Italy.
In the United Kingdom, it’s illegal to carry mace, pepper spray or pocket knives.
It’s illegal under U.S. law to import whale meat from Iceland.
And speaking of Iceland, it’s apparently one big geological booger bear filled with glaciers, volcanic craters, lava fields, ice caves, hot springs, boiling mud pots, geysers, waterfalls and glacial rivers. The state department warns Americans that 600-700 people have to be rescued from the Icelandic countryside each year because of the environment.
And yet I still feel like the biggest threat in Iceland is Bjork’s fashion choices, especially if you’re a swan.
Curt Yeomans is the senior reporter for the Clayton News Daily and an avid traveler. He can be reached at 770-478-5753, ext. 224, via Email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CYeomansCND.