Tips for American Tourists in Pakistan

If you’re an American thinking of traveling to Pakistan, perhaps I can help steer you in the right direction, because I recently returned from that amazing country myself. Don’t believe all the media hysteria. People there are amazingly kind and welcoming. But before you go, remember the following travel tips:

1st, Try to learn a few basic words and phrases of Urdu (the primary language spoken there). The locals will deeply appreciate your attempt to talk in their language, even if it’s just to say hello, thank you, or “Where is the nearest McDonalds?”

2nd, Remember you’re a guest in their culture. Show respect for their traditions.

3rd, You might not want to wear your favorite “HEY, HEY, USA – WE’RE NUMBER 1” t-shirt. Our two governments are not big fans of each other at the moment. And if you’re a woman, cover your arms and legs. They don’t need to see your Batman Forever tramp stamp or, for that matter, the tattoo that reads “Jesus Saves.”

4th, No beer keg parties in your hotel room. Pakistan, like most Muslim nations, is a dry country. Alcohol is forbidden by their religion. But Mountain Dew soft drink is not, I’m relieved to report!

5th, And perhaps most importantly, whatever you do, do NOT bring me along with you on your trip. You’re liable to end up in jail, or worse yet, have to sit through a three-day cricket match (their national sport).

Let me back up. When I told people I was going to travel to Pakistan – by myself, sans my wife or at part of a tour – the reactions from just about everyone I told ranged from “Seriously? Pakistan? By yourself? Are you insane?” to “Pakistan? By yourself? Are you insane? Seriously, are you insane?”

No, I’m not insane. And I had a wonderful time. But I have to say, I did screw up a few times. The reason I went to a country that few American tourists frequent is because of two young Pakistani friends I have come to know over the past three years. Let’s call them Hafiz and Hammad… because well, that’s their names.

Back in 2020, I discovered Hafiz while doing an internet search for a video editor. I was about to start my YouTube channel of VFTB video commentaries. I knew how to record my videos, but I needed help editing, adding background images, inserting photos, captions and sound effects. Hafiz offered these services, and I’ve been working with him ever since.

After a few months, we started creating educational videos in a series called Across the World in which each week we would record myself and Hafiz’s good friend Hammad, discussing various topics from sports to courtship & marriage to our nations’ historic ties to and rebellions from Great Britain. Our goal was to educate Americans about Pakistani culture and vice versa. In the process of all this collaboration, I became good friends with both of these very smart and extremely kind young men. Over time, we forged sort of an Uncle-Nephews kind of bond.

So, in November 2023, I flew from Seattle to Istanbul, changed planes, and flew from there to Lahore, Pakistan in a span of 23 hours. Lahore is a city of more than 12 million people. All this to see my friends in person for the first time. Neither one of them has ever left Pakistan. I cannot say enough about the remarkable warmth, kindness, and patience displayed by the two of them, and every other Pakistani I met.

Oh sure, I had to deal with a Muslim culture very different from my own mostly Christian world back home. I had to navigate my way in cities where most of the people barely spoke English. But keep this in mind: They had to put up with a 68-year-old American humor writer with the maturity of a 17-year-old, who could barely speak a word of Urdu, and who travels around the world with a stuffed animal teddy bear named Grumpy and tries to hug everybody. So, if you ask me, they had the much greater burden to bear.

I read a fair amount about Pakistan’s culture and history before I arrived. But still, I committed more than my share of cultural faux pas. Let me list just a few of them.

Improper Hugging: I’m a hugger. Guess what? Pakistanis are not – unless you’re a family member or a very close friend. But I hug everybody. Here’s a useful tip to tuck away. If you’re an American man, visiting the home of a Pakistani family, DO NOT HUG THE WIFE. Just trust me on this. You might as well try to give them a French kiss on the mouth. It’s way too forward.

Language mistakes: You don’t have to learn a lot of words. Here is a phrase I used over and over: “Meera Nam Tim Hai.” It means “My name is Tim.”  I also found the following phrase came in extremely handy: “Maaf Kee Ji Ye, which loosely translates to “Excuse me if I offended you. I’m an American tourist, and I’m an idiot.”

But whichever words you memorize, make sure you pronounce them correctly. A very useful word to learn is Alhamdulilah, pronounced “AL-Ham-Du-LEE-Lah.” It loosely means, “I’m good” or more literally, “By God’s grace, I’m good.” However, apparently, I kept pronouncing it “Al-Ham-Du-LOO-Lah.” I don’t know what that errant pronunciation means, but my embarrassed host explained it is essentially an Urdu curse word that should never be uttered.

At one point, I attempted to ask someone for directions, but my words came out so badly mangled in Urdu that apparently I had asked, “Please, may I eat your cat for breakfast?” After that, I pretty much stuck to Hello, Thank You, and Check Please. 

Walking in bare feet: When you enter someone’s home, you must take off your shoes. The souls of shoes are considered unsanitary. That said, I found myself walking down the hallway of my hotel in my bare feet and was (politely) stopped by a hotel clerk reminding me (very nicely) that I needed to wear footwear. He immediately provided me with comfy sandals for my feet. I wonder if next time I walked down the hallway stark naked he might provide me with a cool Pakistani man’s outfit. Probably not. Forget I even mentioned the idea.

Despite my periodic stumbles, everyone was very gracious and patient. The Pakistani people I met were the nicest people I have ever met, kind to a fault. The only thing I would criticize about their country is their somewhat embarrassingly lax airport security. How else to explain the fact an American humor writer and his teddy bear Grumpy were permitted entry into the country? Just saying.

For more of Tim Jones’ humor go HERE

Check out Tim Jones’ new YouTube channel, View from the Bleachers.

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