Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Other Countries Don't Play That

Otto Frederick Warmbier, a 21-year-old American student
Once again a young American faces consequences for misbehavior in a foreign country most likely driven by the thoughts that (a) I won't get caught and (b) even if I do get caught, I will be dealt with in the same manner as if I were in the United States (Miranda Rights, fair trial, jury of my peers, etc. etc. etc.) only to learn that the systems and the penalties in other countries are much different and harsher.

21-year-old Otto Frederick Warmbier is accused of allegedly  trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel while visiting North Korea. The sign was written in Korean, so I can't fathom what Mr. Warmbier intended to do with it had he gotten away with it. Some would say a school boy prank or perhaps Mr. Warmbier wanted a souvenir.

The first problem I have with this story is the fact that we as Americans were already warned not to visit North Korea for myriad reasons, yet Mr. Warmbier chose to disregard the caution and visited the country anyway. As if that were not bad enough, he goes there and allegedly tries to steal a poster which this act in the U.S. would have been probably viewed as an act of vandalism and not necessarily a big deal. A misdemeanor such as this in the U.S. probably would have garnered a mere slap on the wrist or maybe a fine and some community service. At best, a verbal tongue lashing from a judge. But in North Korea, that act cost Mr. Warmbier fifteen years of hard labor in a North Korean facility.

In 1994, when Mr. Warmbier was probably still in the womb, another youngster Michael P. Fay, an 18-year-old high school student from Ohio who was attending the Singapore American School, thought it would be fun to spray-paint cars and deface property over a ten day period of time. For his days of fun, Fay was sentenced to four months in prison and six strokes from a four-foot-long, six-inch-wide rattan cane. The saga became known as The caning of Michael Fay. Even the intervention of then President Bill Clinton did not overturn the punishment.

Americans need to think about culture before traveling because the world does not live by our American culture. The world does not operate under the same rules of law and protocols that we do in United States. Learning about the culture you are traveling to is one of the first rules of traveling internationally.  For example blowing your nose in public in Japan is considered rude; showing the sole of your shoe is an insult in the Arab culture; In China, avoid personal contact with people and the opposite sex should never touch in public; Lastly, right hands have been cut off at the wrist as punishment for theft in Sharia-controlled areas of Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia.

We must know before we board that plane or cruise ship that other countries are not as tolerating of even the smallest of what they consider criminal activity as we are in the United States. As that old saying goes, "Think BEFORE you act."  Something to critically think about.

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