I couldn’t help but wonder…had this vacation become our own crisis in the Middle East?
The HBO show and titular movie Sex and the City taught viewers about the single life in New York City, female friendship, and thanks to the movie’s sequel, how not to travel. While the show revolved around four single 30-somethings living in the Big Apple, Sex and the City 2 followed their journey from the MTA and bodegas to the luxurious city of Abu Dhabi. Upon their arrival, Samantha gets her menopause medication confiscated, Charlotte struggles to contact her husband who she fears has the hots for their nanny, and Carrie wonders if she and Big are growing apart. The movie rides on Samantha being Samantha in a culture where her outward sexuality is not always accepted and Carrie running into ex-boyfriend Aidan. Miranda is here but brings no emotional baggage; she’s more or less along for the ride. Their trip goes all sorts of wrong as the women encounter a new culture, new standards, and fan-favorite exes.
While the sequel has always been poorly received, I suggest we dig deeper than how Carrie handled a TV in the bedroom (was cheating the appropriate response? Probably not), and instead look towards the poor travel behavior exemplified, and at times glorified, by the four starlets.
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Here’s the invaluable travel advice we learned from Sex and the City 2, based on all the mistakes the characters made.
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Some Research Is Required
Ah, Miranda. Where would this group be without her? The correct answer: lost in Abu Dhabi. She researched the destination, made an itinerary, and began learning the language before they left so that she would be able to navigate this new city. Everyone else flew in with not a single Arabic word in their vocabulary (or in a convenient pocket dictionary). The lesson to be learned here is that if you are not traveling with your own Miranda, you might need to work on emulating some of her traits yourself. Proper research on the country, the politics, what there is to see and do, as well as learning a few key phrases for directions or a bathroom will be incredibly useful, no matter where you’re traveling. Our favorite Type A might get belittled by her more “relaxed” friends (not caring isn’t cool) but had she up and left, they would have been helpless (and Samantha jailed).
Somehow, they all managed to overpack while still not having a thing they needed. Let’s break their mistakes down. One: four suitcases for a week-long trip is far too many. Watching the women struggle to carry all of their baggage with them after being asked to leave the hotel made me rethink my habit of overpacking, and hopefully, it will help you rethink yours. Two: if you have any interest in excursions that are not walking around or dinners out, pack for them. Sex and the City’s characters have seemingly no cap on the amount they can spend, but for the average traveler, buying a new outfit or gear for each day’s activity might end up breaking the bank.
Keep Your Passport Close
Is it not everyone’s nightmare to be in a foreign country, passport nowhere to be found? This happens to Carrie who, in seeing an ex far from home, becomes so shocked that she leaves her passport in Abu Dhabi’s spice market. This sort of run-in probably will not happen to any of us, but accidentally misplacing a passport is more than possible–whether that be somewhere in the hotel room or on the floor of the place where you accidentally knocked your purse over. To avoid this entire situation, utilize the safe in your hotel room. Make a photocopy of your passport to carry with you or snap a picture to keep on your phone and tuck the real thing away until it is absolutely needed again. Keeping it there will never leave you wondering where in the world it could be.
Respect (It’s Not Difficult, and Yet Neither the Characters Nor the Movie Itself Were Capable)
Let’s be honest, there is a lot wrong with the second movie (I implore you to look at its Rotten Tomatoes score), but something many viewers found unsettling was the lack of respect our characters had for their vacation destination. From poking fun at other women’s religious clothing to an overall ignorance of standard dress codes and behavior, these women pushed the boundaries until they were, to an incredibly satisfying end, asked to leave the hotel.
While our characters were booted from the resort, the movie was booted from Abu Dhabi. According to the LA Times, writer and director Michael King wanted to film in Dubai for its money and extravagance but was denied permission from the nation. King’s second choice, Abu Dhabi, also said no after reading the script, so the crew headed for Morocco. While the writer says that the movie was “too progressive” for the nation, it could also be that the country found many of the jabs pointed at their citizens and culture insulting (this movie is very “Western culture or bust”). Despite Abu Dhabi denying their filming request, the writer went ahead and kept that as the location, because wealthy white women criticizing a culture far different from their own, and one in which they had little understanding of was, apparently, what he had in mind. What he thought would be a powerful statement was instead rightfully received as incredibly insulting, and the movie will now go down in history as such. Learn from the characters and the writer and enter a new nation with an open mind, understanding, compassion, and simply, respect; you are the one choosing to vacation there, after all.
Leave American Exceptionalism at Home
A sense of Western superiority and lack of respect while abroad go hand-in-hand, and nobody is better at exemplifying these traits than the women of Sex and the City 2. Positioning themselves as better-than because of their American roots is perhaps their worst offense, and something we implore other travelers not to emulate.
Upon their arrival, the characters look down upon and pity nearly everyone they encounter who are not American or European (so, white). They believe that their ability to wear a bikini at the pool and shorts out in public makes them and their culture better. Rather than attempting to understand how the women in Abu Dhabi felt about societal expectations, they assumed it through their own American lens. This isn’t a case of “my food is tastier than yours” but instead “my livelihood is better and more valid than yours.” If their karaoke rendition of “I Am Woman” was not in-your-face enough, perhaps Carrie openly talking about how women’s religious clothing is meant to keep those individuals silent will make their bias clear.
This sense of superiority prevented the characters from making any meaningful friends or connections on this trip, and did not allow them to experience the country in an authentic way. Their bias and assumptions kept them from learning, and all they were able to take away from Abu Dhabi were some spices and t-shirts.