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Correspondents Rate the Highs and Lows of Foreign Reporting

January 01, 1991

Foreign correspondents aren't like other people.

When they travel, they're far more concerned with the quality of the telephones than with the variety of the shopping. Availability of fast food and reliable room service often counts more than three-star restaurants. They're sensitive to bureaucracy, not basilicas. And they tend to judge a country exciting based on its potential for political upheaval, not the quality of the entertainment available.

World Report asked 29 Times correspondents a series of questions in mid-December about the likelihood of certain major news developments in 1991 and about how, using those peculiar yardsticks, they rank the foreign outposts in which they have worked. Some of those questions can be found on H1 (the answers to those questions appear in the box accompanying this article). The rest of the questions--and their responses:

1. What's the dullest place you've ever reported from?

Canada got four votes. The United States and the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway) tied for second with two mentions each. Other nominees among the 21 places mentioned were Austria, Macao, Mongolia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

The most exciting?

The Soviet Union and Germany, with three votes apiece, were the top vote-getters among the 21 countries mentioned.

Comments: (On the Philippines) "Even the scoundrels are fun people."

2. What's the most difficult country to work in?

India, Iran, Romania and the Soviet Union tied with three mentions apiece. Other vote-getters among the 16 countries mentioned were Angola, Chad, Haiti and Libya.

Comments: "India . . . It's huge, it's hot, nothing works, and you're usually writing for Page 25."

"North Korea--no country can be more difficult to work in than one that cannot be entered."

The easiest country to work in?

Britain and the United States tied for first with four votes. Germany got three. Other nominees among the 18 countries mentioned were Hong Kong, Israel, Japan and the Philippines.

Comments: "Easiest: Britain -- they speak our language. Most difficult: all the others that don't."

"Norway . . . Everybody knows everybody. You interview three people (who are waiting for your call ) and you've got the breadth of national opinion. The phones work, the food's great, the airlines fly, they speak English, they smile. The government delivered an English-language press summary to my hotel room each morning, to which they thoughtfully added the World Series scores in case I'd missed them on VOA."

3. Which country has the worst telephone system?

India was tops with four votes. Among the 21 countries mentioned were Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, North Korea, Romania and the Soviet Union.

Comments: "India . . . It struggles at the best of times, then collapses totally during the monsoon because the lines aren't waterproofed."

"They all seem bad when you're on deadline."

The best?

The United States got seven votes. France was next with four votes. Other vote-getters among the 14 countries mentioned were Chile, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

4. What's the most dangerous country you've reported from?

Lebanon was the hands-down winner with seven mentions. El Salvador and the United States got four votes each among 18 countries mentioned.

Comments: "The west side of Chicago at night is no place for the likes of me."

5. What is the world's most intractable dispute?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a landslide with 14 mentions. Eritrea, Kashmir and Northern Ireland tied for second with two mentions each.

6. What is the world's most impenetrable country?

China, India and Japan tied for first with three mentions apiece. Among the 20 countries mentioned were Britain, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Guatemala, Indonesia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Suriname.

Comments: "Japan--even the Japanese can't agree on what the essence of the country is, and debate the issue continuously."

"It's got to be Britain--the English language conceals how singular this little island really is."

7. What world capital has the worst airport?

The Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa with four mentions was the top vote-getter. Among the 16 other capitals mentioned were Kabul, Managua, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Tehran, Tirana and Tokyo.

Comments: "Kabul -- reached by a gut-wrenching corkscrew dive to dodge U.S. taxpayer-supplied Stinger missiles (and no duty-free shop once you're there)."

"Bonn -- ther e is none. It's 30 minutes away in Cologne."

The best?

London (Heathrow), Singapore and Vienna were tied for tops with three votes each among 15 capitals mentioned.

8. In what country is it the most difficult to find fast food?

The Soviet Union was the top vote-getter among 17 countries mentioned with six votes. Other nominees included Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Iraq and North Korea.

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