I have just got back from one of the most interesting holidays ever, driving through Romania in the company of a friend who lives there.

Before we left however, whoever I mentioned the holiday to had the same reaction; a cloud crossed over their faces and they told me to be careful. Everyone associated Romania with danger, squalor and unprincipled people. How sad that is, especially given the reality that I found in that beautiful country. Romania today is a country that is changing, developing and redefining itself. The people I met, both in Bucharest while walking around ( I could not get my map out without someone coming up to ask if they could help) and also the friends and family of the person who was showing us around, were warm, welcoming and dignified. The parks were beautifully kept with numerous play-areas for children, gym equipment to work out on and bikes to ride around the lovely lakes on, all free for the enjoyment of everyone. The countryside of mountains and valleys was gorgeous, the busy towns were bustling with activity and the Romanians were justly proud of their history.

So, where does this prejudice come from. I am not immune myself. I confess that I did not expect to like the country or enjoy the holiday. I imagined that Transylvania would be beautiful but thought the rest would be a disappointment. I was very glad to be proved wrong and have spent many days pondering why we form such negative impressions of people and places we have never seen.

One reason, without doubt, is the media. We are bombarded with images, headlines and news reports that shout at us about murders, drunken drivers and robberies. The all important tag-words attached to these reports are; Romanian, Polish, Indian etc. So even those of us lucky enough to have travelled a bit can become effected by the derisory tone used, whereas people who have not lived any other reality than their own “safe” country can be encouraged into a kind of jingoistic fervour.

When I gave birth to my son I shared a room in the hospital with a sweet lady from Iran and after we often had dinner with her and her husband and our babies played happily together. My godmother is Irish and married to a man of Jamaican decent with the most contagious laugh and generous spirit you could hope to encounter. My uncle was in Burma during the war and came home with a love and respect for the Burmese people and way of life. I could go on indefinitely but what I wanted to point out was that once you actually meet people from another country; talk to them, meet their children or their grandmothers, share food and laughter with them; the fear inside melts away and with it goes the intolerance.