Welcome, have a nice day…but I loathe you


Are we so angry that London is overrun by young Arab men this time of year, squirting their bling-bling hypercars up and down Park Lane? Well, of course it’s because these glitzy tourists have more money than us, have a different culture and so we don’t understand them….Does that sound familiar? Think a bit next time you go somewhere remote on holiday as to how you behave and be thankful most locals treat you with such patience and respect! They must feel just the same as many Londoners do now and yet smile when they see you, not grit their teeth!

It is so easy to cause offense without thinking, even in cultures of similar backgrounds to our own.

I once waited in line at Le Louvre, when in front of me stood an elderly American couple. He was wearing trousers with checks big enough to play chess on and she had hair dye the colour of condemned veal.

"Can you tell us where the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa are?" they asked the ticket lady without attempting a single word in French.

Obviously a frequently asked question, the girl pulled out a map and tracing the path they needed to take explained:

"You go up the staircase to the Greek section, there is the Winged Victory then turn right….through the lobby on to the Roman section to see The Venus de Milo….then come back to the staircase and go two floors to the greats masters…. turn left, turn right, walk the entire corridor to finally get to a small room….et voilá, the Mona Lisa."

"Gee Harry, " said the exasperated women, "why don’t these French just put ‘em all in one room. Be much simpler."

And you wonder why you don’t always feel the love of your host country.

...and another thing

Part of the joy of travel is experience. Yes, we all like luxury or familiarity from time to time but travel should never mean dropping into a homogenous environment of the Ritz Carlton in Bangkok or the Hilton in Paris (dropping into Paris Hilton for a Bang Kok however is something else…)

How can you say you have been to Fiji if all you have done is stay in a hermetically sealed hotel environment for two weeks? The nearest experience to local culture, apart from your breakfast yoghurt, is a tribal dance carried out one night under torchlight by your waiter, two chambermaids and the pool boy. Go to the market, eat local food at the roadside and buy something made by craftsmen that you cannot buy with a credit card, find at the airport or any Disney theme park.

...and another thing

Food. I admit crushed toad fritters or Aardvark pancakes may prove challenging but in my experience such local delicacies are usually provided as a quiet laugh by the locals at gullible tourists’ expense. The real diversity usually comes in the preparation not the ingredients. Asian food has beef, pork chicken, prawns, vegetables same as us. However the difference in the length of time it takes to prepare is unbelievable. It’s simply a reflection on the amount of time and labour that was available when that cuisine was created. Yeah you might get the odd chicken foot in Taiwan or in Korea….a novel take on a hot dog, but on the whole we all eat the same stuff; just put together differently. Diversity of culture is best experienced like most things, fresh and in situ. So try it, leave the hotel, go to a street café, have some buffalo instead of the buffet, skip listening to Michael Bublé and smoke a hubbly bubbly ……or even try a hookah (and leave the other kind behind in the hotel).

...and another thing

There are four cardinal rules in sending postcards:

  • 1)No Instagrams, snaps or digital anything. Choose a card, write by hand and buy a stamp. Give some money to the economy,

  • 2) Whatever is on the cover you have to have eaten, seen or done,

  • 3) You have to send them on the day you buy them,

  • and

  • 4)Write something excruciatingly embarrassing – ‘Hope your piles are better’, ‘Has the increased dose of Viagra having any effect’, etc as every postman reads them!

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  1. Paola says:

    Can’t wait to go on holiday & send you a lovely postcard…

  2. Peter says:

    Good stuff. I shall keep it all in mind for my next trip to Magaluf!!

  3. Len Wright says:

    Never mind the Arabs, somebody I know let his girlfriend drive his “hypercar” down Park Lane and ended up parked in The Dorchester lobby!

  4. Chris says:

    As a Brit with Jamaican heritage (Born in Northampton, England) I when to Jamaica for the first time on a family holiday and went native, its was spot the white man time. Years later I went to the Bahamas and this time we stayed at an hermetically sealed resort and it was spot the black man who was not staff. No comparison. In the former I really got to experience the culture and authenticity of the place and the people, but in the later I could have well been at any resort by the ocean. It’s good to be reminded to get out of the bubble and decide that if we’re going to fly thousands of miles to experience something new, we should actually try and experience more than a change of Hotel design and menu. Familiarity breeds ignorance.

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