If you’re off traveling and are suddenly crippled by a horrific attack of Campylobacter jejuni after eating some under-cooked chicken, would you prefer to be treated by a Doctor — who, you know, has an understanding of the germ theory of disease — or have raw pig’s blood slathered on your face by a man who has never washed his hands?
I mean, I like “local color”, too, but I also like people who know how to build school-houses and hospitals, and who don’t believe that their neighbor can make their “cattle fly off into a vortex of clouds”.
(Turns out pig’s blood can also be used to ward off Thai witches and Cambodian cattle rustlers, as well as cure every sort of disease in Laos.)
The truth is, the inhabitants of rural areas — most particularly in the Third World, though this is true of parts of Europe as well — are not lovely repositories of authentic culture.
(To be fair: while I suppose being slathered in pig’s blood is ‘authentic’ in the basic sense that it is what they would do to one of their own, that isn’t an argument for trying it, nor for enjoying it.)
In fact, the further you get from the cities, the more viciously backwards with respect to medicine, hygiene and hospitality the people get…and, eventually, you reach places where the word ‘culture’ is completely inapplicable, and your life is seriously in danger.
Give me Allopathic Medicine, hot water, Das Pergamonmuseum and a nice chèvre en brioche, any day.
None for you, though, because you think that “cities all over the world are pretty homogenized”.
Ugh…not even someone who checked into the nearest Hilton as soon as they arrived in every city they ever visited could be so deluded!
Within a hundred miles of Paris alone there are fifty unique cultures, and a few dozen argots. The same could be said for Barcelona, Glasgow, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Florence…
They all include nice clean beds, and clean food, too!
(Anyway, if you’d like to try to argue that there is no ‘culture’ in Paris or Barcelona…or that they are ‘homogeneous’…well…)
The essay you just read is a response to a popular article I wrote called How To Travel The World For Free.
In the article, I advised broke travelers to stick to rural areas instead of cities. Perhaps I went too far when I wrote the following in the discussion that followed my original post:
In my experience, culture is best preserved and practiced in rural areas. In this globalized age, cities all over the world are pretty homogenized – especially wealthy downtowns.
Sure, there are museums and restaurants, but real, living, vibrant culture – the blend of traditions unique to place – is best preserved in the countryside, away from corrupting influence.
The essay above, one of several smartly written rebukes, was a comment from “Jordan”.
Jordan, if you’re out there, thanks for making your voice heard.
Here’s a lyrical essay about a pig slaughter in Nicaragua by Teresa, a contributing editor her at the Matador Network.