Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Authenticity in Travel

Last night, I had a conversation with a Saudi student about travel. He made the common complaint (as advisor to the International Student Cultural Organization, I hear it at least once per week) that he is disappointed to be in Troy, and would prefer to be in Boston (it is always New York, LA, or Boston) because that is "the real America."

I've got to admit, I've always found this perspective puzzling. Oh, I understand why young people want to live in cities -- well, OK, I don't understand why they do, but I understand THAT they do -- but why do young people think that a) those cities are more authentically American than other places, and b) that those places are good places to travel?

I've spent a decent amount of time living and travelling abroad. Every time I travel, I find myself trying to escape from the capital city, especially in search of authenticity. When I lived in Korea, after my contract in Pusan was up I looked for a job in any other place except Seoul. When I lived in Lithuania, I made only two trips from Klaipeda to Vilnius -- one to go to the consulate, and one to pick someone up at the airport. When I was in Guatemala last, I was very irritated at every day spent in Guatemala City, and impatient with every day spent in Antigua.

It has always struck me as ridiculous and stupid for people to go abroad and immediately rush straight toward their ethnic ghetto. I had a colleague in Korea who absolutely had to live just outside the military base, because it was more "American." My response -- why not go back to America? It would be even more American!

Not me ... next time I'm abroad, send me to some small town in the middle of the boondocks. I don't know whether such places are more "authentic" or not, but surely authenticity doesn't reside in the city with the highest concentration of TGIFridays.


  1. Anonymous1:02 PM

    As a resident and native of a captial city, I say PAH!

    CAPITALS rule OK.

  2. Anonymous1:03 PM

    By which I mean: 'Pshaw'

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