What Do Guidebooks Say About America?
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 06.04.12 | 1:57 PM ET
The Atlantic’s Max Fisher dug through several USA guidebooks to get a sense of what they’re telling the world. The results? He found a heavy emphasis on politics, food and dining customs, and punctuality, punctuality, punctuality.
I especially liked his observations about the complications of U.S. utensil etiquette:
You might say that global food cultures tend to fall into one of two categories: utensil cultures and finger cultures. The U.S., somewhat unusually, has both: the appropriate delivery method can vary between cuisines, and even between dishes, and it’s far from obvious which is which. Baked chicken is a fork food, but fried chicken a finger food, depending on how it’s fried. If you get fried pieces of potato, it’s a finger food, unless the potato retains some circular shape, in which case use your fork. And so on. Confused yet?
Fisher also notes that the books illustrate the expectations and habits of many outsiders as clearly as they do Americans:
In many ways, the tour books say as much about the world as they do about the U.S., by highlighting the ways in which American practices and standards deviate. Anyone who’s traveled widely, particularly in the developing world, will understand why these books are so emphatic about, for example, punctuality, personal space, and the unreliability of our trains.
Indeed. (Via Frank Bures)