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)

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

5 Comments for What Do Guidebooks Say About America?

Doug Mack 06.05.12 | 12:52 AM ET

Great idea for a magazine article (kicking myself for not writing it!). Guidebooks are really a fascinating window into cultural studies in a specific time and place. To read a (to pick a, um, totally hypothetical example ...) 1960s guidebook *for* Americans *going to* Europe is to gain insight into (a) American culture, (b) European culture, and (c) how Americans viewed Europeans era, and to see both the optimism of postwar boom times and the underlying turmoil of Cold War fears.

SusciAyers 06.06.12 | 9:43 PM ET

Actually, guidebooks are really a source of information. If you are a traveler, you will eventually know on what to expect in a certain place. If you are a writer, you will gain bunch of information to write before arriving in the place. Reading them would already bring you to the place where you haven’t visited.


Deird ONeil 06.16.12 | 3:33 AM ET

Yeah , Guidebooks are really a source of information.They provide you all the possible & best help you would actually need. If you are a traveler you should have proper Guidebooks.

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laura 07.06.12 | 7:09 AM ET

Love Guidebooks! They are really a source of information, and provide you all the best possible advice and help you might actually need. Always use them ;) on the other had notebooks and i phones do help a lot nowadays as well :P if you are lucky to have one of them you might want o look at some great websites, such as http://www.touramerica.ie/ ... it has so many descriptions about different destinations. Great source of information :)

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