19 September 2009

Going native in the Tourist Culture

Tiny confession: That first night in Vienna, when I was feeling exhausted and coming down with a cold, and headed out into the city in hopes that Discovery and Childlike Wonder At Each New Sight and Spirit of Adventure would be my cure . . . I did not go to an authentic Austrian restaurant, as Arthur would have wanted. I did not discover at that moment that I love Germanic food but just haven't been giving it a shot.

That would be overdetermined and overdramatic and completely false.

Oh, I put in the effort. I examined the menus at several such restaurants and realized that in spite of the personal growth and growing confidence, Germanic food still scares the jeebers out of me. Culinarily speaking, I'm still a coward.

Instead, I opted to go native for the Tourist Culture. Yeah, Tourist Culture--there is one. It's a diverse society that encompasses people of all ethnicities, but only when they're away from home. They--er, we--go to the same places (Eiffel Tower, Venice), eat the same foods (kebabs, pizza), have the same rituals ("Scusi, could you ... photo, me, take? Por favor?"), the same native dress (cargo shorts, walking shoes).

It is indeed a unique culture, but one to which we belong only temporarily. It's a culture of transience and halfway points, located somewhere between our actual, native cultures and those in which we have booked ourselves for a stay and a look-see.

So I went to the Tourist Culture native hang-out: an Irish Pub (run by guys from England).

Much has been written elsewhere about the rise of the Irish pub around the world. World Hum had a great summary when it included the pubs among its signs of a Shrinking Planet; read it here. See also this Slate article about the company responsible for the phenomenon.  It's called--wait for it--the Irish Pub Company, and it's as formulaic as McDonald's. When I stepped off the plane in Copenhagen, the first restaurant I saw was a place called O'Leary's. I've seen more in every city. They really are everywhere.

For my dinner, I ordered, from the English bartender in that Irish pub in Vienna, the most authentic of German--er, Irish--er, Tourist Culture meals: nachos. It seemed appropriate.

They weren't very good. Which also seemed appropriate.

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