Once you start trotting the globe as a travel writer, you’ll find that locals are always eager to talk to you. They’ll want to know what you REALLY think of their country…its people…the food…the culture. Should you tell the truth and risk causing offense – or should you smile and lie?
No question about what I do – I lie all the time!
“Yes, Mexican food is delicious.”
(Come off it! Those refried beans look as enticing as a Scotsman’s vomit. And why pay money to eat nachos when you can eat cardboard for free?)
“I’m finding Scottish culture fascinating.”
(Saturday night in Edinburgh is truly fascinating. Nutters with bloodstained bandages around their heads trying to chat you up on the bus. Happy drunks vomiting up what looks suspiciously like refried beans. Unhappy American tourists vomiting up their haggis-and-neep (turnip) suppers. Never encountered haggis? I’m not surprised. The civilized world doesn’t boil up innards in a sheep’s stomach for six hours and then try to pass it off as “traditional food.”)
“Yes, your country is very beautiful.”
(If you ignore the rats, the beggars, the drunks and the streams of ordure cascading down the gutters. Pick whatever hellhole seems appropriate – I know plenty of countries that fit the bill.)
“Of course I’ll be coming to the hotel’s Malaysian Drum Extravaganza tonight.”
(No I won’t. Within the next couple of hours, I’ll have suddenly developed dengue fever/bubonic plague/leprosy. If I have to sit through one more hokey performance of dancers waving handkerchiefs and men banging bongo drums, I’ll go bonkers. Absolutely stark staring bonkers.)
“Yes, Thai food is really delicious.”
(Maybe it is if you’re some maniac who enjoys the sensation of your throat getting blitzed with a blowtorch. Wonder where the nearest Burger King is?)
“Many thanks. I see my VIP press pass includes tickets to an Estonian art-house film. Great!”
(Art-house films…in Estonian? Does this daft tourist office woman think I look suicidal or something? No chance – I’m off to play blackjack at Tallinn’s casino. If she asks if I enjoyed the film, I’ll just make the dengue fever/bubonic plague/leprosy excuse again.)
“I love Greek food! We don’t get anything like this at home.”
(Thank God. Imagine lukewarm spinach. Bulging-eyed fish swimming in oil. Boring salads composed mostly of cucumber chunks that are big enough to choke a horse. Meat that tastes like chewing leather. After three days in Greece, you’ll kill for a proper juicy steak. And that applies even if you’re vegetarian.)
“Yes, the press tour of the cultural theme park sounds wonderful.”
(Heaven help me…I’d sooner crawl inside a nuclear reactor. More bloody bongo drums…more costumed women swaying about like zombies…and to top it all, the dubious delights of Asia in miniature. I’ll have to get lost going down to the lobby. Once the coach has left, I’ll have no option but to lounge around in a hammock beside the pool swigging gin slings…)
“You’re right, the people in Morocco are really friendly!”
(Indeed. The carpet-sellers have such an abundance of friendliness that they’ll physically drag you inside their shops. The touts and hawkers are really friendly too – they’ll follow you around for five hours non-stop. And some of the men are so friendly that they’ll pinch any foreign woman on the backside…)
“Er…yes. The swamp tour you arranged was very interesting.”
(Didn’t tell me about the leeches, the strangling vines or those bugs the size of saucers, did you? Just look at all my bites, you feckless idiot. Thanks to your wretched swamp tour, I’m probably going to need cosmetic surgery!)
But now you’ve endeared yourself to the natives, what about your readers? Don’t they deserve to know the unvarnished truth?
Don’t be silly. If you gave them the true warts-and-all picture, they’d never leave home. Ever.
Right at this moment, I’m putting the finishing touches to an article on Fort Lauderdale. (I was there to speak at a conference but seized the chance to grab a commission for a travel article.) But I doubt that readers will decide it’s vacation heaven if I say that on one day the ocean was actually “closed” because of pollution… or if I mention that the hotel I stayed in was a dump.
No, I’ll be concentrating on the water bus taxis, the shopping on Las Olas Boulevard, and alligator-spotting in the Everglades. Surely it won’t be my fault if any unsuspecting reader goes paddling in the ocean and comes out sprouting three-and-a-half heads…
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