Other Things To Do

Tourists are often made to feel that they should seek out what is 'authentic'. This is nonsense. Nobody even seems to know what 'authentic' actually means (although I suspect that it has something to do with wearing amusing hats).

The concept of authenticity has largely been appropriated as yet another way to persuade gullible tourists to part with their hard earned cash. If you really want to get to know a country, you would be better off doing what the locals would like to do, rather than visiting pointless tourist attractions, boring museums and tedious 'cultural events'. You wouldn't spend your time at home taking photos of plaques, looking through coin collections, or applauding Morris dancing, so why should you subject yourself to their equivalents while abroad?

Here are some examples of the kind of things that you really ought to be doing:

Check out the Supermarkets
According to guide books and dull travel articles, markets are always bustling and colourful, and abundant in beautifully handmade arts and crafts. In truth, most third world markets are mainly full of cheaply Chinese manufactured tat. You could wander around all day and still not find a single thing that you would actually want to buy. Supermarkets, on the other hand, are genuinely overflowing with thoughtfully displayed desirables, and unlike in stuffy museums, you are allowed to eat the exhibits. The food on display also has the distinct advantage of being hygienically packaged. You can wander up and down the aisles for ages, picking out interesting looking products, and sampling them in the car park. You might even find something new that you like.

Watch the Television
Far more is likely to be revealed about the true culture of a country through its television programmes than through its opera, ballet or performance art. Admittedly most of the television that you will find yourself being subjected to, is rubbish, but that doesn't mean that it can't be entertaining in small doses. Third World pop videos can be particularly amusing (some of the dance routines on Ethiopian MTV are hilarious).

Attend Local Sporting Events
I'm not normally a big fan of sport but visiting local sporting events in developing countries can be a great way to meet the locals. It really doesn't matter if the standard isn't particularly high; why should it matter to me if somebody else could run a bit faster or kick a bit harder? In fact, enthusiastic but amateurish team sports can often be far more entertaining when played with less professionalism. Just by turning up and taking an interest, you will often be genuinely welcomed into a different culture.

Pose for a Professional Photo Shoot
Having professional quality studio photos taken in developed countries can be prohibitively expensive. Why not get them done cheaply in developing countries, where the equipment is usually just as good, and the photographers just as skilled? I recently had a professional photo shoot in Ethiopia for only a few pounds. As it was cheap, even by local standards, all the local kids seemed to be queuing up in their coolest clobber, to receive glossy studio portraits. After an extensive and varied photo shoot, my likenesses were even treated to extensive and skilled post-production. Unfortunately even the skilled photography and Photoshop manipulation couldn't disguise the fact that I am now far too ugly.

Attend Local Rock Concerts
Why would you want to be subjected to po-faced renditions of 'traditional' music when you could head out to some real gigs? Although rock and metal aren't big in most of sub-Saharan Africa (with the exception of South Africa), a love of noisy rock music will quickly ingratiate you with the local youth in many parts of the developing world. Rock and Metal are huge in Latin America and most of the Far, Near and Middle East. Even in countries, such as Iran, where rock concerts have been banned in some regions, the best of contemporary rock will still manage to find its way to the true lovers of music. As a genuinely positive international force, rock music really can bring people from very different backgrounds together, with the highest of all purposes in mind - to rock!


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