The tourist trade is booming. With all this coming and going, you’d expect greater understanding to develop between the nations of the world. Not a bit of it! Superb systems of communication by air, sea and land make it possible for us to visit each other’s countries at a moderate cost. What was once the ‘grand tour’, reserved for only the very rich, is now within everybody’s grasp. The package tour and chartered flights are not to be sneered at. Modern travelers enjoy a level of comfort which the lords and ladies on grand tours in the old days couldn’t have dreamed of. But what’s the sense of this mass exchange of populations if the nations of the world remain basically ignorant of each other?
Many tourist organizations are directly responsible for this state of affairs. They deliberately set out to protect their clients from too much contact with the local population. The modern tourist leads cosseted, sheltered life. He lives at international hotels, where he eats his international food and sips his international drink while he gazes at the natives from a distance. Conducted tours to places of interest are carefully censored. The tourist is allowed to see only what the organizers want him to see and no more. A strict schedule makes it impossible for the tourist to wander off on his own; and anyway, language is always a barrier, so he is only too happy to be protected in this way. At its very worst, this leads to a new and hideous kind of colonization. The summer quarters of the inhabitants of the cite universities: are temporarily re-established on the island of Corfu. Blackpoll is recreated at Torremolinos where the traveler goes not to eat paella, but fish and chips.
The sad thing about this situation is that it leads to the persistence of national stereotypes. We don’t see the people of other nations as they really are, but as we have been brought up to believe they are. You can test this for yourself. Take five nationalities, say, French, German, English, American and Italian. Now in your mind, match them with these five adjectives: musical, amorous, cold, pedantic, native. Far from providing us with any insight into the national characteristics of the peoples just mentioned, these adjectives actually act as barriers. So when you set out on your travels, the only characteristics you notice are those which confirm your preconceptions. You come away with the highly unoriginal and inaccurate impression that, say, ‘Anglo-saxons are hypoCRItes’ or that ‘Latin peoples shout a lot’. You only have to make a few foreign friends to understand how absurd and harmful national stereotypes are. But how can you make foreign friends when the tourist trade does its best to prevent you?
Carried to an extreme, stereotypes can be positively dangerous. Wild generalizations stir up racial hatred and blind u to the basic fact—how trite it sounds!