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The Clichés of European Travel

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

A great writer once said,

it is a cliché that most clichés are true, but like most clichés that cliché is untrue.

I mention this by way of underlining that while some travel experiences may not be novel or imaginative that does not necessarily reduce their meaning or significance to the traveller.

The first and most glaring cliché of European travel has to be Paris. The very name carries such a weight of expectation in the minds of visitors that bitter disappointment follows as often as rapt enchantment. The queues of drunken tourists outside the Moulin Rouge each night are a bleary and rowdy testament to the perils of success in tourist marketing. Similarly, each obnoxious waiter or superior hotel receptionist is a blot on the face of the very city they serve. But on the other hand, each visit to the city can reveal new layers of intrigue and delight. The romantic capital of the world did not get its reputation for no reason. A naive belief that the city is amour made real will lead to nothing but disappointment, but if visitors open their eyes a little wider they will most likely find exactly what they are looking for and, probably, a whole lot more.

Our second cliché is the belief that by sampling a ready supply of drugs travellers are tapping into some deeper meaning and will change the world. This is particularly evident both the on island of Ibiza and in the city of Amsterdam. In my opinion it is no more ‘wrong’ for an American student to experiment with pot in Amsterdam than it is for a wine connoisseur to tour France. However, when they fall into the belief that they are ‘joining the counter-culture and subverting the mainstream’ we have to draw the line. The pot is legal and the sixties are over, enjoy your high and be quiet. In the same way, the ravers down on Ibiza are enjoying themselves and feeling agreeably ‘loved-up’ but they are not going to ‘change the world through the power of love’ and in the morning will feel only like having a cup of tea and going to bed. These people need a dose of perspective more than anything else.

When Louis De Bernieres wrote Captain Correlli’s Mandolin I wonder if he realised the effect it would have on travel to the region in which it was set? Who can blame the hordes of would be lovers who descend on the Greek islands each year looking for the last sweet fling or the first fluttering heartbeats of love? Who are we to cheapen their dreams? They may not leap nimbly onto their scooters as they once did, or scramble up to moonlit balconies, but the middle age spread and thinning hair is just a disguise for the youthful passions within. When the visitors return home, pink, hung-over and happy the cliché will have been fulfilled like a mid-life destiny or menopausal kismet.

As far as I can tell the point of Oktoberfest is not just to drink a lot of beer, since that can be done at home. Nor is it to drink a lot of beer with other people who are drinking a lot of beer. It is, in fact, to drink a lot of beer surrounded by people in Lederhosen while listening to Oompah music. I suppose what makes the Oktoberfest such a cliché is the idolising of the beer. Ben Franklin’s saying that ‘beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy’ has clearly been taken to heart despite the fact that it is idiotic. If God loves us so much he wouldn’t have invented the hangover because, as it is, beer is in fact God’s joke at our expense, joy and happiness being directly linked to pain and suffering. Is this a metaphor for life? Perhaps, but it is a cliché none the less.

A literary fate has befallen Provence in a similar manner to the Greek Islands. It is difficult to know how a book of finely drawn characters and deft observational humour could have had such devastating consequences but Peter Mayle and his ‘A year in Provence’ has managed it. Yuppies, the bane of anyone with a meagre ration of intelligence, taste and good humour have descended on Provence like a herd of braying cattle. Children named Tarquin and Chardonnay run around smearing their organic yoghurt over every available surface, mangled French is bellowed at waiters and no-one notices as the prices spiral ever higher. Evidence of the plague is in the number of rustic farmhouses converted to gourmet family hotels, with parking for several Range-Rovers on the tarmac covered lawn. Unlike other examples on this list this is not a quaint or endearing curiosity, this is a cold and clinical cliché of materialism at rest. It’s ugly and it’s offensive but people need to be warned.

To point out a cliché should not (just) be an exercise in mockery. That destinations and experiences can become so popular suggests a quality that is worth investigating, even if that quality has become overstated through time. Through looking at what is popular, and why, we can focus on real quality and perhaps spot the ‘next big thing.’ Unfortunately of course that will soon become a cliché of its own and so the cycle continues.

Photo of Euroepan flag originally posted by rockcohen

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer will joce

Will Joce is a recent graduate from the London School of Economics who has a morbid fear of working in an office. As well as travelling and writing he has worked in the UK Parliament and as a press monitor. Refusing to follow advice and get a real job he will soon be beginning a Masters degree at St Petersburg State University

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