Friday, June 16, 2006

The finer points of tourism

Tourism is probably one of the most civilising pastimes of the naked ape. The infamous Mediterranean resorts, said to be infested with drunken revellers and licentious beach bums, are surely an aberration from the norm. Every recreation, however genteel, has a vulgarised version practised by the uncultured rabble. Alongside the poet, there is the vandal who sprays graffiti; alongside the musician, there is the rap singer who chants obscenities; and alongside the travelling cognoscente, there is the shaven-headed brute in search of sunshine for his tattooed torso.

I was fortunate enough to visit many parts of the world when I was in the circus. Being a gorilla is a huge advantage, as the locals don’t expect you to speak their language or take an interest in their culture. The French, of course, are notoriously touchy about tourists speaking to them in English or asking for chutney with their salad; but all I had to say was “ooh-la-la” or “soixante-neuf” to have them eating out of the palm of my hand. It’s important not to overdo it, though. To act as if you have mastered the intricacies of a foreign culture in a few days is pretentious in the extreme – and more than a little irritating for your travelling companions. The decorous visitor must steer a middle course between behaving as if one is at home and going native.

Smacker Ramrod, the circus vet, was an excellent tourist. Having survived the food at an English boarding school, he resolved to eat anything offered to him while abroad. He would go along to a barbecue in Hong Kong, devour the fried meat put on his plate, and nonchalantly wash it down with rice wine after discovering it was snake. He never minded being tricked into eating something weird and always reacted with the perfect deadpan expression after being told what it was. Allowing foreigners to laugh at your expense, he explained, was the British way. Another habit of his was to treat the prostitutes he met like the finest ladies in the land. “It’s a little late in the evening for two exquisite virgins to be out on the streets unescorted,” he once said to a pair of call girls in Melbourne. They laughed so much that they ended up offering him half-price for a threesome with lesbian acts.

Smacker certainly wasn’t a sex tourist, I should stress. He was as happy chatting up prostitutes in Soho as in Bangkok. A man should never travel thousands of miles purely for sex, for such is the road to perdition and damnation. For women, the issues are more complex. There is much to be said for the scorned matron repairing to a sun-drenched Elysium, where she can writhe beneath the loins of a lustful gigolo without damage to her reputation. It pleases my soul to contemplate a world in which countless
Shirley Valentines are having their flesh kneaded by an army of swarthy Pedros. If we can’t appreciate each other’s comforts and delights, we are no better than the hyena.

That's too bad about the hyenas having no comforts and delights. Perhaps that is why they yowl so. I've heard similar yowls from people staying in Travelodges, or the tenth circle of hell, as they're sometimes unfondly known.
The French are only touchy about the English speaking to them in English, GB. The Chinese can speak English in France to their heart's content. Nice idea your friend had about chatting-up prostitutes to get a discount. I might have tried that when I was 19.
all I had to say was “ooh-la-la” or “soixante-neuf” to have them eating out of the palm of my hand

They ripped you off, GB. That's not how you do a “soixante-neuf” at all...
Smacker was certainly wasn’t a sex tourist

Mmm, maybe he convinced you of that GB. I hope he took precautions. Several years ago I heard an eminent professor lecturing that on every jumbo jet leaving Bangkok there was a least one newly acquired case of you-know-what.
I took elysium once. took me three weeks to find my navel afterwards.
Yes and there's a lot of it going on in your part of the world, in the Gambia you can get a stunning 23-year-old Adonis for an old pair of Levi's and an expired passport. It's not a good idea to import them though, they don't travel well and don't take to housework at all. Give them some local dosh and return them to the wild, it's the kindest thing.
Dear Lady: my part of the world is the Congo and we don't appreciate wild humans over here. As for the Gambians, they are a law unto themselves.
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