I love traveling. I wish I had more time and money to do more of it. Thus far, some of my travels have taken me to the souks of Marrakesh, through the Bazaars of Istanbul, to the white sanded beaches of Jamaica, and the City of Lights (Paris). In all of my travels, I have been the epitome of a tourist: snapping pictures in the common, obvious places, and taking the beaten path with visits and tours to some of the ‘must see’ places.
I try to be conscious, however, of a places unique identity and significance in the world. As a former cultural studies student and a current travel consultant, I am very disappointed when I hear my colleagues or clients rate a destination on how Americanized it is. Although I understand that globalization has allowed western consumer culture to spread across the globe, I am still surprised to find McDonalds or Starbucks in certain places like Morocco or Greece. I am honestly guilty about flocking to these places when I want something familiar and quick to eat. However, I do not base my trip around finding American imports. If the destination does not have a Starbucks or McDonalds, my opinion or enjoyment of the location is not diminished. Many of my clients and colleagues, sadly, feel the opposite.
I had the opportunity to go to the Bahamas for work. This was my first time in the Bahamas. I had visited other Caribbean islands, but Nassau and Paradise Island offered a huge contrast from what little I have seen of Jamaica for example. The road from the airport in the Bahamas to my resort was highly developed and dotted with hotels, banks, high-end shops from Rolex to Cartier and an abundance of American imports: Johnny Rockets, Starbucks, and Quiznos. Aside from the beautiful weather, the landscape, and the accents from the residents, it would be hard to tell that I was in another country: attributes which my colleagues repeatedly indicated that they enjoyed. In Jamaica, the road from the airport in Montego Bay Jamaica to Ocho Rios was not as developed. Houses dotted the roads and there were a plethora of resorts, but nothing like what I saw in the Bahamas. I enjoyed the Bahamas as much as I enjoyed spending time in Jamaica – although very different experiences.
I question why we need to make everything American or in our own image to enjoy it. Why can’t we enjoy the world as it without whitewashing it or making others appropriate our customs, habits, and behaviors? While I have satisfied my hunger with a McDonalds hamburger while traveling abroad, I try my best to experience the culture of the place I’m visiting. Some of my best experiences have been staying in a beautiful Riad in Marrakesh instead of a Hilton, eating a tagine in the middle of the Djema el-Fnaa, or staying in a cozy hotel in Ouarzazate with no television or internet on the edge of the Sahara desert.
For all the benefits that one can give for globalization, one negative aspect is that many places are beginning to look, taste, and feel like America. What a bore. Nassau has many unique and interesting places to visit from the Arawak Cay Fish Fry to the Straw Market. However, those places are being overshadowed by the colossal Atlantis Resort, which caters to almost every indulgence as well as the upscale luxury stores.
The good thing is that the world is big, geographically. So, there are many places across the globe that remain untouched. I just pray that I get the chance to see more. I would love to hear about some place you have visited that are “untouched” or some places that have been shockingly “Americanized”.