I served a Frenchman the other day who boasted of having had ceviche in five different countries while he insisted on being served French-style and ate his Latin American cuisine with chop sticks. He wasn’t just peculiar, he was arrogant about it; as if he was the only one at the table, or in the restaurant, who knew how to do things properly.
Sometimes traveling the world introduces you to different cultures and perspectives, I guess; “broadens your horizons”. And I guess sometimes it makes you a confused twat who absorbs nothing from the places you’ve been, all while imposing your own shitty opinions on other cultures.
I’m not knocking travel; as a sensory experience it can be fun to see new sights, taste new food, witness how other people live. But I dislike the cosmopolitan assumption that a geographically diverse life is superior by default, that being able to afford a plane ticket means one can purchase wisdom. Buried in that assumption is another, that when the privileged children of the First World visit the Third, they must be meeting people over there that are somehow lesser; for they cannot visit orphans in Guatemala, dig wells in Africa, go skiing in the Alps, or swim in far away oceans; they cannot buy experience.
The Frenchmen was wealthy. He was wealthy enough that his glasses probably cost more than most things that I own. He was wealthy enough that he could pour his beer back and forth between his water glass and his beer glass until he had two glasses of foam, because “Japanese beer should be enjoyed in a glass with a little bit of water in it,” and the bewildered diners at his table nodded as if he was spouting profound wisdom instead of something he made up; because he was more important than them in their eyes. He’s probably wealthy enough to have visited more cities in one year than I will ever see in my life. But after all the pages of his passport have been filled with the stamps of the world, he will have only seen those places through expensive spectacles and asshole-eyes, and he’ll be none the wiser for it.
I’ve lived in Toronto my whole life, and here I’ll most likely remain. I travel rarely because I’m anxious and dislike disruptions to my routine. Sometimes the colourful vacation photos of others makes my own life feel monotonous and grey. But then something magical happens, like meeting the Frenchmen, that makes me realize I have so much more to learn about life, especially about human nature, and it’s all right in front of me.