Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

Perhaps we could all do with some 'cultural learnings'

Astranger in a strange land can be a frightening prospect, an energising experience - or an hilarious spectacle. The most prominent cultural event of the week falls firmly into the last category.

It is, of course, the film with the cumbersome title of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Usually, a Hollywood endorsement does wonders for a nation's self-image: Australia, New Zealand and many other countries have enjoyed a boost in tourism after appearing on the big screen. Unfortunately for the world's ninth-largest nation, the movie is an inspired spoof on Kazakh culture by Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian who created the Ali G character. He plays a Kazakh television reporter named Borat Sagdiyev who sets off from his home village in a car pulled by a horse to seek intellectual and artistic fortune - or at least drink and sex - across the US.

I have been lucky enough to see a preview, and heartily recommend the sequence of cultural mishaps that put the foe into faux pas - but while you laugh, remember your own cultural trespasses and the forgiveness you seek while travelling. Borat picks up where Crocodile Dundee (another tourist out of his cultural depth) leaves off: literally so, on the streets of Manhattan and on the New York Subway. But while Paul Hogan's stereotypical Aussie looked at times vulnerable in the city of cities, Borat goes on the offensive - in both senses. He greets male strangers with an embrace and a surge of kisses. The results vary from predictable (the torrent of abuse from some locals) to unexpected (one of the film's producers spent a night in the cells after New York's police decided the movie-makers had gone too far).

Cultural gaffes are by no means the exclusive preserve of comedians; the usually excellent easyJet Inflight magazine shows how easy it is to blunder with the claim that the Spanish town of Elciego is "fast becoming a Mecca for wine lovers". Islamic passengers may question the wisdom and diplomacy of this assertion.

As you will be aware, a diplomatic row has ensued between Kazakh officials, angry at the parody of their nation, and the film-makers. Baron Cohen has chimed in, perhaps unhelpfully in character, praising recent advances in Kazakh society: "Women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and age of consent has been raised to eight years old," he said in response to complaints that Kazakhstan is misrepresented. But even without such publicity, the country does itself few favours. The official holiday brochure produced by the Kazakhstan Travel Centre makes unappetising reading.

The main purpose for travel is to meet people, but the official guide to Kazakhstan warns: "Take care when drinking in bars, restaurants and nightclubs with new acquaintances." Instead, you could explore beyond the present and former capitals, Astana and Almaty - but be warned that the port of Atyrau suffers "strong winds and sand storms".

"Hot as an oven in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter," is the frank assessment of the nation's climate overall. And the scenery? "Monotonous ochre landscapes." Yet the "Kazakh" scenery portrayed in the film does not match this description; Borat's home village may have a medieval look about it, but it drapes itself prettily across a verdant hillside and valley. That's because a real village was used for the film - but one in north-west Romania.

Moroieni, in the foothills of the Carpathian mountain range, can expect a boost in tourism that should benefit this beautiful Balkan nation - which is just as misunderstood as Kazakhstan, and economically a more deserving destination for travellers' euros than the oil-rich Soviet republic. Borat will bestow Romania with a celluloid dividend.


Another misunderstood community is the focus of a new exhibition that opened yesterday at the Museum of London. "Belonging: Voices of London's Refugees" is devoted to those who came to the capital bearing nothing but hope.

Most of us cheerfully assert touristic immunity, and expect to be welcomed as strangers in the world's strange lands no matter how unwieldy our cultural baggage.

Yet it is well worth being a tourist in London for an afternoon and visiting the (free) exhibition to understand what travel can mean for those seeking shelter.

A tiny, flimsy bag is on display: the sole possession of Paul Sathianesan, a Tamil refugee, when he arrived from Sri Lanka "on a rainy morning in May 1985". He remembers the flight number (UL 511) and says that when he touched down at Gatwick, "I felt at last I could live without fear - this is the promised land". You may look at the Sussex airport differently next time you use it. Mr Sathianesan is now a councillor in London, a city he calls "an encyclopaedia where you can explore the whole world".

The exhibition is open daily until 25 February:; 0870 444 3851

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
The number of children in relative income poverty is currently 2.3 million in the UK

A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink


Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday

Life and Style
The final 12 acts will be facing Simon Cowell, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Mel B and Louis Walsh tonight

The X Factor's judges colourful outfit was mocked by Simon Cowell

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past