Travel: It's time to return the favour
Sunday 31 January 1999
I'll have two helpings of every course, and my hostess will be so appreciative of my appreciation that the pleasure will be as much hers as mine. She'll exclaim at my appetite and I'll exclaim at her melanzane parmigiana. The net happiness of the world will increase on two counts.
Machiavellian, moi? But it's true isn't it? Visitor looks hungry, family cooks. Visitor smiles, family gets warm feeling inside. Visitor gets free lunch, family bust out of tedious, humdrum monotony of daily existence. Tell me honestly: where's the catch?
The formula works best in places with fewest visitors. In some countries it is impossible to walk down a street without being invited into people's homes to eat a freshly killed sheep, to sleep in the main bedroom, to use up the entire village water supply, etc. While travelling in, say, Iran, I was invited for almost every night of my stay. Right across Asia, in fact, there are people to whom I owe a skewered sheep or three (not to mention hours of social time).
Of course I may be kidding myself that there was anything mutual about the pleasure. Perhaps my hosts have always been too polite to say no. Perhaps they actually wanted to put a frozen curry into the microwave and watch a video, not idle away their time listening to the broken platitudes of some half-witted Englishman who thinks that, say, Uzbekis always eat whole roasted goats served on platters of rice.
But let's assume that people do enjoy hosting foreigners. You still have to ask: am I planning to reciprocate the favours? Am I planning to host, say, Italian families in London, putting aside hours of my time to prepare them genuine British meals of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding? Or did I always plan to extract the maximum advantage out of people before fleeing scot-free back to England?
I admit it hardly seems fair. After all, what Italian would really choose my cooking over his mother's? All the same, I am determined not to take people for granted. Hosting good honest tourists from around the world cannot be a one-way affair. All those Russians, Spanish, Italians, Turks, Japanese, Iranians, Turkomen, Uzbeks, Chinese, Arabs and Pakistanis who have hosted me over the years, take note. (But one at a time please.)
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Inside Travel: Greece 2015 Q&A - should we cancel our Greek holiday? Are our flights safe? And what will we be spending there?
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
The most powerful passports in the world
Iceland's new 500m tunnel through one of Europe's largest glaciers: Welcome to the ice age
The 10 Best hiking boots
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers
£25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...
£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...
£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...
£23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...