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
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour
Dramatic GoPro video shows backpacker Alexander Hennessy warding off armed robber in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Best Place To Be Today shows 365 of the world's most amazing places - and the perfect time to visit them
El Caminito del Rey
Pakistani passenger power forces two politicians off plane
Best airports for a layover
- 2 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 3 Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...
£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...
£15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...