A holiday for the senses: You can tell you're abroad from a glance at the local press

Obituaries promoted on the front page of a broadsheet and language that would never pass in a UK paper demonstrate a vastly different set of values
  • @Simon_Kelner

We go away on holiday to discover something new, an experience that provides contrast from our daily lives,  and that gives us - however fleetingly - a sense of otherness. But as I wrote yesterday, the nature of modern communications, together with the ubiquity of multinational marketing, and the greater accessibility of remote destinations, means that the idea of faraway places remaining untouched by the material corruptions of the 21st Century is fading fast.

I have just spent a couple of weeks on a small Bahamian island where, until relatively recently, there were virtually no cars. The island is only three miles long so no one strictly needs a car to get around. But with every year that I visit, more and more cars appear. Now, if you're one of the hundreds of chickens roaming free on the island, it's more likely that you'll be killed when you're crossing the road (don't ask why: it's a mystery to me) by a shiny new Lexus than a puttering golf cart.

I asked my friend Jem, a resident, why this should be so. “It's purely a status thing ,” he said, “inspired by TV advertising.” I passed the bar favoured by locals the other day and the TV was showing live coverage of West Bromwich Albion. The youngsters wear the colours of American basketball teams. But just when you're lamenting the homogenisation of global culture, something pulls you up with a reminder that you are, in fact, somewhere else

I usually find an examination of the local newspaper to be quite reliable in providing evidence of a vastly different set of values, of interests, and, particularly, a way of doing things that's alien to our own tastes and mores. Every newspaper the world over usually has, on its front page, a banner ad used for self-promotion in order to attract passing trade. It may be for a free CD, or a money-off offer, or for an exclusive story. Not here. On the front of a recent issue of the island's broadsheet paper, just under the masthead, was, a single word in massive type: “Obituaries”. This pointed the reader to a special section inside, replete with stories of the recently deceased. I found it hard to imagine a paper anywhere else being so up front with this proposition. Roll up! Roll up! Get your deaths here!

Then there is the tabloid paper, The Punch, a publication that would make Lord Justice Leveson choke on his cornflakes. It is direct and uncompromising in a manner that quite takes your breath away. Its gossip column - “Nassau Grapevine” - is more scurrilous than the chat you'd hear down the pub. It is full of libellous accusations and derogatory epithets. It goes as far as you can without actually naming public figures in accusing them of infidelity, corruption, and sexual offences. And there can't be a paper anywhere that uses such homophobic language. One item about an “unidentified” senior politician includes the words “sissy” and “pansy”, and other terms not suitable for an upstanding newspaper such as this one. Blimey, I thought as I read it, now I know I'm a long way from home.