Welcome to Country X: Notes for a Generic Travel Guide
By
September 8, 2017

Travel guides are a hard sell these days, a victim of the Internet and globalization, which makes places less different than they used to be. In response I’ve created a do-it-yourself version that can be used anywhere in the world. Think of it as Mad Libs meets Lonely Planet: a template like those you’d use to plan your finances or diet, but with more frequent flyer points.

Food and Dining

The national dish of X is a soup containing pieces of soft dough stuffed with meat, cheese, and locally raised fish. While this may seem identical to the national dish of every other country, it is in fact different because

1. The fish is harvested exclusively from a lake in the rural part of X and dies immediately if transported anywhere else

2. The dough is molded into a shape resembling the face of X’s patron saint, which cannot be reproduced except by specially licensed artisans

3. The meat and cheese versions of the dish may be eaten separately but not together[1]

4. Our soup is better than their soup

Coffee and Tea

Coffee is an important part of X’s culture, but it differs from North America because

1. It comes in tiny cups, costs exactly one dollar, and is undrinkable without milk and sugar, which cafes refuse on principle to serve you

2. It comes in sixteen varieties, with eight preparation methods, each of which is explained only in the native language and costs $8.50 per cup

3. It may be drunk only as part of a ritual, lasting a minimum of three hours, in which an elderly patron of the café recounts dull and repetitive stories of national heroes, all of whom were vicious ethnocentrists and none of whom could read or write

4. It is made from synthetic ingredients, originally designed to beat an American blockade, but which people decided they liked better than the real thing

Politics

One should be careful about addressing politics in X because

1. The country is a military dictatorship and half the people are paid informers

2. The country is a democracy, but has become polarized between extremist factions none of whom speak to each other[2]

3. Everyone claims that their grandparents were in the resistance movement, although statistics show that the resistance had 765 members while 30 million people worked for the government

4. Upon learning that you are American, people will ask your opinion of Tramp (Trump) and you will be unable to change the subject

Religion

While 95 percent of X’s citizens belong to the national church, most are secular in practice.   However, one must be careful of religious sensitivities because

1. There is a small group of religious fanatics which has successfully intimidated the rest of the population

2. There are no religious fanatics, but people have figured out that churches are a good tourist attraction, so they pretend to be

3. There are no religious fanatics, but people like to take days off, so they observe all religious holidays and frequently extend them to create a longer vacation

4. The country’s “secular” values are warmed over versions of older religious traditions so nothing has changed, anyway

Minorities

While generally tolerant, the people of X have a long history of hatred for the Y, a minority who have offended the dominant ethnic group because they

1. Score better on standardized tests and monopolize academic positions

2. Speak a different language and follow a different religion

3. Are suspected of sympathizing with foreigners, who likewise speak a different language and score better on standardized tests

4. All of the above

Principal Tourist Attractions

X’s tourist attractions include the national art museum, a park with a glacial lake, and a plaza celebrating the country’s liberation from (French, Russian, Danish) rule. While these attractions seem indistinguishable from neighboring countries, they are in fact completely unique because

1. They are much prettier than those of other capitals

2. The museum and plaza sites were chosen by a pagan goddess who later reappeared as a minor Christian saint

3. The country’s armed forces have destroyed all of the neighboring countries’ capitals, so there is nothing left there to see there, anyway

4. All of the attractions may be visited on a single card costing $17.50 per week

Transportation

Because of the cost of rental cars and the aggressiveness of local drivers, most visitors opt to use public transportation. In doing so one should be careful since

1. There is a different card for trains and buses and a $500 fine for using the wrong one

2. There is a different card for local and intercity buses, and no one in the country knows which is which

3. Train and bus tickets are sold exclusively in stores indicated by an upside down “M” which are open only on alternate Thursdays

4. Trains and buses are slow, erratic, and air conditioned only in wealthier areas[3]   

Bathrooms and Hygiene

It is important to carry change in X because bathrooms charge a fixed fee of

1. One unit of the local currency, payable only in cash

2. Two units of the local currency, payable only with a chip credit card

3. Three units of the local currency, but free in expensive hotels and restaurants where people can’t be expected to carry change

4. There are no public bathrooms, but you can use a private bathroom if you order a coffee or tea, thereby making more bathroom trips inevitable

A Closing Thought

A visit to X can be enjoyable if you follow the rules above and are open to new ideas and experiences. Remember that all cultures are different, and none is better than another.     Except, of course, for your own.


[1] Applies only in small Middle Eastern countries

[2] Also applies to certain North American locations

[3] See note 2 above.

 

 

 
 

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