Friday, October 19, 2007


I have been frantically preparing the last few days for a little trip/adventure I’m about to embark on in the morning.

Since moving to France, I’ve discovered that tourists live and die by their guidebooks. A friend visited a few weeks ago, and every night she would pour over multiple guidebooks—Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, and Michelin—to prepare for her next day’s activities.

Not surprisingly, Rick Steves is the god of tourists. I’ve heard dozens of people drop his name, as if he is a close and personal friend: “Rick Steves says to eat at this restaurant”; “I just went on the Rick Steves walking tour”; “What does Rick have to say about this museum?”

It’s terrifying to actually consider how much power Rick Steves has over the tourism industry in Europe. Guess what? Rick Steves says to pass on Giverny and Monet’s gardens, and Rick Steves is wrong.

I, of course, have read a travel book or two in my day. However, I am more attracted to the culture guides. Instead of recommending tourist attractions, hotels, or restaurants, these guides give the outsider a glimpse at what makes natives tick.

At one point, I considered moving to Hungary to work for a year, so I read Culture Shock! Hungary: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette before making my decision. I was struck by how harsh Zsuzsanna Ardo, the author, is on her fellow Hungarians. She criticizes how fatty the foods are and how disgusting some of the men can be. Though both criticisms may be accurate, she, herself, has clearly been acculturated by living in Western Europe.

I also recently read Culture Smart! Ukraine: A Quick Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Anna Shevchenko gives tips on socializing with Ukrainians, doing business with them, and warns about cultural taboos. The only problem with reading these guides after visiting a country is discovering how offensive I may acted. I just hope the natives chalk it up to crazy Americanism.

So, naturally, I turned to the library where I work to find books for my latest trip. Unfortunately, the library’s most recent book on Prague is from 2004, Budapest from 2002, and it doesn’t even carry a guidebook to Bratislava. When it comes to tourism, currency is everything.

Libraries complain that users now rely too much on the internet and not enough on the library. Guidebooks are the perfect example why. Libraries can’t afford to buy every guidebook every year, and tourists simply can’t afford to rely on anything but the latest.

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