Friday, 19 December 2014

Have Rough Guides missed the point?

I was interested to see that the Rough Guides folk have declared that Birmingham is one of the top ten cities in the world to visit. If I am honest, my opinion of Birmingham has significantly improved lately. It used to be that I thought of it as a place of awful concrete public spaces like the Mk I Bullring. And it had this bizarre idea that it was the UK's second city, when everyone with any sense realised that the second city was actually Manchester. But I've been visiting regularly over the last couple of years and Birmingham is now genuinely a 'vibrant city' as they say in the guides. (Though still a bit of dump when you drive in down the Hagley Road.)

There is, however, from my viewpoint, one strange piece of parochialism in the Rough Guides choice. Because one of Birmingham's selling points was its vast cultural diversity in restaurants and the like. Now, for me, this is certainly a plus for domestic visitors, but a turn-off for the world market. When I go out for a meal on home turf, I love the option to sample food from around the world. But when I go abroad, it's the last thing that I want.

Do the Rough Guide people go to Paris and hunt out a pizza? Do they eat cassoulet in Athens and McDonalds in Bangalore? When you go abroad you want to sample the local food.

Now at this point thirty years ago, you would be right in wheeling out the old 'but British food is rubbish' argument. Not any more. There is plenty of great British food these days, from superb fish dishes to magnificent pies. (Not to mention snail porridge, or whatever Heston gets up to.) It was interesting that on the TV show about Liberty, when Chinese visitors came they didn't want to see Liberty's magnificent oriental carpets, or its designer wear from around the world. They wanted to see Burberry. People visit another country for what's uniquely from that country, not for what's available everywhere else in the world too. So next time, Rough Guides, don't be so parochial.

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