A Horse Farm in the Camargue, Arles, France

Like their more substantial brethren (walls) fences define boundaries. They appear more porous because of their construction, but this can be misleading. Consider the electrified, barbed-wire fence. It is that they are less visible, yet equally substantial, that has me relate them to the more personal, intellectual, boundaries.

As an intellectual construction, within our own minds, these boundaries define our limits of acceptable action. They define the arena in which we are willing to play. Among different peoples, these boundaries vary, and as a result of different reference points, can lead to misunderstandings, fear of the other, or out-right hostility.

Gladiators, Roman Amphitheatre, Arles, France

Globalisation increases both the volume and range of cross-cultural interactions and while they might initiate temporary exchanges, such as through business meetings and tourism, other interactions, such as migrations create more permanent contact, and thus deeper changes.

Without an understanding of a person’s cultural norms, their boundaries, it is difficult to estimate how they might react to some event, comment, or action. The byline of travel guru Rick Steves’ PBS programme is “… a passion for better understanding our world … good travel … gets us out of our comfort zone, it opens us up to our world and inspires us to build not walls but bridges.” This traditional view of travel, rooted in my estimation in the notions of the grand tour as an educational undertaking, is to learn about and understand other peoples and their cultures. Today, however, travel is often driven by bucket lists and the educational element supplanted by the selfie as documentary proof.

The volume of travel has made it a trillion dollar, world-wide industry and where there is profit there we will find the capitalist gears of cost reduction, market development and growth. To make travel more appealing to the widest range of people, homogenization follows to reduce some of the [especially western] “frictions” travellers experience. Yet with the emergence of China as a global player, its citizens now travel more often outside their middle kingdom, shifting the cultural balance of travellers away from that of the western to the eastern traveller, and thus we can expect a change in tourism to engage the eastern preferences. There is likely a parallel to the future of global standards.


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