Arnon Grunberg

An Imitation of an Imitation of a Place

Is this really so bad?

"Everywhere resembles everywhere else, and that is the way it has been designed," writes Lawrence Osborne in his book The Naked Tourist. Its subtitle: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall.

As a tourist myself, at least as somebody who travels on a regular basis, I do agree with Mr. Osborne’s observation. One hotel room resembles the next, and the food in a trendy restaurant in Moscow (designed by Philippe Starck) is as good or as bad as the food in a trendy restaurant in Miami Beach, only a little bit more expensive.

But the question remains: is this really so bad?

Mr. Osborne writes, “In our age, tourism has made the planet into a uniform spectacle, and it has made us perpetual strangers wandering through an imitation of an imitation of a place.”

Yes, maybe, but isn’t this the whole purpose of tourism? To become a stranger, and to experience an imitation of the adventure? The tourist longs to return safely, and rightly so.

Besides that, I’m sure that all those people who never had the privilege of being a tourist have other things to worry about than the question of whether the world that surrounds them is an imitation or not.

Next week, I’ll be embedded with the Dutch army in Afghanistan. I worry a little bit about the toilets--I’m a sucker for clean toilets--and the Taliban.

But I realize that I’ll be a tourist in the army with the one great advantage that a tourist has. He can get out. At least, he likes to think so.