With a global economy and a growing number of people from developed countries traveling to other countries, sometimes the modern world looks the same no matter where you are. With widespread immigration, residents of many European countries and the U.S. are sometimes indistinguishable. Just as people from every world ca live in our city, they also live in every city in Europe. Everywhere we’ve traveled, people have been friendly and helpful. So even courtesy is a common attribute, not that I’m hoping to find a corner of the world filled with snarky citizens just for the sake of a having different experience. And everyone speaks English, many better than we do.
There’s also the widespread popularization of many food items — pizza, caesar salad, pasta, and hamburgers for example. And Starbucks, McDonalds and other global corporations born in the U.S. are found in many parts of the world.
Fashion designers also rule the planet, at least that’s how it seems when you’re visiting large cities anywhere. Go to Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, Honolulu, Bruges, Tokyo and Shanghai and you’ll likely see streets or shopping malls infested with stores belonging to the big names in clothing, shoes, handbags and jewelry: Coach, Prada, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Nike, and many more. The most ubiquitous brand I’ve seen is “The Body Shop.” Is there a metropolitan area anywhere that doesn’t have at least one of these stores? When I’m abroad, I’m on a quest for Old World Charm, not skin care products that I can buy a few blocks from home.
In the current era, what sets one city apart from another? Architecture is one element. Gothic cathedrals, residences, city halls, and museums in Europe; pagodas and temples and country houses in Japan; emperors’ palaces and a great wall in China; interesting bridges in many cities; and private residences everywhere.
It’s embarrassing to remember that when traveling to Europe soon after college graduation, three of us landed in the central square in Brussels — the Grand Place — on a Sunday. In those days nothing was open on Sundays but churches. Back then, I wandered past the 14th and 15th century structures and thought this had to be the most boring setting in the world, nothing to look at but old buildings.
These days, old buildings have tremendous appeal. Their exteriors are ornate. They are not temples of glass and steel, and have interesting shapes, rooftops and other features, such as a gargoyle here and a grotesque there.
It’s likely that my impressions that all cities are the same come from staying where the tourists normally stay – in the heart of town. And tourists generally only spend a few days in each place they visit, so they rarely get anything but a glimpse of what life there is like. Spending several weeks in one place away from the tourist centers of a particular city wouldn’t offer an in-depth experience, but would supplement the judgements and pictures that form in our minds when passing quickly through town. That sounds like a plan for the future: visit a large city, stay for more than a week in a neighborhood outside the central part of town and hope not to encounter The Body Shop.