The other day I posted my take on the reasons people travel, conveniently distilling them down to four types of motivation. I wish to explore the one category to which I feel applies to myself - Those who go towards something. In the post, I defined them as such:
A point of fact is that we all wade into foreign culture the moment we step out of our preferred method of travel and arrive in the city or region other than our own. It's as unavoidable as dealing with the weather. To be cognizant of it, however, is a skill unto itself.
There are two possible reasons how this manifests itself -
a) The person traveling seeks to experience something completely new and novel to them, that they can't get at home. Think about the tropical locations that many people head towards in order to avoid the snow and wet found at home during the winter months, or the festivals that are particular to a specific city or region. These are but the most obvious examples out of many.
b) The person traveling seeks out similar experiences to those available at home, and either consciously or subconsciously compares the two. This can be as exotic as having breakfast in Hong Kong, to as subtle as seeing how the news is reported in Chicago as compared to ones home town. The experiences may having one or two common denominators, but the local culture has added new variables that make the experience different to some degree. As an example, visiting a coffeehouse in Genoa, Italy is a different experience than visiting a coffee house in Seattle, Washington, even though the core activity (getting a cuppa) is exactly the same.
Guide books are notoriously challenged when trying to deal with this aspect. They cannot talk about culture in the way that would benefit the reader, almost by design. If they tried to explain the hows and whys of every location they recommended, the resulting book would be too large to carry around. The result of this design flaw is that they may recommend that one visit the Dom Cathedral in Cologne, but cannot provide little more than cursory insight into the location. The result? People visit the cathedral, and can appreciate the aesthetics of the place, but have little reference to how is was made, and why it is important to the local populace.
This context is important, and this dissonance between what the traveler sees and intuits and the local citizenry knows to be, matters to some degree. If all I do is appreciate a locations aesthetics, without seeking to understand any more than that, then my only take away from that city is that they have some interesting things to do or see.
From my perspective, this does the region or city visited a disservice. My goal with this site is to address that disservice, and help provide the context that connects a foreigner to the land being visited.
Culture is context, and it takes some measure of effort on the part of the traveler to understand that.