In one of the lessons from this past week, the textbook for my beginner-level course presented a chart showing the top 10 most touristed countries. At the top of the list were the countries you’d expect: France, the USA, Spain, Italy, China, the UK. Then, at number 6, one step ahead of Mexico, was Hungary. Can that possibly be true? I’ve been to Hungary and it’s a beautiful country and all, but as far as I can tell it’s got one real tourist center: Budapest. I guess they’ve got that big lake, too, but it seemed to me that the lake was more of an attraction for Hungarians than foreign tourists. Mexico, on the other hand, has dozens of attractions luring foreign visitors. It’s got big beach resorts like Cancun, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta. It’s got beautiful colonial cities like Oaxaca, Guanajuato, and San Miguel. It’s got tons of historical sites like Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, and Palenque. And there are tons of tourists pouring across the border at places like Tijuana, Laredo and Juaraez to enjoy the low culture attractions offered there. There’s just no way in the world that more tourists go to Hungary than Mexico. So I told my students that the book was full of crap and they wholeheartedly agreed.
Another interesting suggestion that I came across in print this week was the opening to Alan Riding’s Distant Neighbors, an interesting study of Mexicans and their attitude toward America and Americans. Anyway, Riding starts his book with the claim that nowhere in the world do two countries as different as the USA and Mexico share a border. Actually, he really hedged his argument by adding a bunch of ‘probablys’ and ‘perhpases’ (he would have flunked my Historical Thinking seminar, where were repeatedly instructed to ‘be bold!’). But he got me thinking as to whether or not this is true. I guess North and South Korea are pretty different these days, but that difference is largely political. Culturally and lingusitically they’re still pretty similar. Israel is the other example that immediately jumps to mind. Israel is really two countries within one, and the Palestinian part of the country is still quite similar to it’s neighbors in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. But Jewish Israel certainly doesn’t share a lot in common with its neighbors, and since the USA and Mexico have no immediate plans to destroy eachother, I think we’re runners-up. And using the guaranteed mutual destruction criterea, maybe India and Pakistan should be ahead of us as well. But in any case, Riding’s right that we sure are different and his book presents a lot of interesting ideas as to why. Maybe I’ll post a few later on.