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Gilbert Keith Chesterton 1936.

Story by Emmjay

It is or perhaps WAS said that travel broadens the mind.  There is no information about whether the broad minds travel, or whether travel minds the broad.  I suspect that the former might be answered in the negative. And the latter in the negative too, but there is clearly an underlying assumption that the mind could do with a spot of broadening -that it is somewhat narrow in the untraveled state.

But travel is more likely, according to G.K. Chesterton to achieve the reverse – bringing out our disapproval for places, people and practices that may differ from those with which we are familiar. He was suggesting that there may be no inherently inferior aspect, but that it is human nature to find fault on the basis of difference alone.  We tend to regard the familiar as naturally better.

Chesterton went on to say some seriously non-PC things that shout national stereotyping. I won’t repeat them because to do so is to cast scorn upon a man for having lived in a different era where it was OK to spruik generalities about “the Turk” and contrast his personal and collective peccadillos with those of the long-held to be superior British character, particularly since we know that this chap was simultaneously responsible for the genocide of over a million Armenians at the same time the ANZAC diggers were lauding him as such a worthy foe.

We may think that travellers, far away from home for long periods might not be the most unbiased observers, and in fact may themselves display characteristics not typically seen amongst their countrymen at home.   Chesterton cites the example of “the Americans”, we know as kind, polite and generous hosts in their own country curiously turning into loud dressers with even louder voices and outrageously insensitive ignorance of local manners when they are abroad.

I once met a family like that visiting Franz Joseph Glacier, South Island, NZ. It was 1973. They dragged along a teenage son who was painfully shy – well everyone looked shy next to Roger and Marjorie.  I remember the poor lad’s name to this day.  Marjorie was the photographer.  She shrieked “Stand by the glayshure, WORREN”.  Not such a difficult request since it was everywhere around us and underfoot to boot.

But I have to confess that when touring, I would have to be very homesick before I would gravitate towards many Aussie accents.  As Englishmen have never caught on to how ridiculous they look in shorts, long socks and sandals, so many Australians cannot bear to leave their stubbies and thongs locked in the wardrobe at home.  It’s as if the attire is taking the person on holidays and not the reverse.  I suppose the payback for dressing like you’re at home in the rumpus room, when you are in fact travelling overseas, is that people who cover up and wear stout shoes are the ones who survive longest when the plane falls from the sky in a ball of fire.

Thankfully, if Chesterton is right, we’ll avoid narrowing of the mind by avoiding travel – and not giving oxygen to shock jocks.  We can taste the cuisine of Tuscany at the local Italian and visit the Uffizi online.  No queues.  No deep vein thromboses.  No beggars.  No airport security.  No jetlag or snappy customs officials.  Toilet in the next room.  Safe water in the tap and no ripoff money changers.  Mind expanding ?  You bet !