Culture Guides

Where East and West Meet

A new cultural geography.

‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,’ Kipling famously said and for a long time that was the standard wisdom. The world was divided into the rational, progressive Western Europe and the inscrutable, mysterious lands of the Middle East and Asia, sanctuary for any traveller who couldn’t bear the priggishness of Victorian England.

As for the rest of the world, well, there was the odd new city in the US, a bunch of farms throughout Latin America, Africa was a continent of savages who didn’t know how to rape their own resources so the colonial powers had to do it for them, and Australia was just an overgrown penal colony.

God, it was easy to cynically generalise in the past.

These days, we at Road Junky have to work a lot harder to make our cynical generalisations stick. And one of the questions we often get asked is just what do we mean by ‘the West’ or ‘the East’.

Is Mexico part of the West, for instance? If so, what the hell does it have in common with France?

And if Japan is part of the East, what relation does it bear to say, Egypt?

Often we hide behind these terms just to make a point rather than define GPS coordinates but as a new year’s resolution in 2009, Road Junky has decided to define just what we mean when we say East or West.

East may imply any of the following: unpredictable, unpunctual, disorganised, negotiable, hierarchical, xenophobic, fatalistic, generous, superstitious, family-oriented, tribal, anarchic and overpopulated.

Whereas West will often stand for: materialistic, godless, sterile, commercial, policed, liberal, self-effacing, educated, bourgeois, uptight, wealthy, tech-addicted, modern and self-centred.

Are we clear?

Kipling would have written for Road Junky…