World: the arrogance of capitals

Residents of capitals have a habit of looking down on people from smaller places. Is this always warranted?

Most foreigners or people from the "provinces" complain about the arrogance of Parisiens. You can see why when you visit the place. Yet Paris is by far and wide France's biggest metropolis. It's home to the Eiffel Tower, Champs Élysée, Versailles (almost), the Louvre, the Left Bank, Montmartre, the Seine, the Élysée Palace, the Hôtel George-V, and countless Michelin star-rated restaurants. Yet, it doesn't have the beauty of Strasbourg, the chic splendour of Annecy, the simple grandeur of Bordeaux, or the majestic walls of the fortified town of Carcassonne in Languedoc.

It's the same across the world:

THAILAND: Most Thais live in their modern and historic capital of Bangkok with its Royal palace complex, naughty sois, kickboxing stadiums, Chao Phraya River markets and and Emerald Buddha temple. Yet, Chiang Mai has a special cool Northern hill-tribespeople charm, and Hua Hin sports an amazing beach and sunsets, classy old railway station and topiary-gardened hotel which attract discerning visitor and resident alike. 

EGYPT: Cairenes are a sophisticated bunch and have the islands, corniche and hotels along the Nile. There's Coptic Cairo to savour, and that amazing if dimly-lit museum. On a clear day you can see the Great Pyramid of Giza.  But it's rarely a clear day in Cairo as desert sand engulfs the city as it is trapped by the Moqattam Hills. So, have you seen the feluccas on the Nile at the bustling Nubian and Arab city of Aswan? Or, experienced the elongated metropolis that is Alexandria - with its biblioteque, leather shops, walled fortress, palace of King Farouk, or elegant French and British Victorian and Edwardian buildings lining the Mediterranean coast? 

ENGLAND: Londoners almost claim not to live in England, so cosmopolitan it is and so jam-packed with culture and diversity.  But magnificent Roman, Georgian and modern Bath beckons, or you could feast and festival forever in Ludlow, or perhaps wonder at the greatness, history and friendliness of York. Harrogate is a really trendy, prosperous North Yorkshire spa town on the edge of the Dales, and St Ives in Cornwall a worthy rival to Positano on Italy's Amalfi coast. 

NEW ZEALAND: Aucklanders are called Jafas by other Kiwis (Just Another Aucklander).  It might have that waterfront and those numerous extinct volcanoes, yet little Queenstown nestles amid stunning landscapes and bustles with life year-round. And despite the wind-tunnel effect, Wellington is a far more cultured and fun little city. 

AMERICA: New Yorkers race and sweat in summer in the "gateway to America".  It does have Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rockefeller Center, but just up the road Boston might hold more cultural cards. And Chicago is an architectural masterpiece; San Francisco a culture-vulture and eye-candy paradise. 

INDONESIA: Jakarta is huge and noisy but floods.  A train-journey away canny colonial Dutch holed up in great villas in Bandung, the garment-making centre. You only have to visit Tasikmalaya surrounded by an ocean of hills in West Java to appreciate its provincial attractions (best toured by pedal cab). Today as yesterday, Bukittinggi on Sumatra is a highland retreat with stunning and unusual Minangkabau architecture. 

BRAZIL: São Paulo has its heaving commercialism, its banks and Daslu, that ultra posh multi-branded fashion boutique-emporium.  But Rio de Janeiro has its world-famous carnival, the sights at Copacabana beach and the dominating statue of Christ the Redeemer. And what about the architectural beauty of Salvador da Bahia, or that city's buzzing carnival which reputedly outdoes even Rio's?

The list is endless. Huge urban conurbations - whether national or commercial capitals - don't always provide all the culture, or all the answers, do they? Solutions are often found elsewhere.


  • Paris (metropolitan area population of 10.25 million) accounts for 15% of the population of France
  • Bangkok (metro pop. 11.98 million) has 18% of the population of Thailand
  • Cairo (metro pop. 19.44 million) has 24% of the population of Egypt
  • London (metro pop. 13.95 million) has 22% of the population of the United Kingdom
  • Auckland (metro pop. 1.46 million) has 33% of the population of New Zealand
  • New York City (metro pop. 18.90 million) has 6% of the population of the United States
  • Jakarta (metro pop. 28.02 million) has 12% of the population of Indonesia 
  • São Paulo (metro pop.19.67 million) has 10% of the population of Brazil.

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1 comment:

  1. Since Auckland, Sao Paulo and New York are not in fact capitals, I think the description you may be looking for is "primate city":

    or even simply "the largest city in the country"