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24/04/2008 - par Mark Tungate

You can learn a lot about a country's culture from its airline's in-flight magazine. At 6 am this morning, I was sitting in the departure lounge of an airport in Zagreb, Croatia. As my eyes were too tired to focus on a novel, I began to flick through the magazine left on the seat next to me. It was called, with what I took to be typical Croatian blunt­ness, ­Magazin. I ­quickly discovered Samir Hasic, the World Accordion Champion, lives in Zagreb. I also read about traditional Slavonian waistcoats, which have « survived through the decay and mercilessness of wars » and are also available with fleece lining. And I met Croatian winemaker Stefan Safran. Accordions, folk costumes, red wine and a faint hint of pathos : what could be more Croatian ?

Once on the plane, I turned my attention to the Air France magazine. This was concerned with Emmanuelle Béart, luxury boutiques and gourmet restaurants. For visitors, if they ever had any doubt, it confirmed that the French are interested in sex, shopping and food.

Some media buyers have told me that the in-flight magazine may disappear, killed by laptop computers (coming soon : Wi-fi in the air) and onboard entertainment systems (I watched a whole season of the medical drama House on the way to Vietnam). Magazines are quaint and costly to produce. And yet, I hope they survive. Like the plastic meals, the cute little bottles of wine and the glossy smiles of the cabin crew, they are part of the flying experience.

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