UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List—Good for Flamenco, But Where's America?!

By Nicholas DeRenzo
October 3, 2012
Courtesy <a href="">oddcouple1/myBudgetTravel</a>

Most avid travelers know a thing or two about UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. If you've spent any time traveling, you've probably seen the phrase "UNESCO World Heritage Site" in guidebooks and tourism brochures, on plaques, or even in the news. For over 30 years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has celebrated locations like cities, buildings, monuments, or natural wonders that have been deemed culturally or physically significant. As of 2010, the list includes 911 iconic spots like the Grand Canyon, Stonehenge, the Statue of Liberty, and the Great Wall of China.

Sure, buildings can be culturally significant, but what about "intangible" aspects of culture like performing arts, festivals, customs, rituals, or crafts? You may not have known this, but UNESCO has them covered too! Since 2008, UNESCO has been inscribing such items on a Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (see the complete list here). As the name suggests, this list celebrates everything from folk dances to distinct regional cuisines, handicrafts to opera, martial arts to oral epic poetry.

This November, during a convention in Nairobi, UNESCO released the list for 2010. It runs the gamut from the classic (Spanish flamenco, French gastronomy, and Chinese opera) to the obscure (a hopping procession from the Luxembourg town of Echternach, Azerbaijani carpet weaving, and northern Croatian gingerbread making).

I scoured the list and was disappointed to see that the United States has never been represented! So I decided to make a decidedly unofficial list of my own:


-Pacific Northwest totem poles

-The Halloween tradition—trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving

-Jazz and/or blues music

-The Thanksgiving feast—turkey and all the fixings

-Break dancing

-Amish barn raising

-Outlandish Christmas light displays

-Cowboy poetry

-Cajun cuisine

Which intangible aspects of American culture would you add to the list?


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