Daily Archives: July 11, 2011

Get to Know Your Sister

The Broad-shouldered Sister of Paris

Do you have a sister city? 

Well, not you personally; I mean, is the community in which you live paired with another one somewhere in the world?  It was just a few days ago when I learned that my town has an official relationship with a place in Mexico that I didn’t know existed.  In fairness, most of their population has probably never heard of us, either.

It got me wondering, though, what the deal is with sister cities.  When it’s Thanksgiving, can you ask your sister city to bring pumpkin pies for 200,000?  Will your sister city let you cry on her shoulder when that nice-looking midwestern township you’d been seeing dumps you for Las Vegas?

An organization called Sister Cities International, which facilitates these relationships, traces its roots to the Eisenhower administration, but Toledo, Ohio, and Toledo, Spain, claim to have been hermanas since 1931.  Coventry, England, and Stalingrad (now Volgograd) formed a misery-loves-company friendship in World War II, when both were heavily bombed.

Incidentally, in some parts of the world these municipal partnerships are referred to as friendship cities or twin towns.  No matter what they are called, the basic idea of these relationships is to carry out cultural and economic exchanges to their mutual advantage.  This initially involves city officials getting together, drinking too much and making long-winded toasts.  Worthwhile projects eventually emerge, though, and I’m in favor of anything that encourages international cooperation.

The connection between some city pairs is not obvious, at least not visually.  I have been to Albany, New York, and Nassau, Bahamas, and never once thought, “Wow, those two could be twins!”  Similarly, if I woke up in Buffalo, New York, my first thought would not be, “This is just like being in Siena, Italy.”

Those are probably exceptional pairings.  In most cases, it seems that the glamorous cities seek each other out, like rush in a sorority house.  Beverly Hills has two sisters:  Acapulco and Cannes.  Shanghai, China, has 61 municipal siblings, including places like Casablanca, Montreal, Istanbul, and Milan — Wichita need not apply.

Some of the most beautiful sisters in the world are in the family of Paris:  Washington, D.C., Rome, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Prague, Berlin, São Paulo, Moscow, Madrid, Beirut and Chicago are among them.  Technically, most are called “partner cities” or some other euphemism, but they all hang out with Paris and go shopping for purses together.

The New York sorority is a bunch of lookers, too:  Cairo, Tokyo, Beijing, London, Johannesburg and Budapest are sisters of the Big Apple.

The Sister Cities International website gives some suggestions about how these relationships can begin, but I still wonder who asks whom first:  “Do you want to share cultural, educational and economic development projects?”  That has to be awkward at times.  How do you say “no” when someone wants to be your sister, even if you have little in common?

Well, I don’t think you can (unless you’re one of those rich-girl cities).  You just smile and say, “I’d love to!”  Based on that, Nashville might be the best sister a city could have:  it said “yes” to Belfast, Ireland, and Edmonton, Alberta.