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Eh pretty that has been true for all of recorded history. The only culture it might not have been true for, were the upper class Europeans that took [the grand tour,](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Tour) and even then the commonality in experience had limits. For one thing they were all going to look at portraits, art and architecture and had often read of it first (sort of like going on a studio tour to see the lot your favorite film was made at I guess). Also the referential purity was mostly because of a rather short sighted and frankly bigoted view of the world (almost insanely Euro-centric with an equal amount of Christian-centricity where that could apply).
Still for a time among the well appointed drawing rooms, you could for a while allude and draw similes to parts and aspects of Paris, Rome, etc. and be fairly sure that most of your companions had a very good basis for comparison. They had stayed at the same inns, and dealt with the same awful cuisine, and often met the same local dandies. Even within this shared set of actual experiences, there is a constant flurry of references to imagined things, or at least, never viewed things. References to the Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno,for the martial sort Tacitus, and endless pop culture stuff run through letters and journals of the period as if in a competition to be more obscure. Also, when the gentleman of the age wanted to describe something, more often than not, he’d trot out the classics, even though his audience generally had a common background of actual experiences (and culture at the time was praising experiences lived over second hand things).
Anyways, this is really long, but humans generally don’t have a shared set of experiences, especially of other cultures, and other places. Even on those rare occasions where society has fixed certain things in the firmament, people still turned to fiction. It honestly isn’t even that surprising, as actual experiences differ. Maybe you had mostly nice innkeepers, or found Rome to be a bit of a bore, but fiction tends to be somewhat less open to interpretation. If I say a tour guide was like Dwight Shrute (or the period equiavlent) I’ve set the tone, and helped the story along.
TL;DR; We have pretty much always used common fiction as a means of describing things, because two people going to the same place see different things.