be a good guest instead!
This is a topic I think about a lot and I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head. I’m rather obsessed with the concept of ‘place’ and love the idea of trying to get under the skin of somewhere. However, I also think it’s basically a futile exercise because how could an outsider ever fully understand all the tiny nuances and hidden secrets of a culture they’ve just skimmed over.
I do occasionally like to indulge my own sense of superiority and think I’m better than other tourists for about 5 seconds😅 but in reality this is about as stupid as getting annoyed at all the other cars in a traffic jam. You are part of the jam too and are no less ‘guilty’ than anyone else.
Fascinating essay. I’ve always acted a bit smuggish when I’ve heard friends talk about trips they’ve been on, and all the “cliche” places they visited that everyone always goes to, all while patting myself on the back because, surely, had I been in their place, I’d have found much more interesting places to visit. Goes to show how little I know.
This was a very provocative essay. I found the sentence “It’s about showing you get it and the sense of superiority you derive from that” very enlightening. To be superior is to be above others. What does that say about us? It makes me also think of people who when at home love to rattle off all the places they’ve been as if they know these places. The point is again to be superior. Well written Sam!
Love this piece. I encounter it a lot in the "I'm not a tourist, I'm a TRAVELLER" format. It is snobby, as you say: and lures people into thinking they've really got a bead on the geopolitics of the region because of one awkward conversation at a tram stop.
Glad to have stumbled upon this. It brings to mind Jamaica Kincaid's "A Small Place," that being her island of Antigua –
“That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go—so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.”
My takeaway from your excellent post -- life is COMPLICATED!
Everything we do has it's pros and cons and there is no one right travel decision -- I think it all has to be taken as a whole.
During our six years of nomading, I have definitely been a tourist -- what else can you call yourself when visiting in Rome for six days?
But when we lived in Sarajevo for two months in a house owned by a local Muslim family, we were something different. Definitely not locals, but walking to my coworking spot every day and getting to know the streets a bit better, as well as the women I bought my bread from and learning the outdoor market I did my shopping in had been bombed during the war, you do become something different from a tourist.
After six years of nomading, I no longer try to put a name on it. I'm just me doing my thing and having my experiences and meeting the people I do and then writing about it.
And, yes, I have totally been "that guy" at times. No, I never made love to a kalamata olive, but I have obnoxiously pronounced Budapest as as Budapeshhhhhht to show how worldly I am.
I think one thing has forced us to realize we are not locals, but instead have an incredible amount of privilege -- that's the fact that we are a gay couple and have lived in some very homophobic countries where the laws won't ever be applied to us, but the locals live in fear of them. That in and of itself is very sobering.
Yes yes yes to all of this!! I have thought about this for years and you put it all into words so nicely. And thanks for linking to Be a Better Traveler! :)
Such a great topic and many valuable insights! Having traveled quite a lot of late, I think the most important thing is to be sensitive to the customs, culture and politics of the place in which you’re traveling and not to be so hidebound in your own national or personal identity that you can’t be open to experiencing something different. I’m naturally curious about a lot of things, which can be an asset when traveling--except when employed tactlessly (like accosting random folks on the street). The “ugly” in American or any other nationality when traveling is really that heedless quality of those who think no matter where they are in the world, they should have their way in all things--food, convenience, creature comforts, entertainment, etc.--no fuss, no bother, just the way it is at home. Why then bother to travel?
Thanks for this perspective! I think it takes the pressure off, *lol*. And cute painting! I love how the little buds seem to be questing around the page!
This was so good! I agree with you. It made me think about my local pub in London. It's great, and if had some friends visiting from say the States or France and they said they wanted to go to a pub that locals would go to I'd take them there. But if that pub then showed up on travel Instagrams or blogs I'd think oh no! My pub!
I completely agree with the tip that being a tourist is OK! That's what you are, you don't live where you're on holiday and yeah, you're having a much different experience than the person who lives there, but that's ok.
The bit that made me really laugh was the idea that some people say you should just ask people on the street for recommendations. Try that in London and the person will look at you like you've got two heads!
This is a great read Samantha! I work in the tourism/travel industry in Jamaica and I am not particularly fond of the term - “travel like a local.” You’ve made some excellent points. If someone asks about, where I go to eat or have a drink, in their mind that’s a “local” thing to do because I’m a local. And in truth, where I go to eat, hang out and drink is, in essence, where the “tourists” would go because I live in a resort town (Montego Bay).
Getting info from a local about what to do makes tourists “feel” as if they’re having an “authentic experience”. And I think that’s where some people have it confused- thinking that having “authentic experiences” is synonymous with “traveling like a local”. In my mind, all the experiences you can have in a foreign country when traveling is authentic. Why? As long as you leave your hotel/resort to go out and do activities, explore the country, it’s authentic. Yes they’re some cliche stuff as you pointed out. However, that does not make them less authentic? It’s like saying going to Paris and visiting the Eiffel Tower is unauthentic. A cliché yeah, but it’s still of Paris. I agree with you on the points you’ve made about traveling like a local. It’s unachievable and ignorant. And that’s what makes your article so relevant. (Saving it in case I need to refer back to it😉). I particularly resonate with the part where you said there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. Whew! Someone finally says it. These days people visiting a foreign country want to be called a “visitor” or “guest”. It has even made me have drawbacks about using the word “tourist” in my writings or call a tourist to their face, “tourist”. (Can’t call a spade, a spade ). When did this become a thing to avoid?
Can't like this enough! Thank you!!!
This is so good! And something I think about a lot. And you have given me so much more to think about. I have been insulated by (quasi) diplomatic privilege for a long time & am now in the middle of the long bureaucratic process to stay Italy. (also an incredible privilege!)
I visited Egypt to renew my passport and ID card a few months ago. It was the most harrowing experience ever. I was successful in getting both renewed which is a small miracle.
This is such an interesting topic, thank you for your insights. We are currently traveling in India and a lot of what you have shared gives us food for thought about how we are approaching this trip!
You've made me think about things I've never thought about, Sam - such a great post! Thank you!