Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On tourism

Being in Japan made me painfully aware of my status as an American (complete with huge suitcases). It reminded me of some David Foster Wallace essay (I think) about how tourists are ruining the thing they are there to see: culture unsullied by their influence (this blog write out a quote on the topic, but it isn't quite what I was remembering). Adam attributed this feeling to some depressing hipster vibe, but I don't think it's a new idea. 

It was a weird feeling to see other foreigners in Japan. It was at once a feeling of comradary and defensiveness ("I thought I was the only white person who knew about Japan!"). Of course, both feelings are ridiculous. Nevertheless, among the excitement of being introduced to a new country is also the feeling that I could never fit in perfectly, as I am not Japanese and was not raised in Japan. I think that's something America has over Japan: even if you don't know all the social rules and don't speak American, you can still feel like an American. 


Acius said...

My claim is that not everyone is there to see "culture unsullied by my influence." I'm there to see the culture as it actually is, and I'm perfectly happy to be an influence. Treating oneself as a sullying influence is depressing, IMO, and that's the attitude I consider hipster-ish.

John B. said...

Thanks for mentioning my place. All I know about the DFW essay is the bit I have; I lifted it from a post by Andrew Sullivan and--lazy me--haven't yet pursued further.

Along the lines of what you say about tourists ruining the thing they're there to see, you might be interested in looking up Walker Percy's essay, "The Loss of the Creature." There's a bit in it about tourists visiting the Grand Canyon that, as I recall, gets at that idea.


Lexi said...

When I was in China I hated being a tourist in Buddhist temples. I *hated* that my classmates would take pictures of people who were there to have a religious experience. It was so obvious who the foreign tourists were (i.e., Westerners) versus the Chinese people from other regions who were also tourists but just seemed much more comfortable.

For me the best way to combat feeling touristy is to avoid the other tourists, and to stand out as little as possible. Which, in Asia, is really hard. :D

Becky said...

I have felt the same thing traveling in Africa. I've noticed that whenever I see other white people we seem to avoid each other, as if the encounter pops the "I'm so cool because I'm off the beaten path" bubble. It annoys me that I have found westerners to be less friendly with each other in other countries (granted, we aren't super friendly with each other in our own country). I am usually excited to see someone who I have something mildly in common with (coming from a developed country) but they seem to disdain any other white people that ruin the "pure African experience." At least I see that isn't the only continent it happens on.