TPM Goes Abroad, Inadvertently Demonstrates What’s the Matter with Kansas
Tod’s very short post:
What’s the matter with Kansas is Rosie Spinks — or at least the Rosie Spinkses of the world.
Tod’s somewhat longer post:
Over at TPM’s The Slice today, Rosie Spinks takes aim at the ugly American who deigns to travel in ways that wealthy Manhattan socialites do not. The essay, entitled Why Americans Are Terrible At Vacation, starts in this manner:
Over the summer, while on holiday in the former Yugoslavian nation of Montenegro, I got to talking to a salty character while sipping beers in a beach bar overlooking the Adriatic sea… His idea of vacation was to chain-smoke cigarettes while sunning his leathery skin and talking cynically about the state of world affairs… Mercifully unaware of my U.S. passport, he embarked on a diatribe about the various shortcomings of the American way of life, ending with five words that have since stuck with me: “Americans are on another planet.”
Looking around 10th century village of Perast where I was staying, I became acutely aware of why this man might harbor these ideas. Any Serb, Montenegrin, Russian or western European on vacation there during August could be found doing a predictable combination of the following: drinking, tanning, swimming, smoking or eating a 3-hour-long lunch that involves several bottles of wine. Sightseeing was limited to the pages of a book or magazine, or what was visible across the Bay of Kotor. Attire was no shoes, no shirt, no cares.
But the Americans passed through almost exclusively by way of large tour buses, usually for just a few hours before venturing somewhere else on the coast. They walked through the one-road town in sensible walking shoes; strapped large, imposing cameras around their necks; missioned up the ancient steps to see the cathedral; and then paid small boat operators to ferry them to the Orthodox church to take a picture there, too. I can only imagine when they found time to actually be on holiday after they were done documenting it, much less interact with anyone other than the service industry employees and souvenir hawkers. In fact, at the beachfront “Pirate Bar” where nearly every local was hanging out, the only Yank around was yours truly.
Pinks goes on to decry a variety of things that Americans do with their vacation time: volunteerism, traveling domestically, traveling abroad with an itinerary, nights out drinking at bars watching sports, nights out not drinking watching sports in taxis. Americans are terrible at vacationing, it turns out, because they are not adventuresome enough. Why go on a tour or view magnificent historical wonders when you can get wander into the tiny bars where locals congregate and soak up the non-tourist vibe?
For the record, Spinks’ idea of a good vacation matches my own pretty exactly. When we were trying to decide where in Mexico we would stay for ten days with my wife’s extended family, I recognized I was the outsider and told my wife anyplace her sisters wanted to go was fine with me. “Provided that its a city that does not have a Señor Frogs,” I added quickly, because why pay good money to go to Cancun when I can just as easily watch frat boys get drunk and throw up here in the USA? So believe me when I say that I have nothing but props to give Spinks on her chosen “getting-lost-while-hiking-on-a-whim” method of exploring the world.
However, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it is not the actions of Americans that Spinks takes issue with, so much as their being so… American. Sitting around drinking and tanning might be the height of culture when Europeans do it, but I feel certain (perhaps uncharitably) that Americans engaging in those same activities abroad would for Spinks be more proof of the bourgeoisie hell that is Mel and Edna from Toledo on holiday. “We’re raised to believe that our country is the best,” she notes, and then immediately claims that non-Americans carry no such national hubris — making me wonder just how many in-depth conversations she’s really had with people from Europe, Asia or Latin America while going native. (Maybe she and I just wander in to very different foreign places?)
Every now and then at TPM, Josh Marshall asks some form of the question that liberal blogs everywhere ask over and over: What’s the matter with Kansas? Why don’t normal, regular workin’ folk embrace the party and publications that message what TPM messages? I submit that Why Americans Are Terrible At Vacation is a pretty good example as to why this is.
I have zero desire to ever go on a “tour” vacation, and I refuse to go on a cruise for the same reason I refuse to stay in a large hotel that chains its doors and won’t let me out for a week. But I also understand that this is a matter of personal taste and preference, not proof positive that those who holiday differently are somehow lesser.
Besides, there is an unspoken elite classist undercurrent to looking down your nose at those who can’t or don’t vacation like Spinks and I. I know a lot of people who travel this way, and we all have telling common denominators: We tend to be either upper-class or upper middle class, either we have a high amount of disposable income or — much more likely in my experience –have parents with the same, we tend to be highly educated, and we have the ability to travel with high-tech, light-weight gear that will allow us to go clubbing in Barcelona or hiking up the Pyrenees depending on what situations we wish to “fall into,” as Spinks might say.
I will give her the benefit of doubt that she does not mean to do so, but still… To sniff that Americans be less bourgeoisie in their vacations comes across as being annoyed that people have the poor taste to be… well, poor. The one statement Spinks makes that I wholeheartedly endorse comes at the very end of her piece, where she urges people to listen to other people when abroad. It’s a lesson that would serve her just as well domestically.
Liberals may or may not be onto something when they say that the problem with Kansas is that conservatives lie and trick Kansas, or that with Kansas it’s “a white thing,” or that Kansas always believes its going to be the next billionaire. But I suspect that more than any of those possibilities, it’s the lack of respect and dignity shown by liberals in things like Why Americans Are Terrible At Vacation that plays most heavily in Kansas responding in kind.
[Picture: Victorian tourists, public domain.]