TPM Goes Abroad, Inadvertently Demonstrates What’s the Matter with Kansas

Avatar

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

144 Responses

  1. Avatar aaron david says:

    Very good piece Tod, I think you have the fundamentals correct on this. The main though that I had while reading Rosie was “where are the Germans? She is describing Germans, not Americans.” Then I realized that it isn’t the nationality that people dislike, its the self importance. She just dislikes American culture, which is pretty self important. Whats The Matter With Kansas showed how self important it can be.

    My mother and her husband travel the world just like she describes, getting to know local people, doing what ever comes up that interests them. Like you say, they are upper middle class, retired quite well, very liberal (he’s English.) I think it’s funny, as they do it in a very small RV.
    http://www.travelin-tortuga.com/Travelin-Tortuga/index.htmlReport

  2. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I’m also one of those “absorb the local flavor” types, but yeah, that requires money & education to do well, as well as experience. How much you want to bet those despised tour buses are full of people who are on their first trip out of the US, or perhaps is the one vacation they can afford every few years?

    I applaud them for getting out of their state, much less the country. My parents never left the Midwest.Report

  3. NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

    This seems a little reductionist… and honestly missing the point of her piece.

    I really struggle to see how you can turn it into some sort of elitism inspired sniffing at poor people. Her piece, in general, is a reaction against the notion that travel ought to be some sort of elite, special thing that’s curated by tourist companies, or guide buses. The dismissal of voluntarism isn’t that it’s poor, or somehow beneath her dignity, it’s that it’s tone-deaf and condescending. The point isn’t to be condescending, she’s saying that the American attitude toward foreign travel IS condescending and tone-deaf.

    The fact that Americans don’t get mandated vacation time makes it seem like paid time off is some sort of super special privilege that only the elite get to do. Having a vacation home has been elevated as one of the status symbols of being middle class. Going on cruises, seeing tours, taking your picture at Machu Pichu, there’s all sorts of things that are being held up as experiences, but are missing a lot of the context of WHY you see those things. Gap years aren’t something for rich people, it should be for everyone.

    Regionally, the only type of tourist I’ve ever met that’s just as bad as Americans in the whole “looking down on other cultures while visiting them” are East Asian ones.

    Also….

    As Larry Bartels would say: Stop asking what’s wrong with Kansas and ask what’s wrong with these pop methodologies.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      “Going on cruises, seeing tours, taking your picture at Machu Pichu, there’s all sorts of things that are being held up as experiences, but are missing a lot of the context of WHY you see those things.”

      Pardon me back atcha, but that’s a whole truck load of down-your-nose assumptions about a whole lot of people casually tossed off right there.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I dunno if it’s a millennial thing, but anecdatally (and yes not a typo), there’s basically this trend where a huge chunk of relatively affluent or middle-class white young adults have photos of themselves at Machu Pichu as a thing in online dating profiles. There’s some assumptions present in that statement, but it’s also part of the larger comment, where, viz your point about Spinks’s post itself, I think you’re missing her point. There’s baggage there, but it’s not that she’s looking down on people for being poor, she’s saying that they’re being too focused on vacation/trips as status.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Again, I am having a hard time understanding how you are able to parse so many people’s inner motivations, wants, desires, and reasons for action. Like Spinks, I have a hard time shaking the feeling that you are extrapolating a whole lot of inner dialogue of a whole lot of people you don’t really know based on… well, I don’t know.

        It just seems like the narrative ethics you are inserting have more to do with you than they do your subject.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Also, just so I don’t forget to say this out loud: It’s good to see you! I don’t know if it’s been my schedule or if you’ve been busy, but I’ve missed seeing you.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I haven’t been around. I’ve been off site mostly pondering my writing future. I have a couple pieces I’d like to finish soon, though, on subjects I’ve been kicking around forever.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        On your general point: I don’t think I’m really parsing people’s motivations as much as I’m trying to parse what social messaging is going into the things people read: That is popular books like bucket list style “places to see”, or the types of recommendation extracurriculars for aspiring students, the sort of experiences and CVs I see from graduate students. You can definitely see differences between people who check boxes and people who wander from point to point. I’m not saying that checking boxes is necessarily bad, and there’s a lot of value to that if it takes you outside your usual environment. What I am saying is that there’s a cottage industry that’s popped up in the US that SELLS certain things as experiences you must have to be considered “middle class” or sophisticated or educated, or whatever else, and that’s not really the Spinks type vacation as much as her point about how volunteerism is now its own massive, bloated industry.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      It’s in a way nice to know that Americans aren’t the only ugly tourists out there. I’ve in-family knowledge of some bordering-on-ugly Italians, too.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      Interesting, my thoughts reading the article were

      1) That sounds exactly like the trip my family and I took to China–but doesn’t really describe vacations taken closer to home.
      2) That also perfectly describes my observations of East Asian Tourists in California

      Now, maybe there is something about America and East Asia, but I think there’s a simpler explanation: That’s how tourists behave when they’re on the other side of the world in a place they don’t know that speaks a language they don’t understand.

      Time off and expensive plane tickets aren’t really the time for plunging yourself in a frustrating and bewildering experience–People will stay within their comfort zone, whatever that happens to be.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Alan Scott says:

        That’s how tourists behave when they’re on the other side of the world in a place they don’t know that speaks a language they don’t understand.

        That is exactly what I was thinking. No kidding a Serb can wander over to Montenegro and be relaxed. And if I drive up to DC or down to Myrtle Beach I’m the same way…if I need an extra day of time, well, I can just pay for another day at the hotel.

        When I fly halfway across the world, things are a bit different. Mainly, I have a plane ticket staring me in the face, and because the entire thing was so expensive, I probably made the entire thing as long as possible to start with. This means I have to cram as much stuff in the time allocated

        The really stupid thing is, this is obvious. Why? Ask yourself how other country’s tourists *behave in America*. Not in countries they can reach easily and cheaper, how do they act here?

        Why, you’ll find they’re rushing all over the place too, in tour groups, on buses and whatnot, and this is despite them getting generally more vacation time than Americans, *and* with them generally have more familiarity with the language and even the culture (Thanks to our media) than Americans do in other countries. Why? Because they’re on a time table also, and aren’t made of money.

        Now, there’s an interesting point here in how America’s insularness is partially due to mere geographic location, that the vast majority of the country can’t really take cheap day trips to foreign countries easily, except sometimes Canada (Which scarcely counts), and Mexico (Which is really only reachable by Californians and the few desert-dwellers).

        Which is an interesting fact…that I’m pretty certain basically everyone already knows.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Alan Scott says:

        David,
        From what I can tell, only the Asians seem to rush around with cameras on (“Nice Body!”)…
        Then again, I’ve tended to run into the hostel set. That crowd don’t rush no matter where it is, I figure.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      It still comes down to “they’re having fun the wrong way.”Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      I assume 90% of all Americans on vacation are just there to get pictures for their dating profiles.

      “OK, we got me at the beach, me with the dog in the grass, me on a rock formation; we still need to get me at the really old church and me in the narrow street with poor or shady locals in the background.”Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      “The point isn’t to be condescending, she’s saying that the American attitude toward foreign travel IS condescending and tone-deaf.”

      Nobody’s point is to be condescending, but when you’re telling people that they’re not as sophisticated as you, it usually comes out that way.Report

  4. NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

    Also, my frank opinion (and take it with a grain of salt, as I’m basically an illegal alien):
    The notion that you need to be rich or affluent to vacation on local flavor is utter rubbish.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to NobAkimoto says:

      The notion that you should not do vacations in the USA, but should instead travel abroad and take the time to get to know X, is by absolutely an affluent position.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It’s not an affluent position. It’s a lack of responsibility position. Whether that comes from affluence or simply not having anything to lose is a different argument.

        It’s why gap years work elsewhere, even when the individuals aren’t all rich white kids like in America: They’re still at a point where they can afford to travel.

        There is a geographic issue that I’m more than happy to acknowledge. But for someone who can speak a modicum of Spanish for example, taking a roadtrip on a whim down to Mexico if they live within say driving distance of the Mexican border honestly doesn’t seem any more affluent then going the same amount of miles north and hitting Oklahoma.

        And for that matter, how much regional culture does an individual in the US really enjoy when they travel domestically? What does it mean to travel to Texas, and hell to Kansas? Does it mean going to the Alamo, waiting in line at Franklin’s BBQ? Wander to the Kansas Underground Salt Museum?

        I mean, if there were something where, American tourists in the US behaved different than they did abroad, maybe that’s also a point to consider, but that’s not really the case either. There’s a huge tendency for American tourists to simply dehumanize whereever they go and objectify it. I think that’s a cultural thing.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “It’s not an affluent position. It’s a lack of responsibility position. Whether that comes from affluence or simply not having anything to lose is a different argument.”

        In theory, perhaps. In practice, not so much. There just aren’t a lot of Chicago inner-city youths backpacking across Europe. There aren’t a lot of unemployed Rust Belt workers that can’t find work taking a week or month to hitchhike Brazil.

        “There’s a huge tendency for American tourists to simply dehumanize whereever they go and objectify it. ”

        I’m not sure what you mean by this.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        In theory, perhaps. In practice, not so much. There just aren’t a lot of Chicago inner-city youths backpacking across Europe. There aren’t a lot of unemployed Rust Belt workers that can’t find work taking a week or month to hitchhike Brazil.

        I believe part of the point in the Spinks article is that she’s pointing out that a gap year and that type of tourism for Americans is very much an affluent thing is part of what’s wrong with American travel culture.

        Note she says *emphasis added*:

        When it comes to the rite of passage known as a gap year, we see it as a bourgeois privilege instead of what many Canadians, Australians, Europeans, Israelis, New Zealanders, and South Africans use it as: an opportunity to live in foreign country for a year while working a minimum wage or service industry job.

        Also, from a geographic size point of view, just traveling WITHIN the US to get to know localities and live in them while traveling and hitchhiking isn’t, in reality, all that different from say how a European might go backpacking across Europe.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        As for the dehumanizing/objectifying….

        I think there’s a tendency for American tourists even when traveling within the US to treat places as a series of things to see, rather than a way of life to interact with. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone when I do short trips. There’s a distinction between taking a long vacation somewhere and getting the “feel” of a place, vs spending an equal amount of days but having a checklist.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Do you think that’s really an American thing? That’s not a challenge, just me pondering.

        Portland is a pretty big spot for international tourists from all over Europe and Asia (not so much the lower hemisphere), and what you’re describing sounds like people who visit here — mixed in with a number of people who travel like Spinks an I. My observations are, obviously, anecdotal. But I think what you’re describing sounds more like part and parcel to being human, not to being American.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        For me, it was only with substantial experience traveling abroad that I learned to keep my checklist short, and leave time for other things to just happen. As I expressed long-windedly below, a degree of confidence is important to making that sort of thing work, and neophyte travelers are unlikely to have that confidence.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Wanting to see stuff vs getting the “feel” of place is a personal choice not an issue of dehumanizing others. There are barriers of language and time that get in the way of getting to know locals and the feel of a place. But we can each like what we want without it being dehumanizing. When i went to Hong Kong i actually would have liked to get to know some local people however i don’t speak Cantonese, am fairly introverted and have no particular way to just start getting to know people. Of course i can walk around endlessly in all sorts of areas and people watch which is related to getting the feel of a place. But i’m trying to imagine how a foreign tourist could easily get to know Alaska especially if they didn’t speak english. It would be super difficult. And also the scenery and land is a lot more interesting then many of the people but that is my own value judgment.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        There is a geographic issue that I’m more than happy to acknowledge. But for someone who can speak a modicum of Spanish for example, taking a roadtrip on a whim down to Mexico if they live within say driving distance of the Mexican border honestly doesn’t seem any more affluent then going the same amount of miles north and hitting Oklahoma.

        I get the sense that such vacations used to happen pretty often before the US/Mexico Border became the Berlin Wall.

        When it comes to the rite of passage known as a gap year, we see it as a bourgeois privilege instead of what many Canadians, Australians, Europeans, Israelis, New Zealanders, and South Africans use it as: an opportunity to live in foreign country for a year while working a minimum wage or service industry job.

        Isn’t a gap year a bourgeois privilege by definition–given that it’s the year between high school and university? Sorry, but if you’re going to a four year school at all, you’re a member of the bourgeois.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @alan-scott

        “Sorry, but if you’re going to a four year school at all, you’re a member of the bourgeois.”

        I think that is less-so the case in America and probably not the case in many foreign countries.

        More importantly, as I note below, this particular conversation (vacationing or, more broadly, how leisure time is spent) seems somewhat unique in the ability for either ‘side’ of the traditional American culture war to criticize the other stereotypically for *LITERALLY* the exact same behavior.

        Liberal: “Gap year? Yea… some spoiled trust fund kid whose daddy made his money in banking navel-gazing his way around Europe.”
        Conservative: “Gap year? Yea… some spoiled trust fund kid whose daddy made his money in Hollywood navel-gazing his way around Europe.”Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @alan-scott

        I don’t know if everyone travels as a gap year or during or after university but I imagine most people do. Other countries have what is called a working-holiday visa where you can work as a minimum wage or service job while traveling. The U.S. does not but I remember seeing lots of bartenders and barbacks in Japan where were expats on working-holiday visas. I guess most or all of them could have been uni or former uni students though.Report

      • @nobakimoto

        It’s not an affluent position. It’s a lack of responsibility position. Whether that comes from affluence or simply not having anything to lose is a different argument.

        It’s why gap years work elsewhere, even when the individuals aren’t all rich white kids like in America: They’re still at a point where they can afford to travel.

        There is a geographic issue that I’m more than happy to acknowledge. But for someone who can speak a modicum of Spanish for example, taking a roadtrip on a whim down to Mexico if they live within say driving distance of the Mexican border honestly doesn’t seem any more affluent then going the same amount of miles north and hitting Oklahoma.

        There is a lot of built into that set of statements that I think goes against what you’re arguing for. Gap year travel might not be possibilities only for “rich white kids,” but there is a certain minimum threshold of affluence one must meet to be able to do it, per Tod’s example of an inner-city youth from Chicago. If the gap-year is conceived as being after college (and not after high school), not having student loan payments can be a big plus. More to the point, having a lot of financial obligations, which is what I assume you meant by “lack of responsibility,” is one way we can measure affluence. The road trip on a whim to Mexico requires that one owns a car, which is probably not outside the realm of possibility in the car-culture of those areas within driving distance of Mexico, but still, it requires a car, and cars are expensive. I also imagine that the most likely destinations that those in driving distance of Mexico tend to be the more party-atmosphere places that some of my college acquaintances liked to go to during spring break.

        I don’t fully disagree with what you’re saying, however. I suspect a lot more people could travel who don’t, and some of those who don’t probably don’t more because of a combination of fear and an over-conservative view of their own finances and opportunities. I spent my “gap year” after undergrad working to save money for grad school. In retrospect, that might have been a good time to travel, and to some degree I regret it because now I have more (but still, few compared to most people) obligations. Having never traveled at that point (save for family road trips to other places in Colorado and sometimes to Nevada or elsewhere, mostly to gun shows), I thought traveling was more daunting and more expensive than it probably was.

        But my decision not to travel was also a rational calculation based on what I perceived at the time as my need to save money to avoid having to go to debt. My belief that I couldn’t afford it may have been based partly on an overestimation of the cost, but it was based also on what I wanted to do with my money in the future. And although I regret not traveling in my youth, I don’t believe I deserve any particular criticism for not doing so and I don’t think traveling would have necessarily made me a better person.Report

      • (And to be clear, I did travel a little bit in my late 20s before returning to grad school. I visited a friend in NYC, another friend in San Francisco, and went alone to Montreal twice. In my PHD program, I went to Canada several times to do research. I would like to believe I wasn’t the “ugly American” and treated people in the cities I visited with respect, but I would believe that, wouldn’t I? I just didn’t want to give the impression that I never traveled.)Report

      • Avatar Citizen in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Most of the folks I see traveling to Mexico are looking to purchase medicine.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Used to be for dental work, too.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Tod,
        Quote me, right now, the cargo ship rate across the ocean. Yeah, sure, it takes you a few months, but it is dirt cheap. And you can work your way across Australia or Europe.

        Hostels are cheaper than hotels,after all.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Nob,
        I dunno about you, but my checklists include “spend some time doing what the locals do” Takes some research to figure that out, of course. But, I mean, I went to Vegas and saw the Pinball Hall of Fame (that I got to by bus. The busdriver was so surprised we got on the bus that he said, “this isn’t the strip bus”).Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Saul,
        the USA most certainly does have working-holiday jobs. Where people work for less than minimum wage, even.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        greg,
        I hear you on Alaska’s countryside being worth seeing.
        Generally, if you’re introverted, the best plan is “hire a friend”…
        grab someone local (generally a college student) who speaks English,
        and have him give you a tour. He can keep you from getting shot
        (Okay,so they really don’t shoot tourists in Hong Kong)…Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        It’s interesting in that in pure monetary terms, backpacking can be a very inexpensive form of vacation.

        And yet it can require a whole raft of non-monetary affluence – in time, in language skills and background in language learning, in confidence in one’s ability to cope with the unfamiliar, in background and comfort with eating unfamiliar foods…

        As an aside, I met some Dutch folks in Spain who were there in large part because they couldn’t afford to camp by the beach for a few weeks in the Netherlands – the train ride was short and cheap enough, and the difference in cost of living large enough, that they easily made up difference on the fare.

        I don’t have the impression that most Americans are in that situation – that anywhere that’s both much cheaper and pleasant as a get-away destination, is far enough away that the cost of travel would eliminate any savings, at least for a vacation of only a week or two.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Only teenagers/20somethings who don’t know any better and experts do that sort of thing.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @saul-degraw
        I don’t know if everyone travels as a gap year or during or after university but I imagine most people do.

        I suspect your perception of this is biased by the folks you knew. I’ve not really known anyone who did a gap year, and for most of my students a gap year is that year after college when they’re really struggling to find a job while resenting living back home with mom and dad.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Hey, @kimmi ! Last time I was in Vegas I went to the Pinball Hall of Fame too! Very much enjoyed meeting my childhood friend the Black Knight again.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Aren’t gap years more of a European and in particular British thing based on some awkwardness in their education systems? The American system is based on constantly schooling until your done for the most part. That is the ideal anyway. The closest American equivalent is the junior year abroad.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I’m not much of one for a structured tour when traveling, either. But I know people who have their own reasons for preferring the “trot about the town taking superficial pictures of the cathedral” that are sneered at in the underlying article.

    Believe it or not, a lot of those tourists have never been outside of their own state, much less the united states. Simply going somewhere that English is not the vernacular is a massive cultural leap for them.

    They have to overcome a fear that foreigners are going to cheat them. They don’t know the language. They don’t know the local customs. The money is not familiar to them. Indeed, many of the people they interact with actually be attempting to derive a profit from their transactions with tourists.

    Some people (pace Nob’s comment above, not just Americans) are really picky about their food, and very cautious about eating something unfamiliar. In a very different culture from one’s own, this can be an easy way to stay hungry. Getting with a tour group provides a saint her emotional environment for such people to experiment. The guide can learn what their tastes are, and steer them towards friendlier fare, and having friends around, or at least friendly fellow countrymen, helps create an environment where they can experiment easier.

    They were not taught history in school in a way that made them feel the living force of past events. So it is an effort to overcome the prejudice that things that have happened in that place are more than lists of funny sounding names and dates. That a Catholic church and an Orthodox church are on opposite ends of town by itself has significance — a subtle enough thing, though, that even some experienced travelers might not notice it while they are walking about as tourists. I’ve not noticed such things in my own travels until they were pointed out and I think I’m pretty darn sophisticated about such things. To someone who was bored to death by an awful history teacher in high school? Pretty churches and blocks of rocks. Add a tour guide, though, and they can begin to appreciate what they’re saying.

    Getting on a structured tour does several things for people who lack time, money, and dream of making an intellectual investment in the trip before it occurs. It gets them their hotels instead of lost. It gets them fed. They get in proximity to a tour guide who can educate them about what they are experiencing, even if only a little bit. They get some sort of direction about where a toilet is located, and how to use it when it doesn’t look like the toilets that they have back home in the USA. (Kind of important.) They get in proximity to a tour guide who can offer them cautions about not running afoul of local laws.

    I am fortunate in that I have had the background that inclines me to learn about a place before I go, an interest in trying new foods and drinks, typically will have saved up sufficient money to afford to make some purchasing mistakes, and that I have the bravery to make my own way when I’m there. Not everyone has those. For them, being there at all is a big deal. Perhaps the soup of travel abroad is to their liking, and when they come back for more, they will do so in a more free form fashion.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Good points Burt especially about food. My wife has a lot of special food needs and problems. I’m fine with pointing and trying something new. But it is hard in foreign countries for her to find food that works. We’ve done a couple cruises that she want to do but generally travel on our own. Most tours can be a drag but can make basic problems a lot easier if you can’t eat much or are a nervous traveler.

      The first time i traveled oversees in italy it was much harder to figure out how to do travel well then few years later after having some experience.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        greg,
        the issue is often cultural, too. particularly in China, where “special requests” tend to be honored to about the level the chef feels like, which often isn’t much.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

      That makes sense.

      But I’m also thinking of my sister, who is a historian who travels quite frequently. Occasionally we travel together, and when we do there is always a certain amount of tension we have to work out at first. I hate itineraries, don’t really enjoy the places where I know it will be all-tourist/few-native, and would rather get spend an afternoon having wine/coffee/beer/scotch/sake with a bar full of people who aren’t “on” for the tourists than see, say, the tower of Pisa.

      My sister, on the other hand, has a list of things she wants to see, and so she always wants a fairly detailed itinerary in order to see them all. She would never get on a tour bus to see Budapest, for example, but she probably isn’t going to leave without getting to spend sometime exploring the Vajdahunyad. A lot of that is work-related, and a lot of it is avocation-related, and a lot of it is just because she knew she was going to Hungary and so she read a great book on the Vajdahunyad, Alpar and the Hungarian Conquest, and now how can she not be there and not experience it?

      So we always do some hybrid of our preferences, and it works out really well and we each get to experience things we never would have had we gone without the other.

      But I’m still always aware that when a certain kind of American sees my sister wandering around the Vajdahunyad, they never stop to wonder why she’s there — and her actual reasons for being there never occur to them. They just mentally declare her the kind of ugly American that they are not.

      So there’s that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        HUGE DISCLAIMER: I agree almost entirely with your approach to travel, My Tod.

        And yet… when you write… “[I] don’t really enjoy the places where I know it will be all-tourist/few-native, and would rather get spend an afternoon having wine/coffee/beer/scotch/sake with a bar full of people who aren’t “on” for the tourists than see, say, the tower of Pisa,” I can’t help but reach or my Hipster Bashing stick.

        Which probably means it is time for some reflection.

        And means all of us are susceptible to turn personal preferences into evidence of moral superiority/inferiority and to then proceed accordingly.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Oh, you can feel free to bash. But it works for me.

        I’ve been to NYC a lot over the years, and I’ve never once gone to see the Statue of Liberty. I probably never will. Things like that just don’t interest me the way they do other people.

        On the other hand, I drove forever through miles of pot-holed, mosquito infested jungle roads to see and climb Coba, even though that’s a thing tourists do. Because that was awesome.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        If you’ve not been to Budapest before, of course you see the Vajdahunyad. Right? It’s like the castle in Prague or the Tower in London. Yes, it’s touristy, but you do it anyway. I’ve not been to China, but that’s what I expect of the Forbiden City there, or the Zocolo in Mexico City or the Grand bazaar in Istanbul.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @kazzy “And means all of us are susceptible to turn personal preferences into evidence of moral superiority/inferiority and to then proceed accordingly.”

        Very true, as will become immediately obvious about me should this thread ever steer toward the topic of Branson.

        Because, really — why the hell would you ever do that?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That is the thing. I actually don’t have much interest in bashing. More importantly, I would take umbrage if I were to say the exact same thing (Hey! I probably have!) and someone wanted to hipster bash me for it. And yet, that was my knee jerk reaction to you saying it.

        My point is that, when inclined, it is really easy to be unnecessarily critical of other people’s choices even when how objectionable their choice is can’t rise above “I’d do it differently.”

        I’ll give anyone $1000 if they can show me objective evidence that a trip to NYC is made better by spending X hours visiting the Statue of Liberty versus using those same X hours to do something else. But I insist on getting a nickel for every person who tries to make just such a case based solely on subjective criteria they’ve convinced themselves is objective.

        Which, to be perfectly clear, is *not* what I think Tod is doing here in either direction. I think Tod is being similarly critical of some people’s apparent need to criticize the personal preferences of others.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        fwiw, i grew up in jersey and never visited the Statue of Liberty. Saw it all sorts of times from the WTC or boats, but never went.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @burt-likko

        Sure, you see those places. But you see them correctly. I mean, the experience of all those wondrous sights is obviously lost on the fool who visits them in socks-and-sandals. He’s not there to experience them. I mean, like really, REALLY experience them. He’s just checking a box, man. He doesn’t get it. :-pReport

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @tod-kelly

        Branson.

        Because, really — why the hell would you ever do that?

        Because the Precious Moments museum is only about 90 minutes away, so you can hit it on your Branson trip. According to my holier-than-thou cousins, it’s wonderful.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I also learned an awful lesson on my travels. My first trip to NYC was in 2000. I didn’t make it further south than the Village. I figured I’d hit the World Trade Center on my next visit. That proved distressingly impossible.

        When I’m there next, the skyline will be different than it was and I’ll make a point of seeing the new building.

        Granted, that sort of thing is exceptionally rare, but it’s not impossible that [famous place] might not be there forever, so maybe you need to see it when you have the opportunity.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @james-hanley

        “Because the Precious Moments museum is only about 90 minutes away, so you can hit it on your Branson trip. According to my holier-than-thou cousins, it’s wonderful.”

        I had a thing on FB about how this essay made liberals seem snobby. Then you wrote this and my own snob factor flared up.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        James, the Precious Moments museum sounds like something that does deserve to get it but not in the way your cousin’s expect.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Saul,

        Oh, yeah, totally snobby. I hate Precious Moments more than I hate Notre Dame, Texas and Alec Baldwin combined. The world will not be safe for humanity until all Precious Moments figurines have been smashed into gazillions of tiny fragments.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I still think that the next Leaguefest needs to be in Branson.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @james-hanley

        I assume you meant “holier-than-thou” literally there? As in, very religious and proud to let you know? If so, I’m a little unclear on how them describing the Precious Moments Museum as ‘wonderful’ necessary makes such a comment snobby.

        Of course, if my assumption is wrong (FIRST TIME EVER!), than the comment can probably go either way.

        I guess my point is that ‘wonderful’ — to me — isn’t really a value-laden turn. Someone can describe something a wonderful without being the least bit snobby.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Kazzy,

        Yes, they are, but in a way that leads them to love things that are, to me, cloying; the ultra-sweet and innocent. As in, my 19 year old cousin proudly showing off her new doll. As in thinking Precious Moments is what art ought to be.

        It’s good that we live in a world that meets their interests as well as mine; there’s no real doubt about that. But stuff like Precious Moments, Thomas Kincade, and those goddam big eyes paintings are what will bring out my inner snob. That and Jersey Shore.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @james-hanley

        I see. I thought you meant they were being snobby but you meant that it brought out some snobbery in you. We certainly all have our areas of snobertise.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @james-hanley

        When you grow up Jewish and on the coasts, you tend to miss out that there are vast swaths of the country that like things like Precious Moments and Thomas Kincade without irony.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/theater/reviews/01jack.html?_r=0Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Kazzy,

        The only thing they’re snobbish about is how much more holy they are than others.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “A saint her” = “safer”Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      My problem with tour guides is that I think they too often reduce things to the lowest common denominator level. I’ve been on tours of the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, Aztec and Mayan ruins, Pompey, and some Italian cities with very well educated tour guides and was underwhelmed. I’d prefer to have skipped the tours and explored on my own but was either with family or used them because they offered convenient transportation.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

        You’ve obviously never seen The Cruise.

        “When you are sitting in the middle of midtown Manhattan you are sitting amongst a 20th century invention. A city that grew up at an explosion, as an explosion. It is an explosion, an experiment. A system of test tubes gurgling, boiling out of control, a radioactive atom swirling. Civilization has never looked like this before. This is ludicrousness and this cannot last…

        [Pause.]

        The new Ann Taylor store on the right.”Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Burt,
      foreigners are going to cheat them. You should see Chinatown in San Francisco.
      Cheating tourists is a way of life.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

        No, it’s not. I’m damn sure I’ve spent more time there than you have, too. I think your comment borders on racism, to be honest.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

        James,
        Pardon. I believe you’ve misconnected two separate thoughts of mine. I was thinking of a Spanish saffron producing farm when I wrote the last bit. You might know the type — that produces a grade of saffron so low it’s illegal to export, so they simply sell to tourists at “slightly cheaper than normal prices.” It’s a total scam, and they make a living off tourists not knowing what things should cost, and believing that “finding things at their source” is a way to get them cheaper.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Interestingly, I don’t know anything about TPM other than its name: I couldn’t tell you which ‘side’ it skewed to or if it even did. As I read both the quoted section and your early analysis, I found myself thinking, “I could fit the argument Spinks puts forth into either side’s less attractive subculture of ‘better-than-thou’-ness.”

    I then thought about how much better this made me than both sides!Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Kazzy says:

      Despite my take on this essay (and, come to think of it, my post on their droning on and on about the Palins), you should seriously consider adding it to your regular reading list.

      More than any other site out there, I think Marshall has done a brilliant job of creating a place with a very firm political point of view that does first-rate research, avoids the bubble, and can be critical with members of its own side’s team.

      I recommend it highly.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I guess I am somewhere between you and the tour groups. I don’t like tours but I do love going to see cultural things and museums. Why would you go to Florence without seeing the Uffizi and the Botecellis? Or why would you not see Michaelangelo’s David? A whole syndrome was developed based on being overwhelmed by the David.

    But this piece was absolutely snobby.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndromeReport

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Though I think we need to determine what we mean when we call something bourgeois. I consider myself bourgeois/middle class but would probably be closer to the Rosie Sprinks version of vacationing than the tours.Report

  9. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Americans aren’t the only group in the world that loves package tours. Tourists from many Asian countries are stereotypically infamous for liking package tours and traveling in large groups. If we consider pilgrimages to be the forerunner of the modern vacation than package tours are probably the norm rather than the exception. Like @burt-likko said, package tours provide a great deal of safety for people going outside their comfort zone. People generally like safety.

    As a New Yorker, I can also safely say that I’ve seen many European tourists behave just the way Rosie Spinks derides Americans of behaving. They might not be on package tours but they want to see the sites like Chinatown or the Empire State building or go shopping on 5th Avenue.

    A lot of progressive cultural tourism of Americans amounts to “why, o why can’t more white Americans be sophisticated continental types who aren’t religious and more at ease with sex.” Its maddening.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq says:

      They aren’t always tourists from other countries. Asian students get paid to “keep things lively” around a lot of American tourist venues (this is generally something like cheaper hotels, etc).Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It seems to me that the problem with how these tourists are doing it is that they’re doing entry-level tourism. A tour bus? Surrounded by other Americans? A *PACKAGE*???

    If you want to see The David, then *SEE THE DAVID*!

    Of course, not taking into account the fact that this is the only way that these people would have ever even having considered going to see The David.

    (Substitute “The David” for whatever else.)Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      It seems to me that the problem with how these tourists are doing it is that they’re doing entry-level tourism.

      This is exactly what it is.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird says:

      entry-level tourism

      Perfect.Report

      • Avatar Johanna in reply to James Hanley says:

        entry-level tourism
        Actually, I would say it could be the opposite. First, when I traveled as a young single person, I never traveled by tour, or cruise and rarely pre-planned where to stay. Now that we have kids, a home, jobs with certain schedules and pets, it is plan, plan, plan and see everything possible based on limited funds and highly restricted time allotted for vacation.

        So are they really entry-level, ignorant, and doing it wrong or are they just realistic that the best way for them to see those iconic sites or to visit places they may only have one chance at in a comfortable and relaxing way is actually smart and better than the alternative posed by Spinks. If I knew I had one chance to go to a certain place, you’d bet I would choose the few minutes seeing a gothic church than listening to a leathery local bitch about those who do.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        f I knew I had one chance to go to a certain place, you’d bet I would choose the few minutes seeing a gothic church than listening to a leathery local bitch about those who do.

        Awesome.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

        @johanna Your point about the difference between being a SINK/DINK and having kids is a great point, and one I wish I had thought of when writing the OP.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      @jaybird

      Practically speaking, sometimes the only way to see “The David” are to go with a group. Tickets can be hard to come by on your own especially if you don’t plan in advance.

      This isn’t true for all these sorts of “experiences” but certainly true for many of them. With travel far more ubiquitous now than it once was, the idea of winging it through Europe and hitting every sight on a whim is simply a fantasy.

      Taking a tour is an easier form of travel (as @johanna discusses below). If we are talking about how one spends his or her leisure time, I see no value in critiquing how ‘virtuous’ it is in terms of the effort put forth.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        I think I’ve noticed that “authenticity” is mistaken for virtue in a lot of Western post-theistic philosophies.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @jaybird

        I agree. But does seeing “The David” with a tour versus on your own make it a more ‘authentic’ experience? I suppose it could if the only reason you find yourself in front of the statute is because the tour took you there and you find yourself thinking, “Who is this guy?” But if you know you want to see “The David” and determine that a tour is a more efficient or easier way to do so, I don’t think that takes away from the authenticity of the experience unless you are focused on things that are unrelated to the experience itself (i.e., adhering to circular logic that tours are inherently inauthentic because tours are inauthentic).

        Now, eating at the Olive Garden in Times Square? Yea, fuck you, you’re doing it wrong.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

        Is there such a thing as an ‘authentic’ Times Square experience these days?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kolohe

        Walking around as an aggrieved native with a particular destination in mind.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

        A native would just take 6th or 8th Avenues. And walking crosstown is not more difficult than other busy parts of the city. (Pain and sadness comes from trying to walk around Penn Station and the default bus terminal around 31st & 8th)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        Is there such a thing as an ‘authentic’ Times Square experience these days?

        Sure, in 35 mm.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        Kolohe has it right. Natives only go to Times Square if they want to see a Broadway show or are entertaining visitors. Otherwise, we avoid it.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy

        “Now, eating at the Olive Garden anywhere in the world…”

        fixed.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @dhex

        As big a food snob as I am, I’m not going to get that high on my horse. Yes, Olive Garden is crap. But if you’ve got $50 in your pocket and want to feed a family of 5 with food that is at least more-or-less actual food, it serves a purpose. Plus back in high school, it was a regular tradition to load some cars up with members of the baseball or soccer team and drive down to the OG and have an eating contest with whatever unlimited offering they were serving up that day. It’s got a role.

        But, Jesus fucking Christ, you are in NYC. Manhattan! A goddamn food mecca! With phenomenal Italian food mere blocks away from Olive Garden! AND YOU GO TO OLIVE GARDEN!!! YOU TRAVELED HERE AND ATE THE FOOD YOU COULD HAVE EATEN BACK HOME!!! WHYYYYYYY?!?!?!?!?!Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy

        my response to olive garden is not snobbery, but rather a visceral reaction to the cronenberg body horror that is their food.

        see also applebees, which isn’t even food.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Kazzy says:

        @saul-degraw
        Walking around as an aggrieved native with a particular destination in mind.

        Well, then, I have to brag. When I visited New York, this is exactly what I did. I was headed to Broadway, got off the subway, said ‘Hey, look, it’s Times Square…and I think I just walked out the wrong subway exit…and that means I’m going over *there*.’ and started walking. About halfway there, I came across some tourists taking pictures, and I had to laugh at people just walking straight through the picture taking and the tourists trying to figure out why everyone was being so rude. (Couldn’t the entire sidewalk just stop for a minute or two?)

        But, seriously, every tourist destination has one or two pet peeves of things tourists do, and it’s not very hard to Google them and just *not do those specific things*. Like not stand around on the sidewalk gawking or taking pictures in New York, or at least find a corner to stand in. It’s not rocket science, people.

        Now, if someone wanted to write an article about how Americans often don’t do *minimal amounts of research* before taking a vacation somewhere, I could get behind that. (And I actually wonder if anyone does, and the reason people vacationing in America seem to have done research is just them watching our media.)Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jaybird says:

      The reason there are Intro classes and books for Dummies is that not everyone is an expert. The inexperienced traveler won’t be able to hit all the must-see locations on his own. He’ll get to one of them, find out another one is closed, and miss the bus that goes to a third and end up getting robbed in a gypsy cab. I wouldn’t want to do a group tour, but it’d be nice not to worry about hotel bookings and rental cars once in a while.

      And actually, that raises a bit of a problem with Spinks’s article. The dynamics of a group tour are completely different from a solo or family, plan everything yourself trip. She shouldn’t conflate them.Report

  11. Avatar Damon says:

    So a couple of comments that dovetail on some points above, and a few others…

    I’ll be taking my first tour vacation this year. Previously I’d never done this, but I’m going with some folks that like the tour company and we’re going to Asia. Trying to navigate all the stuff I’d like to see AND deal with the language AND cultural differences? Nah, a tour sounds better. Like it was said: gets me to my hotel, gets me fed. And our party includes: a diabetic, a vegan, and someone with celiacs disease. Try dealing with solo 🙂

    Previously what’d I’d done on vacation (foreign travel) was to pick a place and list off some things I’d like to see. Then budget enough time to see what I wanted, do some tourist things, and leave some time for exploring, getting lost, etc. I still do this and will continue to do so as I do not like tours and I don’t like being on someone’s schedule, not my own. But the idea of going to a foreign country and sitting on my ass getting a tan and drinking all day lost it’s allure at about 18. I can do that here or in the Keys or the Caribbean. Why would I fly to Nice to do it and spend all that money?

    Two other points from a safari guide in South Africa. He said “you Americans don’t understand seasons. You keep your houses at one temperature. Here, we are used to being hot in the summer and cold in the winter.” Second, “you’ve screwed up my staff’s tip expectations. You tip so much that they expect the similar amounts when the French or English or Germans show up, and when they don’t get it, they bitch at me.” I think he made two excellent points.Report

  12. Avatar j r says:

    Is this a good place to lament about how Americans don’t talk about class?Report

  13. Avatar Pinky says:

    Americans travel in Europe more like Rosie says. Americans travel in other countries differently. If you want to see Americans soaking up local culture and relaxing, head south.Report

  14. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Rosie comes across as being kinda privileged:
    “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?”

    Yeah, um, some people don’t feel like packing grenades all the time. (Yes, obviously this isn’t everywhere. But there are tons of great places to visit where going to a bar is… often as not going to get you into a fight.).Report

  15. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    I don’t think this is just an “American” thing.

    I travel with a detailed itinerary (yes, it’s nice to meet people and spend some time relaxing, but when I’m going to a country with amazing natural and historic sites, I want to make a point of seeing those).

    And when you’ve got a country as expansive and varied as the United States – or Canada – why not travel domestically? You’re still going to encounter new people, places, cultures, and foods. Besides which, it seems the height of snobbery and classism to condemn domestic travel, given that many people don’t have the disposable cash to travel overseas. On a similar note, there’s probably another reason why Europeans travelling to Montenegro spend more time just ‘hanging out’ and less time sightseeing: if they miss seeing something that interests them, they can always come back. It’s far cheaper to fly within Europe than to fly from North America to Montenegro. Going by the ones I’ve met, Europeans who fly to the US and Canada spend their time doing ‘tourist’ stuff like visiting national parks, because when you invest that much money in a holiday, you want to see the local highlights.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to KatherineMW says:

      The weird thing is when British people come to the US, they’re the types who can afford to travel and are pre-self-selected as the types who would want to come to the US in the first place. This generally provides a specific type.

      When you go out to England to visit, holy crap! There are soccer hooligans!Report

  16. Avatar j r says:

    Originally, I read this post on my phone on the train this morning, so I only gave a perfunctory glance at the TPM piece. Going back just now and reading the whole thing, the thing that jumps out at me are the pictures. At first, I imagined Rosie Spinks older, as some Upper West side baby boomer, or early Gen Xer, lecturing the rubes west of the Hudson and east of the 101.

    According to LinkedIn, however, Spinks graduated college in 2011. Now that I know she is around 25, my take on this changes somewhat. I still think that it’s an absurd piece that makes some good points, but still is an absurd piece. But now I realize that the piece’s major malfunction is more millennial solipsism and less coastal snobbery. This reminds me very much of that TNR piece from that woman who admonished people not to say that they’re from a city when they’re from the suburbs. Freddi DeBoer had the right take on that, which I think applies equally well to this piece:

    …ostensibly talking about how you shouldn’t say you’re from the city when you’re really from the suburbs, and really about how Hillary Kelly is a cool and interesting person, and therefore also about how Hillary Kelly feels like she has to sell everybody on the idea that she’s a cool and interesting person…

    Perhaps next time save that one for the Tumblr. Or just say the hell with it and literally write “everybody be envious of my interesting life!” You know, for economy of expression’s sake.

    Report

  17. Avatar Jaybird says:

    My favorite comment from TPM:

    I personally love to take weeks off when I am not filling it up with activities. Vacationing like you have ADD is not a recipe for relaxation.

    As someone whose use of vacation days is to turn 3-day weekends into 4-day weekends, I read this and I giggle.

    Hey! I personally love to take weeks off too!Report

  18. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    There is a whole lot of “What’s the Matter with Kansas”-ing in this thread. Especially by @tod-kelly .

    Try not to pull a muscle from patting yourselves on the back.Report