"Tourism is the march of stupidity. You're expected to be stupid...Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence."*
Tourism while it generates a lot of money is undoubtedly one of the stupidest enterprises undertaken by many humans every year. It doesn’t further understanding, instead it often reinforces stereotypes or else is used to simply justify one’s biases. Consider the average tourist: What do they think when they book their tickets to a particular ‘tourist’ destination?
Who are these people who visit the English countryside and return with visions of quaintness intact? Not once do they ask, “How come the sheep roam free?” (All predators hunted to extinction.) Or “How come the trees are so few and far between?” (Very few ancient woodlands left.) Both especially striking if one is from India.
Due to circumstances, I’ve lived in places that people like to be tourists in. Recording some recent interactions– you know, for sociology.
He: Is this the area where they lived in ‘Friends’?
Me (to myself): No. That was imaginary. No one with those kinds of jobs can afford those apartments in Manhattan.
She: We’ve done Times Square, MOMA and Central Park. Aur kya hai dekhne ke liye? Kahan kahan jaayen? (What else is there to see? Where should we go?)
Reminded me of a woman who got out of a car in Dhanaulti looked around– the entire Himalayan range was clearly visible against the clear blue sky– and asked us, “Aur kya hai yahan dekhne ke liye?” (What else is there to see?)
Me: The MET is displaying all 17 Van Gogh’s in its collection. And Whitney has a Jeff Koons retrospective. Should we go?
She: I saw Van Gogh in Paris and then when I went to Amsterdam I spent half an hour at his museum.
Me: Okay. So what do you want to do?
She: Where are the best outlets near NYC?
Me: What outlets?
She (looking at me as if I am some new kind of stupid): You’ve not been? Shops where you get discounted designer stuff.
He: Take a picture of this street. It’s so New York.
He: Take a picture of this Tibetian shop. It’s so New York.
He: Take a picture of this Cafe. It’s so New York.
He: Take a picture. It’s so, New York.
Half an hour later.
Me: Have you been up the High Line?
Both: No. What is it? Where is it?
Me: Right here, up above our heads. Want to see?
He: Take a picture. This is so rad.
He: Take a picture of the railway tracts. So rad.
10 minutes later.
He: Lets go down from this exit.
She: The girls are so feminine here. They like to wear dresses a lot, no?
He: Girls here have such smooth skin. Unlike in India.
He: The gays here are so rude…I mean confident, not dabba dabba sa (scared) as in ––
Me: This IS their city.
She: Thode saal aur ghoom lo phir wapas aa jana. (Roam around for a couple of more years then come back to India.)
Me (to myself): We aren’t on a holiday here. You are. (Nor have we been for the past 10 years.) We work and live here.
He angry: I don’t like NYC.
Me (wondering does he expect me to apologize): But you’ve just landed an hour back.
"To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don't cling to you the way they do back home. You're able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. You're expected to be stupid. The entire mechanism of the host country is geared to travelers acting stupidly. You walked around dazed, squinting into fold-out maps. You don't know how to talk to people, how to get anywhere, what the money means, what time it is, what to eat or how to eat it. Being stupid is the pattern, the level and the norm. You can exist on this level for weeks and months without reprimand or dire consequence. Together with thousands, you are granted immunities and broad freedoms. You are an army of fools, wearing bright polyesters, riding camels, taking pictures of each other, haggard, dysentric, thirsty. There is nothing to think about but the next shapeless event."
– *Don DeLillo, The Names