I remember trying to take a photograph of the lily pads floating with Monet’s house on a hill in the background, but finding it extremely difficult to get a shot without a few busloads of tourists with visors and fanny packs in the background. It was in fact impossible to get a shot of the famous green bridge because of the continuous flow of people passing over it. It was good I had my friends with me to keep the mood light because with each minute I grew more anxious with the snail passed move of the crowd and the man stepping on my heels behind me. It’s a aggravating feeling—on the one hand I just wanted everyone but me and my friends to leave so we could finally sit in the grass and soak in our day in the life of Monet and on the other hand I really do understand that there must be some order to how visitors filter through the site. But as childish and naïve as it sounds, I simply found myself sad that Monet’s house had to be a tourist destination and not just a place to come and relax. It seemed so un-French.
Even though the day had looked different in my mind, once back on the train I did feel satisfied that I’d been to Monet’s home and had seen what was offered to tourists of Monet’s life, but it wasn’t authentic and I was very aware of that fact. I had believed to be going passed Goffman’s front region by venturing out of Paris but knew too that I was fulfilling a tourist “must-do” of France. But the back region I hoped to enter had been made into a front region. The large parking lot of tour buses is just next to the lily pond that is now decorated with signs and arrows leading me to various “landmarks” of Monet’s life and the museum now on Monet’s property has a gift shop nearly the same size as the gallery room. What confuses me about visits like this is how it has become so difficult to have a truly authentic experience within a historical site. How do I visit a place like the home of Claude Monet and experience it as truly. I can’t because the authenticity has been tainted by the exploitation of the site for profit. To me, it is still worth it to visit similar places, however, it is hard to not feel a little sad that the genuine place is no longer there.
MacCannel makes a few good points such as places having a back and a front stage and that tourism is an exemplification of people wanting to make sure they get an "authentic" experience of the place (what I clearly just exemplified with my alarm at having not had one). However, in total, I really didn't enjoy the article very much there are a few things that I don't agree with/don't really understand in it.
Firstly, he compares travel and tourism to the secularized version of spiritual pilgrimages...I don't really agree. While they are similar in that the respective parties are searching for a special experience, to me the two aren't really comparable. For one, if one goes on a religious pilgrimage, one expects to experience something specific-some real revelation...whereas when one is a tourist, I feel as though in my experience at least you have a different type of thirst altogether...you have had no former interaction with the place- and you're searching for something- something authentic, but you're not sure what. The former involves a lot of thought, and a massive investment of time and thought. My going to Barcelona because I thought it was going to be pretty/fun/I'd never been there before isn't a pillar of my existence (re: Islam/Hajj)...Thus, I feel as though they cannot really be compared.
A second point I didn't really agree with was when he spoke about the evolution from primitive (who "need not worry about the authenticity of their rituals" (590) to modern-day concerns with authenticity. Of course primitive people/beings/creatures need and have always needed to worry about authenticity of their rituals or being the best at them. Take birds for example in this SHORT VIDEO FROM PLANET EARTH. Rather than "depending on individuals keeping their place," as MacCannel states, how do primitive people/creatures attract their mates? By being better/authentic... Would I want to shack up with some half-adequate bird? I don't think so- I'd want to procreate with the one with the prettiest tail, and the best dance. Primitive society carried on then, and society would still carry on today...and they are not all that different. Both have features of the necessity/craving of authenticity- an incorrect difference that MacCannel tried to draw between the two.
One of the more interesting points that MacCannell made was his list of layers of authenticity, and penetration. into society. While I think that it's interesting that he has categorized the stages of authenticity that one goes through, I don't really feel as though being able to penetrate the different layers is so much a question of how you approach the situation as it is a question of time. One of the first days I was in Paris, I accidentally went into a kitchen instead of to the restroom in a restaurant...i saw the waiters hussling about yelling orders (on the back stage). In that moment, I didn't really equate it with authentic. However, now that I have been here for some time, I realize that one of my first experiences here was, in fact, an exposure to the authentic life...or a form of it. I have also noticed that I am able to tell who Americans are just by looking at them on the street, on the metro, etc. Cultural differences become more apparent the more time you spend in a place...So I wonder, and would like to pose a question to MacCannell...When one has penetrated the culture to the deepest layer, the most "authentic," has one transcended a place of tourism? How does one define tourism? And how does one define identity? Just some of the many questions/qualms I had with this piece.
But at the same time, it seems that tourists don’t come to Paris to become more Parisian, or get into back regions, or even experience “real” French culture. France’s “national identity” has been its arts, fashion, and culture. Since the era or Napoleon III, who sought to make Paris the center of culture, this is the reason people come to Paris. The best example I have of seeing this is when my parents came to visit. They knew ahead of time that there were here to see the “secularized” Paris we all see. Just like most tourists who come here, they planned their few days here around seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. It’s no coincidence that the areas around these attractions, as they have become, are sprinkled with guided tours and maps offering tourists a “real” glimpse at Paris. But even so, I think tourists are fully aware that what they are seeing is just the surface, it is a front region. Tourists don’t expect to have access to the back regions – “real” Paris – and are okay with that.
Another example I saw of this was when I visited Versailles. The Palace of Versailles, which is a staple of the French identity, is one of the main attractions for tourists. I saw a group of tourists there who, at the end of their trip there, exclaimed, “Wow, I can’t believe we saw Versailles – and got to go inside! It’s amazing.” As amazing as it is, surely these tourists were aware that what they saw was catered to them. Marie Antoinette didn’t have plaques and iron bars in front of her bed, and she certainly didn’t have a gift shop in the foyer of her home. This secularized authenticity – a staged kings palace – is a prime example to the mindset of tourists and the people who create these places. I came to find out that, in fact, Versailles was one of the chicest suburbs of Paris to live in. On our tour, we saw people casually jogging through the grounds of Versailles the same way we jog through Central Park, not thinking twice about it.
Sometimes I tell myself I’ve been able to enter the “back regions” of Parisian living. I avoid the tourist areas, use the metro like a pro, and try to frequent bars and restaurants that aren’t known to be “Parisian”, in an attempt to be more Parisian. And still, I find myself constantly hearing people speak English, people who clearly aren’t natives, and it makes me second guess if I’ve really been able to see the “back regions” of Paris.
The idea of authenticity as a “secularized version of the sacred” brings to mind D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land, in which Waldie manages to find the sacred in the everyday mundane of his suburban home. I think there’s something in that: in looking for the sacred we’re looking for something real, something quotidian.
If I could equate my living situation in Ghana to something in New York, it would be the suburbs. Long Island. Westchester. My house on the border of Nassau County. So for me, living in Ghana is not so different from living at home, at least in pure physical location/appearance. And for me, that is authentic because the feeling of being at home in the suburbs is so sacred (as much as I take issue with the suburban landscape and what it represents).
Our quiet residential neighborhood is called Labone, and I think it’s easy to think of Labone –– particularly our nice two-story houses in Labone –– as particularly inauthentic. “This is supposed to be Africa” is the unspoken implication. “Where are the mud huts and flies?” But indoor plumbing do not an inauthentic Ghanaian experience make. Although we are a group of foreigners, we live next to businesses, shops, and homes owned and frequented by Ghanaians. Are these Africans somehow inauthentic because they don’t fit neatly into the village settings that dominate the West’s imaginings of sub-Saharan Africa?
We all talk about how study abroad stops being vacation and starts being real life when you develop a routine. And what more authentic than “real life,” the mundane banalities of shopping for zucchini and fabric, going to the bank, playing with the dogs who live next door. So I think my most authentic experience (of urban Accra in general and Labone in particular) has been walking around my neighborhood. In other words, living my life.
Dean MacCannell's Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings states that tourism has developed to absorb some of the social functions of religion in a modern world. In this sense tourism allows a search for authenticity as the tourist uncovers and discovers. The reading sets up the dichotomy between the “front” and “back.” The front is the performance. We all put up a front to strangers or more literally but equally as right the front of a restaurant with its candle-lit white table cloths and silverware as opposed to its loud brightly lit messy kitchen with slang slinging immigrants. The physical fronts and backs only mirror the social divisions. The kitchen is obviously the back. If we allow strangers past our front we inherently let down boarders and boundaries which allow them access to a more intimate side and hence more authenticity. Understanding of how things work and run gives us satisfaction and understanding this “secret” is initiate. This is what we seek in our relationships with people around us and this is something that traveling allows us as we work to discover the authentic intimacy of a people or place.
They say Buenos Aires is the capital of a new movement in dining. It is centered around a new style of “restaurant” called puertos cerrados, or closed doors. While there are speakeasy type bars and stores popping up in cities around the world Buenos Aires is home to these special restaurants which can be found on weekend nights in the summer in peoples homes. Just this last weekend I went to a closed door restaurant. Dinner began at 9:30 and everyone had to come at the same time to have the same welcome drink as if you were really being hosted by a couple. The couple makes dinner with a little help from staff in their kitchen while you drink in their garden. You walk through the kitchen to get to your table which is set up a little like the last supper, family style. When you need to use the bathroom you will need to pass their sleeping baby and their mac in the home office. The bathroom has a footed shower tub to remind you that you are undeniably in someones home. This place is a bit of a stage 5 place, or a staged back region, a living museum to which visitors are allowed to peek. “It is a space for outsiders who are permitted to view details of the inner operation of a commercial, domestic, industrial or public institution. Apparently, entry into this space allows adults to recapture virginal sensations of discovery, or childlike feelings of being half in and half out of society, their faces pressed up against the glass.” The 16 spaces for dinner were filled with english speaking tourists eager for the fixed course of home-made dinner. The experience was very authentic and intimate because although they filled their house with tea-light candles and in sense to set the mood the setting itself had been created by them and the passion could be felt as well, and the fact that we were allowed in created a very secret yet intimate atmosphere as if you were a part of something.
But MacCannell's writing left me realizing we love this kind of staged authenticity. Maybe sometimes too much intimacy is uncomfortable. I also wonder whether he has considered the front and back of oneself and the discovering of that division. Traveling, even when you are not discovering the intimate side of another, can lead you to discover the back of yourself.
The link uploader isn't working (probably a Chinese internet issue) but article about the Xiao Long Bao restaurant is pretty interesting and if anything it will make you hungry :) - http://frenziedpalate.blogspot.com/2009/11/jia-jia-tang-bao.html
And watch the video to see these yummy treats being made.
Incidentally, I had gone to the Volta region on a class field trip the weekend before. Our professor, the one who organized the trip, had lived in the area all his life and showed us around the neighborhood. I had met the thunder cult priest in his compound and had watched a dance troop perform—for an incredible hour and a half—traditional dances that hailed from that region. If I had come to Ghana on my own, I doubt I would have had these opportunities.
Opportunities. Cracks in otherwise almost insurmountable barriers. Gateways to a real experience in the context of travel. Ghana has a sparsely organized tourist industry, and the particular place we went was one of the country’s least touristy areas. Because of its popularity and potential for profit, tourism has become associated with performance or “staged authenticity.” To join an organized tour implies that tourists will have the opportunity to see authentic content in an inauthentic context; for example, the dances performed by the dance troop would normally be done for purposes such as celebrating a harvest or preparing for battle, not entertaining foreigners. The combination of its accessibility and its staged authenticity placed the chance to see the dance troop on a lower rung of the opportunity ladder.
However, a member of the community, not an industry, organized our tour in Volta region. The intimacy of this connection offered the chance to experience authentic content in an authentic context, a back region. More specifically, we got to meet the thunder cult priest in the compound where he and his family lived. Instead of a preplanned performance, the priest—who only spoke Ewe and was unwell at the time—sat in a chair as our professor lectured and then paid for the visit. In this situation, the price for accessibility and unscripted authenticity was a more immediate awareness of cultural barriers and of blunt reality. Because I don’t speak Ewe, I could not converse with the priest myself. Even if I did speak the language, I probably would still have difficulty communicating since we live within different cultures with different norms and social cues. Also, exposing the exchange of money instead of hiding it with the frills of staged authenticity confirmed and reinforced the stark truth that I was just a tourist
MacCannell says that the search for authenticity today mirrors past religious pilgrimages for the sacred. I’d like to add another layer of that in terms of dance. Historically, dance has developed through three stages: ritual, social, and finally performance. Since tourists discredit performance, it seems as if the search for the authentic is an attempt to rediscover the root of things, the beginning intentions, what makes a culture tick. I, as an outsider, wish to experience not a performance but a ritual dance. Maybe the dance I am learning in class is no longer authentic since the ritualized aspects have been removed; it has been changed from a dance for rituals to one for performance. Some will consider it a poor imitation of the original, diluted for the masses. But I think that the experience of authenticity is relative. Every body moves in a different way.
Our dance instructors constantly tell us to “make it your own.” Learn a traditional Ghanaian dance—possibly with inauthentic content in an inauthentic context—with authentic intention. Since we are not robots, they scold, we can make a dance interesting. I should do something only I can do every time we practice. The drumming started, and we tried again.
(The video is of Sovu, the dance described above. It's a little different from the one I learned since everyone dances it a bit differently. The basic movements, however, are the same)
Prague was the only city that was not completely bombarded and flattened in the various wars of the 20th century. Almost all the other major cities had to rebuild their empires from the rubble that remained, on a tight monetary budget. So imagine my disappointment when I visited Berlin, first on my list of cities to visit, and was almost blinded by the ugly architecture of the city. However, tourist attractions like the Reichstag and the Berlin Cathedral on Museum Island remained artfully reconstructed. Of course, initially I didn't know that they had been reconstructed. And when I found out, I suddenly could tell the factors that gave away the buildings true age. For one thing, the Reichstag even had new additions to allow it to accommodate and attract more tourists.
However, even though Prague did not need to refurbish itself to become a hot LonelyPlanet pick, a recently developed tourist industry is trying to expand its market. They do this by adding bizarre attractions like Segway tours, American style clubs and pubs, and a strange and overrated clock tower show every hour.
These really are strange ways to add an appetizing pink color to an already delicious tasting piece of ham.
I’m trying to enjoy this piece of delicious ham called Prague without it’s artificial color. It’s hard sometimes, because in a way, I too am a tourist, one on an extended visa, wanting to visit and see the things the city is famous for. It’s often difficult to try and be more local because most of my friends are extended tourists too who only want to go to bars and clubs that cater to people like us. But I’m trying to venture out. I’ve befriended my RA’s and through them made more local friends. They take me to Czech university dining halls for lunch, and clubs where no one speaks a word of English (yet strangely enough, loves to dance to every Top 40 hit). Just recently, a local friend of mine took me into this sketchy alley, rang a door bell, said something in Czech, led me up five flights of dark stairs and into a beautiful café, flowing with intellectuals who wanted to discuss American literature with me.
I really hope I can successfully overcome the power of chemical nitrates.
Almost every neighborhood feels like a “tourist trap”. Sometimes we are fooled though. There are so many restaurants we’ve been to that I think, “wow this is so French, this must be where all the locals come” but slowly, throughout dinner I start to hear so many different languages around us and realize that it is just where all the concierges tell their guests to go for a “real French dining experience”. It is just like MacCannell says, “It is also found that tourist settings are arranged to produce the impression that a back region has been entered even when this is not the case. In tourist settings, between the front and the back there is a series of special spaces designed to accommodate tourists and to support their beliefs in the authenticity of their experiences”.
It is so hard to differentiate between tourist spotsand local haunts. A lot of my friends who have studied in Paris before passed their lists along to me, complete with restaurants, bars, stores, and museums. They all handed them over to me with pride saying, “these are my favorite places, the places I found and loved for four months”. So many of the different lists overlapped though. What one of my friend’s thought was her secret Sunday brunch spot was also another girl’s.
It is also incredibly difficult to come from a place like New York City. In the city, there are so many recreations of “the French bistro”. Most of them have “Disneyland-esque” qualities. Places like Pastis in Meatpacking, and Balthazar in Soho try so hard to capture the essence of what we think of as an authentic French restaurant. So now, being here, it is hard for me to see past the Disneyland qualities, even if they are completely authentic. It is exactly how MacCannell explains, “It is always possible that what is taken to be entry into a back region is really entry into a front region that has been totally set up in advance for touristic visitation. In tourist settings, especially in modern society, it may be necessary to discount the importance, and even the existence, of front and back regions except as ideal poles of touristic experience”.
Spain is the capital of staged authenticity.
When most people think of Spain, they automatically conjure an image of intense Flamenco-looking women, and bullfighters, and gypsy-sounding music.
And why wouldn’t you?
Spain built most of its fortune in the 70s by campaigning through this image. This is one of the reasons it was able to blossom economically during the Franco regime (another image of Spain that NO ONE really talks about). Franco decided that any cultural diversity within Spain and its multiple regions was automatically unified to include one saucy image. This image of Spain (with the flamenco dancers, etc.) actually comes from Andalusia, the southern region of Spain. This means that all the other sections of Spain have their own unique cultural diversity, which does not showcase spicy flamenco dancers whatsoever.
Madrid, the capital of Spain, has no authentic relationship to this image. The interesting concept of staged authenticity relates to the concept of tourism and mass advertising. If Spain was not portrayed by ancient writers, or sold by the government as this exotic european jungle, would anyone bother to come?
Not to say that Madrid or Spain is not exotic, all I mean is that there are not any real Flamenco dancers or bullfighters walking around Plaza Mayor.
Madrid has its unique cultural diversity, different from the various cities we’ve travelled to in Spain. But it is because of this staged authenticity that most people decided to visit in the first place, right? This is why, even though it technically and regionally shouldn’t, Madrid has staged Flamenco shows that charge people over 50 euros. It is this staged authenticity that people want and the people of Spain want to give.
I’m actually glad I get to visit and live in Madrid for three months. After a while, you have to stop looking for the staged authenticity of the city and find its real value. I avoid Sol, and other touristy areas, and stay within little hubs around the center of Madrid. These are the places that I have found have the true Spanish authenticity within them.
You just feel different walking in these hubs than walking through Sol.
When travelling through these beautiful countries and cities, I have to remember to make more of an effort to get past the staged authenticity and really get the true flavor of the city. Even if the city doesn’t want me to know it.
Such is the problem in any major metropolis, including London. Trafalgar Square is lined with “authentic” British Pubs, which boast signs that read “Tourists Welcome!” Authenticity can be a challenge to find when you are presented with all the allures of what Talcott Parson calls “front areas” (Macannell, 589). As strangers in a new place, we desperately try to seek out the “back rooms” (And by back rooms we do not mean those sketchy back rooms on Canal Street where you go to buy the “real” fake designer handbags). These back rooms are what we consider to be purely authentic experiences. Nobody wants to be the tourist with the fanny pack and the perfectly white sneakers, who feels compelled to snap a photo in the middle of busy sidewalk. Personally, I feel tempted to run those people over. I loathe tourists and I hate being one.
Though I suppose that we all must go through a bit of a tourist phase whenever we arrive in a new place. We need the maps and the guidebooks to acclimate ourselves. You need to see Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, no matter how many tourists swarm these attractions. But when all of that is said and done, we have the ardent desire to rid ourselves of our proverbial fanny packs and become a “local”. Macannell explains, “the term ‘tourist’ is increasingly used as a derisive label for someone who seems to be content with his obviously inauthentic experiences” (592). With such a negative stigma attached to tourists, I don’t think anyone would have the desire to be one (unless they really like fanny packs).
The more time you spend in a place, the easier it is to gain entry into the “back rooms.” When I first arrived in London, I relied heavily on a map and went to the front areas which my guidebooks led my to. I even went on one of those painfully touristy boat cruises on the Thames (as depicted above). But after breaking out of this touristic phase, I began to feel like I belonged in the back areas. I have found pubs with not a tourist in sight, I have befriended some fantastic Londoners, and I have discovered an authentic London.
I may even go so far as to say I feel like a Londoner myself. I don’t claim that I am truly a Londoner by any means, but at times my authentic experiences lead me to I feel as though I might be one. I have found that there is no set definition of a Londoner. London is a very cosmopolitan city and Great Britain is rapidly diversifying. Being British no longer requires one to fill the WASP stereotype. In one of my classes, the Professor discussed how the recent influx of different cultures over the past several decades has redefined what it means to be British. The fact that one is not of British heritage does not bar them from being a Londoner. To be a Londoner is simply to be in and of London.
Yet is this Ghana’s “back region,” what MacCannell describes as “closed to audiences and outsiders” (590)? It might seem like real Ghanaian life, but after living here for two months, I’ve come to realize it’s just another version of performance. It’s not a performance for tourists per se, but a “front region” for society as a whole. All the “real” things on the streets of Accra do not show their roots, what MacCannell calls the “props and activities that might discredit the performance out front” (591). For instance, you can find a woman roasting plantains and see a handful of men purchasing them for a few cents. The woman looks like she’s doing fine, as she’s selling her products and presumably making a profit. But what happens when she’s not selling the plantains, when she goes home? The onlooker doesn’t know her economic status, her living conditions, or whether or not she even enjoys selling plantains. All the viewer sees is a smiling woman wrapping sweet smelling plantains in newspapers and handing them to customers.
If her life is the real “back region,” how does a tourist, traveler, or anyone get there? There is not a clear answer to this question, but instead it’s useful to think about performance as a whole. Performance studies, a growing discipline, suggests that every moment of our lives is a performance, that everything we do is consciously or unconsciously staged. With this in mind, the streets of Accra become a big performance of rumbling cars, vendors calling out “biscuits, biscuits,” and people on their way to work. It might seem like the back region, the daily life of Ghanaians, but its no more authentic than the Duomo in Florence. Both are staged, places where everything is constructed to create a particular scene.
What, then, would a tourist encounter in Ghana? The tourist would certainly see such street scenes, but would also find highly staged “cultural centers.” We got a taste of this a few weeks ago on a trip to Kumasi, another city in the Asante region of Ghana. Our guides took us to a village where a group of Ghanaians demonstrated how to weave kente cloth and make adinkra symbols, both of which are traditional crafts. Even though what they were showing us was real, the entire experience felt fake. These Ghanaians were making the products for tourists, staging the whole process so we could have a “cultural experience.” Afterwards, most of us felt obliged to purchase something in return for the demonstration. I ended up buying a piece of cloth with adinkra symbols, but felt conflicted. The product, in theory, had cultural significance, as it was an example of the usage of these traditional symbols. Yet since the piece was produced solely for tourists, it had lost all its meaning. The symbols weren’t valuable because of cultural tradition; they were valuable because they were now commodities for tourists. Is this Ghana’s form of staged authenticity?
Before arriving to Ghana I tried to imagine that because I was going to live there for four months and not on vacation, that I would not be a tourist. Dean MacCannell takes a rather pessimistic approach to tourism when he says, “the touristic experience that comes out of the tourist setting is based on inauthenticity” (599). While there can be a certain valor in this belief in that you are not trying to kid yourself about what you will see. But I can’t help but think this is just setting yourself up for disappointment. If I go into it thinking that everything I experience will be inauthentic, then why go at all? And even though tourist sites can be “cheesy” or “tacky” (599), they are still real. The Grand Canyon is not fake, nor is the Great Wall of China or Buckingham palace. These and other typical tourist attractions are the real thing, hence their appeal. Just because they are not a part of natives’ daily lives, does not make it any less authentic.
After being in Ghana for two months now I have been re-examining my tourist status. I believe I have developed a mix feeling of tourist and resident. At times I feel very comfortable here and go about my daily routine and refer to my house here as “home”. But at the same time, being called a foreigner on a daily basis on the street and the simple fact that I will never blend in, inhibit me from completing the full transition to resident or local. In Ghana, all taxi prices are negotiable. But being a foreigner, you have to know what sort of price it should be to prevent them from completely ripping you off. In order to get from Labone (where I live) to Osu (an area about ½- 1 mile away) it should cost about 3 cedi. However, being an obruni it can be difficult sometimes to get that price. We cheer and pat ourselves on the back when we are able to negotiate for 3 cedi. I think, alright, I am now a local. That is until I take a cab with a Ghanaian. The ATM machine was down one day and a man who also needed the ATM suggested we go to Osu to another bank. The first cab we get into, he barely says anything to the driver beyond where we are going and when we get there he hands the driver 2 cedi. Two! My accomplishment of obtaining three immediately was thwarted, as I realized even with that result, I am still a tourist- just visiting for a long, long time.
But that is okay. Because of the positive side of tourism: “tourists enter tourist areas precisely because their experiences there will not, for them, be routine” (601). It may be a rip off or tacky to some, but tourist experiences are always something our of the ordinary for the tourist- which is really the only opinion that matters. So go ahead, look up all you want.
(my own photo of me being incredibly touristy learning how to stamp Adinkra symbols in the Ashanti region)
When I think of a tourist I think of Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, a funky hat, and sunglasses. This is stereotypical, but not entirely inaccurate. I’m from Alaska and even the tourists who come up to visit our glaciers commonly wear these items. Maybe they wear the flowing shirts because they’re comfy, maybe the shorts provide calf freedom, maybe the hat is them letting loose, and maybe the sunglasses are just reasonable in every situation. Or maybe none of this is accurate. When I first came to school in NYC, my cousin, a Manhattan resident, told me whatever I do just don’t look up when I walk around, I’d look like a tourist. Thus the stereotype is programmed into our brains.
So if I’m a student in another country, not taking tours, traveling cheaply, and temporarily living here, am I tourist? Was I ever? Maybe I could be considered a resident now, after all people do ask me for directions, but really I feel like a tourist. I don’t have the desperate need for “false authenticity” MacCannell describes, which maybe be atypical in my situation, but I believe this is mostly because the Czech culture really is truly foreign, and much of what they do has no interest to me. When we first arrived everybody wanted to get a beer and a sausage, but not me. Everybody wanted to go to a castle, but not me. Everybody wanted to go to an ex-pat Czech club, and while I went along, I ceased this nasty habit almost immediately and have started look for the alternative routes to culture, much like the mail boats MacCannell refers to. So I am in limbo, a possible tourist, still a target for pick-pocketing and public transportation cops, but content with my external position in the Czech community. If I apply MacCannell’s definition then no, I am not a tourist. However, this doesn’t mean the locals can’t laugh when I give them my very best “Dobry den!”
He then continues to examine just how unreal a tourists experience can be. We all know how easy it is to travel somewhere and be immune to the “real” culture, or not be exposed to the daily inner workings of a society. But I have to wonder, what is so wrong with that? Tourists are on vacation and are oftentimes looking for something fanciful. In fact most tourists specifically try to avoid the mundane daily activities for a week or two of exhilarating fantasy. MacCannell notes that “Tourists often do see routine aspects of life as it is really lived in the places they visit, although few tourists express much interest in this.” (601) Certain aspects of the culture are evident in the ways that people live their day to day life such as what foods they eat, architecture, transportation and labor. But why would I travel around the world to sit with a family as they watch a movie in the living room? If I travel to Egypt I am going to see the pyramids, if I travel to Venice I will take a gondola down the Grand Canal. To me there is nothing wrong with experiencing tourism for what it is, as long as you are aware of the specific meaning and importance of the place. What I mean is this; there are simply different kinds of tourists. Whether you are the active, passive, engaged, oblivious or thrill seeking tourist depends on where you are and under what conditions. When I go somewhere that is considered “extremely touristy” I am fully aware why it is considered that way. I know I am going to pay extra for food and buy kitschy souvenirs, but I’m ok with that. After living in New York for about a year I finally took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, eagerly bought an obnoxious green felt liberty crown and took a zillion pictures of my friends pretending to hold their imagined torch with pride. We loved it because it was a break for us to at last be over the top tourists. On balance, there are times when I don’t want my menu to be translated into English and will not pull out my camera, even if the situation would make an awesome picture. It is all about where you are and why you are there. There is no universal right or wrong for tourism.
In conclusion McCannell made an excellent point that I have often noticed in my time abroad. He noticed that “a mere experience may be mystified, but a touristic experience is always mystified.” (599) I wholeheartedly agree and have to wonder if this is the reason I love traveling so much. Almost everyday when I’m walking out of our “compound” for the day, I’ll crack a joke about how we’re off on another crazy adventure. Something so normal like getting a cab is a cultural experience. One of the most interesting parts of my day is my commute to work. When has that ever been the case in New York? Why McCannell has many reservations about the ideas and unauthentic experiences that tourism promotes, I myself find no problem with it. I love being a tourist, I love travel, and so what if it’s a little bit skewed? The Coliseum for example is extremely exploited, surrounded by men dressed as caricaturized gladiators that you pay to take a picture with. But to me, that doesn’t devalue my personal experience. The Coliseum is one of the most stunning things I have seen, and I think it will stay that way, with or without the Gladiators.