Native eye for the tourist guy

I randomly managed to catch the travel blog roundup in this weekend’s USA Today, but what I failed to notice until the middle of this week is that I also had a travel column in last weekend’s San Francisco Chronicle. Entiitled “Native eye for the tourist guy“, my essay is a humorous look at the art of wearing native clothing in foriegn lands. “It’s often difficult to determine where the propriety of ‘going native’ begins and ends,” I state at one point in the essay. “Travel is not the same as emigration, after all, and no combination of culinary and fashion savvy can truly make you a part of your host culture. At some point, then, many attempts to “go native” cease to be an inquiry into other cultures and begin to be a token of status within travel culture itself.

“In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin observes that nomadic animal species tend to be less dependent upon hierarchies and shows of dominance, since the hardships of the journey naturally weed out the weak. However, now that humans’ nomadic life rarely involves natural selection, travel culture seems to have utilized fashion as one subtle kind of litmus test. Ostensibly, a Shan jacket worn with a Mao hat and cotton pajama bottoms implies that you had the Darwinian oomph to survive northern Burma, communist China and the Punjab. As with all fashions, however, the accepted vogue for going native tends to be fickle. In Jordan, for example, scores of Westerners trade ball caps for Arab khaffiyeh scarves to better keep the sun off — but few of those same travelers would don conical peasant hats for the same purpose in Vietnam.

“In the end, then, ‘going native’ is a mixed endeavor — part attempt to understand your host culture, and part extension of how you want to selectively showcase your travels to others. Properly balancing these urges is part of the challenge and fun of travel.”

Full essay online here.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | March 18, 2004
Category: Rolf's News and Updates

4 Responses to “Native eye for the tourist guy”

  1. Mitch Says:

    I am just struggling to understand how to define and catagorize the “marble sack” from McNeils Brazilian travel photos. I understand the old “when in Rome” theory, but he is threatening to continue the practice upon his return to the states??

  2. Rolf Says:

    Hey, Mitch. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by a “marble sack”. Is that the same thing as a “banana hammock”?

  3. mitch Says:

    You got it.

  4. Rolf Says:

    Well if anyone can pull off a “marble sack” in the US, it’s McNeil! Take care Mitch — I’ll give you a call in a couple days, once I get un-buried from all this back-in-the-States catch-up work.