We often behave abroad in ways we would never permit at home

“We have an unceasing capacity to make ourselves nuisances, basically. Students of tourism science can and do construct elaborate theories from physics, of course, invoking such wizards as Heisenberg and the Hawthorne effect and the status of Schrödinger’s cat to explain the complex interactions between our status as tourist-observers and the changes we prompt in the peoples and places we go off to observe. But at its base is the simple fact that in so many instances, we simply behave abroad in manners we would never permit at home: we impose, we interfere, we condescend, we breach codes, we reveal secrets. And by doing so we leave behind much more than footfalls. We leave bruised feelings, bad taste, hurt, long memories.”
–Simon Winchester, “Take Nothing, Leave Nothing,” Lapham’s Quarterly, Summer 2009

Posted by | Comments (3)  | February 4, 2013
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

3 Responses to “We often behave abroad in ways we would never permit at home”

  1. DEK Says:

    While most may have in mind Ugly American boorishness, there is another category of bad manners abroad that I suspect many may approve of. This is the visitor who upbraids his host country for not sharing progressive Western values on democracy, the environment, women’s rights, indigenous culture or whatever. This will be coming from a visitor, almost always young, who will almost never understand the cultural context of these practices, but who has been taught that it is virtuous to be ill-behaved toward authority.

    This is also a waste of the travel experience when the visitor’s time could be better spent observing how these values work within a functioning society and understanding how people who are as intelligent as the visitor could be comfortable with them.

    But of course we are solving the problem of having worse manners abroad by adopting worse manners at home.

  2. Rolf Potts Says:

    Good point, DEK — I touch on that notion in Vagabonding, as does Pico Iyer in this essay for Lapham’s Quarterly:


  3. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Indeed. At home and abroad, in the presence of others in any context, we are guests… we forget that and presume upon our privilege.

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