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Third World Tourism Equals Servility? April 6, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, society.
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I heard a strange piece on NPR on the drive in this morning. The program was Radio Times I think and the topic was the tourism industry in the Bahamas. Or more precisely, industry in the Bahamas. You see, tourism is industry in the Bahamas. They have nothing else. I think they’ve tried a few other things–fishing? nuclear power? microprocessors? tchotchkes?–but nothing has stuck. Tourism is their “economy,” such as it is. So what is the big deal? The interview was with the minister of tourism who is installing a top-down cultural mandate of servility in the islands. From this day forward, every Bahaman (Bahamian?) islander will “yes, sir”, “no, sir” and “how high? sir” their very best to fulfill the wish and whimsy of every tourist. “It’s the best way to encourage repeat business.” Really? Ugh!

Have you ever traveled to a non-first-world country? I’ve been to a few places. Some in which the tourism service was servile and some in which it was just service. And I prefer non-servile to servile every time. I won’t mention specific locales or venues, but I had a semi-recent stay at a hotel in a non-first-world country. Three days. I have never in my life had so many people buzzing around me, calling me “sir”, asking to hold my bag, asking if I needed anything, standing over my shoulder to clear my plate immediately as I was stabbing the fork through the last piece of food on it, and generally acting sycophantic. All, I am sure, under the watchful eye of sycophancy (sycophantism?) pitboss. I felt like a colonial English general among the savages, and I am sure that was the intent. Except that kind of feeling left me wanting to take a shower every time I came back to my room. I could not get away from that place quickly enough.

When I go to a place, first world, second world–by the way, what is an example of a second world country? China? Iraq? Costa Rica?–or third world, I generally go to see the sights and the local people and customs. When I go to a second or third world country, I already feel uncomfortable because I have experiences and opportunities most locals will never have, that I make in a day what they may not make in a month, that I have the means to come and visit their country and they do not have the means to come and visit mine. I don’t want to be made to feel more awkward by having locals falling over each other to satisfy my every desire (that didn’t come out quite right) as if I were a minor deity, or a Jonas brother. I understand that provincial places have a fascination with outsiders, especially Westerners, and especially Americans. But there is a difference between curiosity, even overbearing curiosity, and servility.

I visited the Bahamas for spring break in 1994. I don’t remember servility. Actually, I don’t remember much except for: i) jumping into the pool from the second floor balcony of my motel, ii) some idiot jumping into same from the roof, iii) accidentally swimming into a school of barracudas, iv) the world’s lamest wet T-shirt contest, and v) my girlfriend getting a sunburn that a lobster would be proud of. Perhaps I roughed it too much to encounter servility. Perhaps this was just before state-instituted servility. But if what Mr. tourism minister says is true, I can’t imagine going back, no matter how fun the first trip. It would be like going to live in DisneyWorld. Or the Truman Show. Or Minnesota.

P.S. From the department of climate change department. We have just finished the wettest March on record. My backyard is in full bloom. Just like it’s time to change the colloquial meaning of “glacial” from something that moves slowly to something that moves quickly, it may be time to officially change the poem “April showers bring May flowers” to “March showers bring April flowers”. I know it kills the cadence, but still. In other news, tomorrow, April 7, the temp in Philadelphia is supposed to hit 90 which usually doesn’t happen until June. Yipes!

P.P.S. Please sponsor Team Roth’s walk for Multiple Sclerosis.

P.P.P.S. Brett Favre had a kid when he was 19?

P.P.P.P.S. Next up, Supreme Court?

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Comments»

1. cyberanna - April 6, 2010

This reminds me of our trip to Machu Picchu. We did a 4-day trek. We carried our personal belongings on our backs; porters from our tour company (http://www.unitedmice.com/en/tour04.html) carried “everything else”.

The trek itself was not easy, but by far the hardest part was watching the porters carrying the “everything else”, which turned out to be a LOT of stuff — tents, food, cooking supplies, etc. We ate like kings — way better than I’ve ever eaten when I bought, carried, and cooked my own food hiking/camping. It was more than a little disturbing. We had our fancy back packs and hiking boots. Some of these guys (practically kids) barely had shoes and on their backs were duffel bags that sooner resembled trash bags than back packs. I tried to assuage my guilt by thinking “Maybe this job pays better than the alternative options?” I tried not to think about any permanent damage perpetual hauling can do do one’s body.

By about day 3, my brother turned to me and said “I don’t know if I can handle the guilt of this trip much longer.” I was in complete agreement.

At least it wasn’t Everest. No one was risking death (that I’m aware of).

p.s. “March brings showers, April flowers.” ?

Amir Roth - April 7, 2010

“March brings showers, April flowers”? Very nice. You’re a poet and you don’t even know it. You want to know the sad part about my little wordplay? I Googled that exact phrase, with quotes and everything, and got 2,900 hits. I only checked the first five pages, but 90% are from the last three weeks! If you’re not scared by climate by what you’ve seen this year, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess wait until next year when “December showers bring January flowers?”

P.S. I thought every one of your trips involved a near death experience, at least for you. Don’t be revisionist.

2. cyberanna - April 7, 2010

Yes, I mis-wrote. Surely none of the porters were risking death. Whether *I* was by hiking the Incan trail (~12,000 feet) only 24 hours after landing in Cusco, or by leaving Philadelphia a week before the MICRO deadline… well, that’s another story. 🙂


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