Tourism is a big money maker for many countries, but early trips around the world weren’t always mutually beneficial. The first adventures around the world ended up with mass genocides of native peoples and empires conquering as many lands as they could get. While imposing their language, culture, and religion on any who survived.
Woah, that escalated quickly.
That being said, tourism now is a great way for people to learn and interact with other cultures different from their own. I’ve always thought that travel is the best education anyone can have. I strongly believe it will make you a more understanding and tolerant person.
But what happens when Becky travels and decides her destination is too different from home. She doesn’t like the food or bothers to try local cuisine, can’t understand why no one speaks English to her, & keeps comparing everything to back home. These tourists exist in the world, and while it may seem like blissful ignorance, these sentiments can actually do damage.
I was recently abroad in Portugal with a group of nice women who happened to be white. While I do not normally like to pick out race, unfortunately, it may be integral for the story. Each woman had problematic interactions in the country that seemed to only bother me. For story’s sake, we’ll call them Michelle, Stacy, and Claire, Let’s take a look.
- Michelle was asked if she had ever traveled here before and her response was “I’ve never been to Portugal, but I’ve traveled to Spain, so…” So, what!? Portugal and Spain are two completely different countries. Lisbon and Barcelona have nothing to do with each other. While yes there are similarities, lumping these two together does a disservice to their entire history.
- Stacy did not speak Portuguese, so when she said gracias instead of obrigada, a local politely corrected her, explaining that many Portuguese take offense to hearing gracias. He stated in his opinion, this was due to years of unspoken tension. This was only one man’s point of view, he stated many Portuguese speak English which is perfectly acceptable. That night at dinner, Stacy told the waiter “gracias, or whatever it is.” I reminded her of the earlier conversation and mentioned it’s obrigada, to which she replied laughing, “Oh whatever, it’s close enough.”
- Claire goes out to a typical meal where they play Fado, a nationally celebrated genre of music. After the show, she says “It’s so strange that this music is so popular here, I’ve never heard of it.” Completely ignoring the fact she was raised on the west coast of The States, not Portugal.
While I’m sure they weren’t intentionally trying to be malicious, these comments have very harmful effects. First, when traveling to a new country, it is very important to respect the culture you are visiting. You are just that, a visitor. It is not your culture, therefore you have no right to impose what you think should be going on.
I was very bothered by these & numerous other interactions along the route. Unfortunately, these comments were not limited to Portuguese culture, but many others as well. Stacy even went so far as to tell me a random tidbit about Cuban culture that she believed to be true when it was false and offensive. I shared with her that what she said happened to be false, yet Stacy decided to argue with me. This white woman who had never stepped foot in Cuba decided that her truth had to be the truth (Let’s not believe an actual Cuban though).
I decided to swallow my words with her, as I did not want to come across as a stereotypical angry Latina. I felt as if this woman was not only denying me my culture but also imposing her own beliefs as the truth. I’m not going to lie, those words hurt. They hurt in a way I could not explain at the moment, not until I started looking around when I understood this was ancestral trauma.
Not all trauma is felt firsthand, meaning a trauma does not necessarily have to happen directly to you, for you to be affected by it. Traumas like slavery, genocide, and war, for example, greatly impact a nation, its people, or certain cultures. Patterns of history that are not healed are going to impact future generations. These traumas subconsciously shape our interactions with other people and other cultures throughout generations.
So when Becky or Bob decide to step foot in a new country and basically crap on everything there, implying that their country or their customs are superior or simply better are damaging actions. These actions are reminiscent of colonialism when empires would enter inhabited lands & impose their religion or customs onto any native peoples. Becky, you would be pissed if I came to your house & told you how to decorate, so don’t go to ANY country and decide how you think they should live.
Be very mindful when you travel to not impose yourself, or your beliefs on the culture of that nation. Remember, these people live here! Travel is supposed to expose you to cultures different, or maybe similar to your own. Your only obligations are to learn from and respect the cultures you have the benefit of interacting with. You’re obviously not in Kansas anymore, you are not entitled to special treatment everywhere you go. It doesn’t matter your sex, race, nationality, sexual orientation – don’t be disrespectful. And guess what, if you’re comparing yourself or your culture to another, you should do us all a favor & rip up your passport now, we don’t want your entitled ass anywhere near our culture!