Travel Culture: Essays on What Makes Us Go

By Carol Traynor Williams | Go to book overview

White Knee Socks Versus Photojournalist Vests: Distinguishing Between Travelers and Tourists

MARIELLE RISSE

There is an infallible test for detecting a tourist in any metropolis in the world--simply look for a man standing in front of a cutlery or luggage shop with his mouth ajar, gazing vacantly in at the manicure sets, razor strops, and collar boxes and jingling the change in his pockets.

-- S. J. Perelman

THE FIRST TRAVEL books I read were Gerald Durrell's descriptions of his animal-collecting trips to South America and Africa; I went through them settled in a deep, comfortable chair or stretched out on a towel at the beach. Once I began reading travel books as a scholarly pursuit, I had to read sitting up straight at a desk so that I had a pencil ready to make notes in the margin. I knew as I read that I might need to come back, find this passage again, and quote this sentence; so I jotted comments to help me remember. "Fact" scrawled across the bottom of a page reminded me that the author was making a point about distinguishing fact and fiction in travel books. "DD" stood for "double-decker," an author discussing reading travel books while traveling. "T vs. t" in the borders marked the place where the issue of travelers and tourists was discussed; not "t/t" or "t & t" or even "tt." I didn't realize that this might be important until I started to write this essay. The "vs." signifies how the distinction is presented: no sliding scale or variety of options; either you are in or you are out.

People who dispense definitions of "tourists" reflect the worst qualities of country club denizens deciding on new members. There is a pervasive feeling that the definers have passed the Rubicon themselves and refuse to remain in the same company of those who may have merely crossed the Amazon, Mississippi, or Nile. A perfect expression of this snobbery is found at the end of Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush ( 1958). Newby and Hugh Carless are returning to Panjshir

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