Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Musing: EgoTourists

My mission on The Voyage is to explore the world, live by my wits and report my findings.  Thus, my focus is outward, toward the world and toward the people and places in it.  Most of the time, I am a solo, independent traveler, immersed in local cultures and exclusively in the company of local people.  Although some of them -- from time to time -- ask me something about myself and/or The Voyage, the focus -- and certainly my focus -- is always on them and their culture.  I am an anonymous traveler who visits for a time then moves on, leaving very little -- if any -- wake in the process.  This affords me access and insights that are of extraordinary value, and it is a vastly rewarding mode of travel.  From time to time I am in the company of other outwardly focused travelers, and this is a similarly rewarding experience.  I benefit from the sharing of thoughtful insights, gain perspective through other eyes and enjoy the companionship of "similarly intended" people.

Unfortunately, I sometimes cross paths with people who do not have an outward focus.  Rather, they focus almost exclusively on themselves and their experiences.  Worse, they constantly tell everyone else about themselves and their experiences.  Often, it seems their primary interest in being wherever they are is to be able to tell those around them about where else they have been and, one must presume, being able at some future date to tell still others that they have been wherever they are at the moment.  Your role in their self-centered lives is to be an audience to tell about the past and to be part of their material to talk about in the future.  Always, of course, the focus will be on them.  I have come to call these people "EgoTourists."  My problem with these people is not just the annoying, self-centered noise they make.  I am pretty good at tuning that out and/or extricating myself from their presence when they get rolling.  No, my real problem with EgoTourists is that they frequently get in the way of my own mission.  Many times I have been just about to get some local person to open up and talk about himself, his culture, his concerns, etc., only to have some EcoTourist barge in and talk about herself.  My exploration is immediately shut down, my time and resources wasted.  Those of you who know me well can just imagine how well I handle that!  Over the past nine months, I have developed an "early warning" system, designed to identify EgoTourists before they can strike.  The point of this Musing is to "share my findings" with you so that, perhaps, you will be better prepared to deal with EgoTourists in your own travels.  Here, then, are the three primary ways you can identify EgoTourists:

1) "Have you been to...?" -- This is their primary "conversation starter" and your "yes/no" answer is guaranteed to be followed up immediately with, "Well, when we were in..." and then some long story about them and their experience, typically focused on some problem they had with the food, the hotel, the guide or the weather.  It will be all about them and -- if you don't quickly extricate yourself from the "conversation" -- it will be at least as boring as watching their slide show.  Note that they always use the term "we" because it is a certainty that they have never gone anywhere solo, never risked being a lone stranger in a strange land and never had to live by their wits.  Also, pay close attention to the last word they use in the question.  The larger the geographical area, the more of an EgoTourist they are certain to be.  If, for example, they ask "Have you been to South America?" be prepared to hear about their half-day port call in Valparaiso.  Not only will they extrapolate that to an intimate knowledge of Chile, they will further extrapolate it to include an in-depth understanding of South American culture and a recital of how many other continents they have "been to."  When you hear "Have you been to...?" I suggest you run, do not walk, to the nearest exit. 

Egotourists22) "This is just like..." -- This is their primary way of "making noise" and is most likely to be completed by filling in the blank the same way over and over again.  "This is just like New Zealand."  "This is just like New Zealand."  "This is just like New Zealand."  What they are really saying is "Look at me!  I've been to New Zealand!  Ask me about my trip to New Zealand!"  This will be followed immediately by their making even more noise about some highly convoluted similarity -- one that anyone who has been to the place being compared would have to be on mind-altering drugs to see the correlation -- or by the dreaded "Have you been to New Zealand?"  (See #1 above!)  Once again, this is all about them, feeding their ego about the places they've been and their needing an audience to validate how cool they are.  You will get nothing -- I repeat nothing -- out of their story except, perhaps, the opportunity to exercise your ability to get away from them as fast as possible.

3) "I got this in..." -- Watch out for the person who wears different t-shirts every day from far away places.  Bonus points if the shirts all have the words "World", "Global", "Trek" or "Expedition" somewhere on them.  Similarly, look out for the safari hat with a number of pins or buttons on it.  Bonus points if there are multiple pins from the same places noting different years.  When you see any of these -- and you will when you are in the presence of EgoTourists -- do not, under any circumstances, ask about any of them.  You will be sorry when you hear their self-centered story about not only the piece in question but about each and every piece of accoutrement.  It will be all about them and nothing of value about the place.  A subtle variation of this telltale, by the way, is the "travel vest" -- you know, like the ones you see journalists wearing while on location somewhere.  Even though it just screams "Look at me, I'm an EgoTourist!" you may find yourself almost irresistibly tempted to ask the really dumb question:  "Where did you get your vest?"  What you won't hear is "Oh, Eddie Bauer online."  What you will hear is everyplace the vest has been, what a life saver it has been and how anybody who "really travels" ought to have one.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Finally, keep in mind that no matter how fully you adopt and practice my EgoTourist early warning system, they'll still sneak up on you from time to time.  Sooner or later, their need to talk about themselves will overwhelm your defenses.  If this happens, do as I do:  Just walk away.  This may strike you as rude, but that's only because you have the capacity to recognize and accommodate other people.  They don't.  Actually, you will be doing them a favor.  You'll be giving them an experience that they can talk about to their next victim.  Think of it as your "good deed" for the day.

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