Your next vacation

Anthropologists_1I have an idea for your next vacation.

Phone Saida at Saros Research in London and set up ethnographic interviews with 10 people in London.

It sounds strange, I’m sure.  Who wants to play anthropologist on their holidays? 

Well, if the object is to penetrate the barrier that stands between every tourist and country/culture, ethnographic interviews are really very usful.

Russell Davies and I (with the help of people attending Russell’s Account Planning School of the Web) were recently wrestling with the idea of cruise ships, those suburbs of the sea, and it occured to me that almost all touristic experience has the quality of cruise ship containment.  We may get off the ship from time to time, but the closest we are getting to the host country is a shop filled with touristic chakahs that play out stereotypes and help extinquish the possibility of cross culture contact. 

I do these interviews for a living.  But I am suggesting that you do them for the sheer fun of it.  On a recent trip, I found Londoners fascinating on several topics, including how dinner parties are changing in London, the difference between lager andstout, what is the deal with Manchester United, anyway, when and how to use one’s best "telephone voice," gardening the Tony Blair way, and how English audiences received The Da Vinci Code (in some cases, with audible and enthusiastic scorn, apparently).

You will have to pay these people about 100 pounds each to sit for the interview.  But it’s  bargain, I’m telling you.  Interesting, lovely, charming, interesting people, will let you into their homes and the lives.

This is not sight seeing.  You want to the British Museum, Big Ben, the Thames, except from the window of your taxi as you race from interview to interview.  But it is the kind of contact that we treasure when it happens accidentally. 

Why wait for it to happen accidentally?

12 thoughts on “Your next vacation

  1. Russ

    Great post, Grant. I actually had a similar thought several months ago when I was doing ethnographic research in Ireland. I had never been to the Emerald Isle before, but after spending a week poking through young adults’ fridges (we were studying food), I feel like I know the Irish much better than someone setting out with a TimeOut: Dublin. I think the trick of moving beyond tourism is making friends. Paying people for interviews is not “buying friends,” but it is buying you the kind of access that friends get. And if you’re a good interviewer, people will tell you almost everything. (Which actually can be odd… but talk to anyone for two or three hours and something weird will come out.)

  2. Obs

    So, do these kind of discussions start from a stock set of questions or do you show up with a list of Lager vs. Stout, Telephone Voice, and Dinner Parties beforehand and check them off as you go?

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  4. Grant

    Virginia, funny you should mention that, I am indeed working on classes and on-site practice. But not for tourism, but for commerce. Thanks, Grant

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  6. Seth Edenbaum

    A traveller travels to ask questions, to learn from other people and to see new things in new ways.
    A tourist goes to new places to see things that remind him of what he already knows.
    Travelers travel to lose their prejudices; tourists tour to reinforce them.
    So you’ve just discovered travel.

    And you studied with Sahlins?

  7. Anonymous

    Seth, poor thing, I can see you didn’t. No one I have ever heard of sets up interviews before the fact of travel. So I haven’t discovered travel, I have reinvented it. Thanks, Grant

  8. Anonymous

    Seth, no, accident just isn’t enough. For some people, this is the best they can hope for, and, I’m guessing, all they can manage. Thanks, Grant

  9. Seth Edenbaum

    A last one, then I’m done.

    “Well, if the object is to penetrate the barrier that stands between every tourist and country/culture, ”
    then the answer that’s been known and described by many (and for a long time) is to be not a tourist but a traveller. It doesn’t cost more money. It’s usually cheaper.

    An anthropologist begins as a professional traveller: professionally curious and professionally social. Sociology, as an old friend of mine and a well known ex-student of Sahlins likes to describe it, began as a study of contemporary society by its own members and the problem of culture was assumed not to apply. But it does.

    You recommended a way for people to professionalize their travels, by spending more money and playing at a field that began as self-aware sociability, when you could have merely suggested that they just choose to be more curious and social. I found that ironic and still do.
    And the B Kliban cartoon only adds to the irony.

    as I said, I’m done.

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