Monday, 28 March 2011

On Berliners and Tourists

"Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives – most natives in the world – cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want
to go – so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself."

Jamaica Kincaid, "The Ugly Tourist"


Anonymous said...

Completely not the feel this post is going for, I know, but every time the theme of tourists comes up, I always have to think of Karl Krauss, who once said something like, "everyone talks about the things worthy of being seen but nobody asks whether those concerned are worthy of seeing them." It's much wittier in the German because of the play on Sehenswürdigkeiten, but I don't have my Karl Krauss on the nightstand and I'm not getting out of bed.

kjd said...

Ha! I'd want to be anonymous too if I was commenting from my bed.

One of the things I loved about this quote is that it's embedded in a delightful piece about how basically everybody's lives are pathetic and crap with moments of light. And how tourists are all pitiable natives of somewhere too.

Probably not how Karl Krauss saw it, huh?

Daniel said...

Sorry, Daniel here: I was trying to sign in with my google id but it wasn't allowing it somehow. And there is a long tradition going back to Samuel Johnson of writing in bed, thank you very much!

I like the Kincaid piece too, because I (selfishly) read it as a vindication of my desire, whenever I am a tourist, to blend in as much as possible. To be mistaken for a local. This is more easily done in some places than others, of course, and in many places is quite impossible. But I still try; I think I would make a good spy, as long as I didn't have to shoot anyone.

But no, Krauss I think thought that people, whatever the reality of their lives, were far too high and mighty in their own heads, and needed to be taken down a peg or two. And given the time and place in which he lived, and the circles he travelled in, I can't imagine he saw too much to make him think otherwise.