Socialising as I do with many people who have had opportunities to travel, conversations about different corners of the world come up frequently, and those conversations often make me deeply uncomfortable.I suspect there’s a long, long list of things that make this woman ‘uncomfortable’. Not, however, doughnuts, judging from her photo.
She’s usually carrying on about disability issues, but she’s clearly branching out this time:
One such example is the "the people are so beautiful!" conversation, in which the residents of a given nation are described as gentle and kind and loving, so warm and welcoming. This creates a mental image for me of noble savages, of a simple, "pure" society that isn't, you know, troubled by the realities of the world for the rest of us; the old "first world problems" slang term strikes again.Right. Of course.
Here's the problem with this conversation: it's a reminder that the traveller is an observer, and most of the people I know who travel are from colonial nations, with positions of power and privilege in their home societies (otherwise travelling would be likely to be difficult).So, an Easyjet full of Essex lads and perma-tanned ladettes jetting off to Majorca is really a display of colonial power? Fancy…
When you are a white, socially powerful person travelling overseas and you're describing the people you meet in simplistic terms, you elide the reality of their lives and turn them into Disney sideshow attractions there for your entertainment, rather than human beings going about their daily lives.Oh, good heavens!
The people who describe human beings in this way often have scores of pictures, including images obviously taken without consent that discomfited the subject. There seems to be a general idea that invasive photography as a tourist is not only permitted but encouraged, to document these "beautiful people" in their "natural habitat" – their saris and salwar kameez, their yukata and other traditional dress, their strange and funny ways of cooking and farming and living! When people object to being photographed, tourists are offended, and they're even angrier when people ask for compensation in exchange for a photograph, as though photographing someone is a right that should just be naturally extended.We’ve been here before, haven’t we? There’s no ‘right’ not to be photographed unless you decide to live in Hungary.
When I hear people described as "beautiful" en masse like that, it gives me a little shiver. I know that the speaker isn't talking about the individual beauty of a specific person ("I met a beautiful girl in the supermarket today"), but an agglomerated mass of apparently indistinguishable blobs. It carries extra gross weight when people go on to add that they actually are referring to physical beauty, something I commonly hear from white men travelling in Asia who apparently don't think there's anything wrong with saying "Asian women are just so beautiful".Don’t worry, SE. No-one will ever trouble you by saying that about you…