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A tale of ignorance, vanity and imaginary superiority - the archenemies of interaction

A tale of ignorance, vanity and imaginary superiority - the archenemies of interaction
Author: Nikolay Alamanov
1 Commentries

It could be argued that due to the fact that the tourist dedicates his free time to tourism, he happens to be more critical towards the product than any other customer in any other industry and often acts like a spoiled child, expecting to be the center of attention. For the working man holidays have become a way to become the boss for a change but this very attitude makes the tourist more of a spectator rather than participant in the destination life.

Interaction is a key to better cultural understanding and a source of knowledge the importance and power of which is recognized by authors like Lyotard (1984) and Urry (2002). However, the tourist underestimates the power of knowledge and often shows himself as ignorant, vane and superior, seeing his holiday as a way of simply becoming the powerful figure for a change. Such attitude often causes problems for the host community and poses the question why the benefits of interaction are disesteemed by many tourists?


"- What day is it?
- Friday.
- So we are in Lisbon then."

Gillespie (2006) points out that tourist ignorance is ridiculed not only by the local people but by the mass media too. At the same time, the author justifies tourist's ignorance suggesting that everyone has ridiculed tourists at home so when on holiday, a person is somehow afraid to interact because one does not want to be ridiculed himself. Although an interesting point, this statement does not really justify ignorance, it rather comes to prove that it is a constant human companion. It is one of the main reasons why interaction is not seen as something that could increase a person's cultural capital but as something that should be avoided.


"I've seen much better things at home."

Another typical human characteristic is vanity. Being the powerful figure on holiday makes the tourist misinterpret the concept of power which leads to the need to differentiate himself from the "inferior" personnel and the local population. Be because of this or the basic human fear of the unknown, of the different, many tourists feel the need to judge everything around them and glorify their home.

Professor Ulrich Beck concurs the existence of such attitude and points out the danger that it poses. Interviewed for the Guardian by Stuart Jeffries (2006) he suggests that such division leads to intolerance and sees the only salvation in "acknowledging difference and the dignity of difference." Vanity creates a barrier which, combined with the misinterpretation of power, leads to division, intolerance and sometimes violence. That is why interaction is important; it is about overcoming the basic territorial instincts and being open - minded instead, being civilized.


"- Hola, amigos!
- I didn't know you speak janitor language!"

Inappropriate jokes like this one could be observed and expected from groups of tourists who have no knowledge of the language spoken in a destination. As already mentioned humans do not like the unknown and instinctively interpret it as dangerous. Attack is the best form of defense, Napoleon says, and this could be an explanation to such profane tourist behavior. Mills (1991: 71) calls it a "fantasy of dominance". It is indeed nothing but a fantasy because self - deceiving will not change the fact that such ignorant people are and will forever stay culturally crippled unless they start to interact and respect the different. Hall and Tucker (2004) introduce the concept of post colonialism giving another example of tourist's imaginary dominance pointing out the way staff and local people are mistreated. Williams (2004) suggests that such dominant attitude causes nothing but tension and is one of the reasons why racism and tourism are sometimes linked.


Higham and Luck (2008) highlight the clear emotional and physical benefits of interacting with the wildlife. Schanzel (2004: 354) finds out himself that people visiting marine life centres gain psychological benefits characterized by positive moods and emotions. The list of interaction benefits with sea animals like dolphins is long.

However, when it comes to tourist interaction with another kind of mammals - humans - the literature mainly focuses on the issues that such encounters lead to (McCool & Moisey, 2001). Clearly tourists could benefit from interaction with other people too; local people could show them the insights and introduce them to experiences that no tour operator can offer. Williams (2004) suggests that trust is the first step towards the benefits of interaction.


Ignorance, vanity and the imaginary tourist superiority over the "inferior" staff and local population are the archenemies of interaction, suffocating the benefits that could be extracted from such. Williams (2004) suggests that the solution, the first step towards interaction is trust. This trust should break the barrier of division that leads to intolerance according to Professor Ulrich Beck. He claims that acknowledging difference and the dignity of difference is what open - minded and civilized people do. That is what tourists should do too - being respectful and open - minded would make them better human beings and if the moral reward is not enough and they seek some other reward it must be pointed out that interaction will reveal a whole new world of knowledge and positive experiences in front of them as well.

Bibliography (top 3 sources):

Gillespie, A. (2006), "Becoming Other: from social interaction to self - reflection", Boston: IAP.

Mills, S. (1991), "Discourses of Difference: an analysis of women's travel writing and colonialism", London: Routledge.

Williams, S. (2004), "Tourism: Tourism, development and sustainability", London: Routledge, pp 309-321.
Cultural influence on tourist behaviour
Author: Heidi Anttila
I chose to comment this paper as it concerns some of the same issues which I investigated on my conference paper. This paper presents well and concisely the main problems in tourist behaviour in destination. On my paper I investigated more about how cultural differences affect on the conflicts that can occur between tourists and local people.

Everyone's behaviour can be reflected from individuals' culture and not many people are consciously aware of their own culture before they come across foreign culture, where they are set in a situation that they do not feel comfortable.

As mentioned in the paper interaction is important and it can help to reduce tourists' misbehaving. The interactions between tourists and local people are inevitable. These interactions may often cause conflicts because of different cultural background and lack of understanding of the other.

DeKapt (1979) named three types of situations where tourists and hosts encounter. First situation is when tourists purchase goods or services from host. Second is when tourist and host find themselves side by side for example on the beach. Last situation is when tourist and host are face to face in order to change information or ideas.

As you stated that tourists could benefit from local people, I agree but also local people can benefit from the encounter with tourists. Interactions between tourists and local people have both positive and negative impacts and these impacts can affect on both tourists and hosts. Positive impacts can be such as learning about other culture and customs, reducing negative perceptions and stereotypes, developing friendship and increasing self-esteem. Negative impacts are for example increase of negative attitudes, communication problems, culture shock and increase of suspicion and misunderstandings (Robinson & Boniface, 1999).

Conflicts are arisen by the process in which tourists experience culture and how culture is utilized by the tourism industry and host communities (Robinson & Boniface, 1999).
Conflicts are created from cultural differences that lead to differences in interactional behaviours and misunderstandings in interpretation (Reisinger & Turner, 2003).

As you mention the ignorance is often due to the fear of being ridiculed by the locals. Different tourists' behaviour is often based on the encounter between tourists and hosts.
Tourists behave differently when being away from home because they are in different state of mind and hosts behave differently because they offer tourists hospitality services (Reisinger & Turner, 2003).

To conclude I agree that when tourists are misbehaving often it is because of their lack of acknowledgement of the language, culture or customs. I think you stated very well how to overcome this problem, as tourists to become more respectful and open-minded. This would reduce the conflicts between tourist and host, but also it would improve the holiday experience to tourists.


DE KADT, E. (1979), Tourism-Passport to Development?, Oxford: Oxford University Press

REISINGER, Y. & TURNER, L. W. (2003), Cross-Cultural Behaviour in Tourism, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann

ROBINSON, M. & BONIFACE, P. (1999), Tourism and Cultural Conflicts, Oxon: CABI Publishing