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China Adventure

"Tour" is NOT a Four Letter Word in China

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just a quick post about something that's been on my mind this entire trip...

I live at the Jersey Shore where we have a special name for our Summer tourists: Bennys. And let me tell you, it's by no means a term of endearment. The origin of this slang term is debatable, but regardless of its roots, no one debates its derogatory meaning. Ask anyone who lives at "The Shore": "What do think about Bennys?" And you'll most likely hear the following: "Bennys Go Home!" We even have t-shirts, bumber stickers, etc. stating it proudly.

New York City is less than forty-five minutes north of The Shore and you can spot a tourist there in a New York minute. Once spotted, you can see them being scowled at by taxi drivers (actually, by all drivers) and nudged out of the way on sidewalks by busy business people scurrying to work.

Now for China. General consensus of everyone on our trip is that our Asian hosts actually seem GLAD to see us! There literally has not been one single place we've visited that someone didn't ask to take a picture of us or with us. The students think this is the coolest thing- they feel like rock stars (us grown ups don't mind so much either!)

What do you think is the reason for the different attitudes towards tourists in America and China? Is my characterization of the NY/NJ attitude just limited to the North East or to big cities?

PLEASE share your thoughts!

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Changing Connections said...

As always, Heather, you pose provocative questions. I never lived in what you could characterize as a big city. Growing up in Bethlehem was a sheltered experience, and Allentown, no longer the Queen City, though larger, was hardly a tourist point (especially after the demise of Hamilton Street shopping). Bethlehem is still a safe "city," but we moved out of Allentown's Parkway (still own the home, though) because I no longer felt safe. Because of where we live(d) in the Parkway, on the oval, we had many walkers, bikers, and runners. I used to run out my front door and within 3 minutes (on a good day's run, I was in the heart of a 7-mile park). Again, no tourists, just traffic, but I must admit, I didn't like the flow through. It felt like an intrusion in "my" neighborhood.

The closest thing to your Bennys was the Lehigh University notion of Townies. Totally derogatory. If you lived locally, to LU, you were a Townie, and that came with a mentality that made the University brats seem privileged over locals.

I guess that Bennys and Townies will always exist in a culture that privileges status versus the "other." I do not think it is located in the Northeast exclusively. Part of it has to do with how tourists act when on vacation. I remember being in Italy, in Venice in a lovely restaurant, when waiters spoke in Italian, "Here come the Americans." My husband speaks fluent Italian; I do not But even I understood tone.

China is very intelligent in its marketing. If they want to become a tourist attraction, and the Olympics clearly put them on a global stage, then their people are their ambassadors. But at the heart of this too long answer is a fundamental cultural paradigm shift from us to them in outlook. They seem to be wonderful people, curious, kind, and wanting to make our American experience in China perfect.

I see China as a country that wants perfection and world leadership. They already are a superpower and their people put them there. I am not surprised with their friendliness. People in Australia and New Zealand treated us much the same (been there twice and love returning just because of that and the beauty of the countries).

You have great American students with you: the best of the best, hand picked for their excellence in different areas. Overall, you will attract attention. My last Greece-Turkey trip was with 6 girls. We had the same reaction as you did in China. It comes down to deportment; how the students function and the Chinese response. To them, we do not seem to be the "ugly American tourist." You are doing a great job. So wish I were there (although in my condition this summer, I could NEVER have handled it).

Enjoy the good fortune, your rock stars!

RJ Stangherlin
PA DEN Leadership Council Blog Coordinator

Changing Connections said...

Just a quick question for you. Do the students know that we are following their blog posts? They have such a packed and fantastic schedule that I am amazed that they have time to post, let alone read comments. Just let them know that they have an audience and we are following their experiences, and loving it. You are all so lucky to be on this trip.

BTW, the first word verification that was actually a word was peace, for this post. Lovely. Enjoy.

RJ Stangherlin
PA DEN Leadership Council Blog Coordinator

Karen Wells said...

I dread following R. J.'s comments. She is always so eloquent. I think I can offer some insight from the rural Deep South. People from the South have the reputation of being hospitable, and we really do care for people and their wellbeing. BUT--- sometimes---we get a little bent out of shape when people from other areas (and I am not necessarily talking about other countries) come into our "neck of the woods." It has been accurately said that a person is considered a newcomer to the South until his family has lived here for three generations. Now, I have another observation. When we were in South Africa I noticed that the people there knew everything about Americans (pop culture, history, language, etc.), but as Americans we didn't know much at all about them. Do Americans sometimes have an "I can't be bothered about your problems" attitude when dealing with people from other countries? It made me ashamed how little I had thought about the horrific conditions South Africans were living in during Apartheid. I am grateful for the opportunity I got to meet the wonderful people from South Africa. Participating in a Discovery Student Adventure does so much for a people. Probably at the top of my list is the connection to people from other cultures. Adventure is great but it is the understanding of how others live that is really important. Read the blogs - you can see when students begin feeling that connection to the people.

Judy Uhrig said...

That's because they are smarter than we are! They realize that not only are "tourists" stimulating their minds by learning about the world around them but are also stimulating their local economy! Why aren't locals flattered that others find the place they live interesting? Instead of complaining about the tourists, they should go out and be one!

Changing Connections said...


I find your comment so funny since it is I who follow you most of the time in commenting. Thank you for the compliment, but YOU are equally eloquent. The North cannot compete with the South in that department.

RJ Stangherlin
PA DEN Leadership Council Blog Coordinator

Essential Programs Details

Duration 15 days
When August 1st - 14th, 2009
Focus History/Culture
Martial Arts
Modern/Ancient Architecture