Friday, October 8, 2010

Tourism, Generalization & Anthropology

Our brain is wired to generalize. After experiencing a dangerous situation or a painful stimulus, we tend to avoid similar circumstances thereafter in order to protect ourselves. This phylogenetic cognitive asset, when applied in other areas of our cognitive and behavioral functioning, can however lead to misrepresentation and false beliefs.

As a matter of fact, tourists tend to generalize so much that I do not to believe a word of what they say. Some people will travel abroad for a week and come back home with the absolute confidence that they have profoundly understood a different culture and can tell all their friends about it:

"In xxxx, people are stupid", "In xxxx, people are dirty" or "In xxxx, people are cheap".

How can anyone pretend to have studied a different culture enough in order to make such judgments? In what world do tourists become expert anthropologists during the short span of their vacation? Can you say, after having had a real conversation with, let's be optimistic, 5 different persons that all people in the country are alike? To me, it is no smarter than if I were to go to a local store in my country, talk to someone with whom I might not agree, categorize that person as "stupid", and then go home and say "All people in my country are stupid"? Would that make sense to you? It certainly does not to me.

So please, next time you travel abroad and come back home, try to be a little more modest in the assessment you will make of a different culture. Keep in mind (unless you have a Ph.D. in Anthropology) that you are no expert Anthropologist!

1 comment:

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