Navigating "authentic" spaces and experiences in Paris
As I was reading Dean MacCannell's essay, I found myself trying parse meaning from conventional ways in which the term "tourist" is often understood, or, perhaps more accurately, misunderstood. Since I've arrived to Paris, I've taken pleasure in the moments I am mistaken for a native. In the moments I can "pass" for French (or at least, "pass" as someone who speaks French fluently enough).
MacCannell seems to recognize this tension when he writes "the term 'tourist' is increasingly used as a derisive label for someone who seems content with his obviously inauthentic experiences" (597). And so, I began to wonder... If, according to MacCannell, original tourism is parallel to religious pilgrimage (i.e., both are quests for authentic experiences) then why have we come to conflate MacCannell's "authentic" tourists, with the tourists we conventionally hate being mistaken for, who, more often than not have become associated with being "obnoxious, loud, appropriative" and so on. If MacCannell's tourists really just want to see life "as it is really lived," then why the disconnect? Perhaps it is because the notion of "tourist" sutures being culturally appropriative, disrespectful, obnoxious, loud, etc. etc., to being a tourist. And, in part, perhaps, I try to pass, so I don't have to confront the reality of such a fraught colonialist history.
Obviously, I'm not going to find my answers in this blog post. But, over the past week, I think I've come to some other conclusions about dealing with my shyness about being an American tourist. This past week my mother has been in Paris visiting me, and she doesn't speak a word of French. We went to museums, cafes, restaurants - the usual. And everywhere we went, I would carry on as I normally would - I would try to stay in French and attempt to keep attention away from the fact that we are foreigners.
However, without fail, my mother wouldn't let that happen. She'd speak loudly in English to anyone who understood (or pretended to understand), or wanted to listen - even in moments where I could obviously keep us in French. And at first, it annoyed me, frustrated me. I didn't understand why she didn't want to blend in... But then, oddly enough, I started to notice that people responded very warmly - shockingly so, when my mother straight up asked for guidance, advice, even to compliment someone.
So often, we're afraid of asking, but in some ways perhaps, that's how we can begin to forge more authentic relationships. This is what reminded me of the TED talk I attached below. I recently watched this TED talk, which is given by a musician I adore (named Amanda Palmer). She titled her TED talk "the art of asking" and in many ways, I found her ideas really useful to meditate on while I try to sort out my feeling on being a tourist, and learning to put myself out there - feel a little more vulnerable - and actually asking
(photo at the top is my own, taken in Fontainebleau, France)
*quote in my title is taken from the film Mean Girls