The types of American travelers as seen in the 1930s and today
I was particularly drawn to Caldwell’s Some American People
piece. Having spent nearly a year abroad in two different countries, having worked in the hospitality industry for nearly eight years now, and perusing my degree in hospitality and tourism, I have come to fully understand the term “ugly American”. They say that nothing is ever new under the sun, and when American travelers are concerned, that saying is quite accurate.
The 1930’s not only widened the gap between the upper and middle class in America, but it also created a travel phenomenon across the country. With this increase in the interest to travel, came the rise of the American Tourist.
Caldwell describes several types of Americans in his writing. The first, the American couple that goes on vacation simply to keep up with the current conversations (Caldwell, p. 4). This couple can be seen as very agitated, tense, and often bored when on their excursions. They are merely there to see as much as possible, but not to know and understand as much as their eyes are seeing. The second, the American family that drives for hours just to find leather shoes, when they have a car full of children that could use the $1.98 for food or clothing (Caldwell, p. 74). The third, the working class gas station owner who spends his days sitting idly and chatting with his friend while they wait for a car to come by (Caldwell, p. 75). The fourth, the yuppie with the flashy car, who could not be bothered for exact change as he is up and coming in the world without a care (Caldwell, p.76). The fifth are men like Frank Hanley, who spend their days unable financially to travel, but read and listen to as much as possible about distant places (Caldwell, p. 106).
These American stereotypes are still prevalent today. Just the other day in my Tourism class, we were discussing the travel habits of Americans, and how we managed to get the name “ugly American”. As Americans, we are used to having everything readily available to us, so when we are moved from our small circle of comfort in our homes, we are deeply affect by the sheer fact that “seafood in the middle of the Arizona desert” is not feasible (Caldwell, p. 5). The hotel industry’s standardization came out of this need to have all the creature comforts of home with you when you travel. This is how the Marriott and Hilton brands gained popularity, thus perpetuating the un-acceptance of any new culture or way of life.
In complete contrast, there at those like Frank Hanley, who would give everything to travel, as his only way to do so was through books, radio programs, and listening to travelers tell their tales. As we learned in class, the government produced many pamphlets and books about the regions, enabling citizens to read and prepare for their journeys. People like Frank could use these books too, to be transported to distant destinations, until the day arrives that they could set out on their own adventure.
I have worked with clients who have been all of the above categories. The afformentioned term given to the American traveler stands to be true as we often do not appreciate the surrounding, instead take our new surroundings at a superficial and surface value. My favorite quote from this lesson was “travel should not be confused with sightseeing and touring…In its true meaning, a traveler is a stranger who gains a sympathetic understanding with the people he encounters…” (Caldwell, p.9). We must see with our whole being, if we are to truly we travlers of the world.