During one of our recent “What is the world coming to?” discussions spurred by politics and other recent disasters, a friend handed me a book by David Brooks called Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. In it, Brooks, who is a columnist for the New York Times, examines a social group that he has labeled bourgeois bohemians, or Bobos. He says a Bobo is a mix of bourgeois establishment square and bohemian artist intellectual. Like an anthropologist studying an exotic tribe, Brooks looks at Bobo business culture, social, intellectual and spiritual life. It’s a fun read because he seems like good-natured guy who admits he’s part of this group and doesn’t hesitate to point out its idiosyncrasies in a very humorous way.
What really caught my eye is his description of Bobo travel habits. I have to admit, to some extent, he’s describing me, many of the people I know, and almost all of the people you read about in travel magazines and and on travel blogs. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“There are a certain number of sophisticated travelers who wear their past destinations like little merit badges.” According to Brooks, these aren’t people who simply name drop about the super luxe hotels and resorts where they stay. “Their main joy in life comes from dropping whopping hints that everywhere you are just going they went to long ago when it still meant something.” They’re masters of insufferable questions like “Didn’t the atabeg of Damascus stop there in 1139?” And, says Brooks, “They don’t say, ‘I know such-and-such a language.’ They say, ‘I have a little Portuguese” or ‘I have a few of the romance languages, of course,’ in that faux offhand manner that makes you want to stick the person’s head in a vise and squeeze it until the eyes pop out.”
But, we’re all travel snobs to some extent. For example, I was accused of travel snobbery when I said I didn’t really have a great desire to visit the Wisconsin Dells for vacation. I also make snide comments about the oddly dressed tourists who pile off cruise ships and tour buses. But it’s a matter of degree. I definitely rate myself lower on the food chain of travel snootiness than the guy who rues the day electrification came to Belize, though I have told people I remember when the streets weren’t paved on Ambergris Caye.
Where do you rate on the travel snob-o-meter? With the help of Brooks analysis, I’ve developed the following quiz so you can rate yourself. Give yourself 10 points if you answer yes to the following: 1. Have you ever one-upped someone in a travel conversation?
2. Do you avoid places that are “touristy” even though you’re dying to see them?
3. Do you wear outdoorsy travel gear acquired at places such as Eddie Bauer or REI even when you’re not on an expedition? Five extra points if your togs have lots of pockets.
4. Have you ever said you have a language instead of I speak a language? Or, another of my favorites, do you use a “French” pronunciation for a word when it isn’t a French word?
5. Do you label yourself as “serious” about a travel or sporting pursuit, i.e. a “serious hiker,” or “serious kayaker?” Says Brooks, “The most accomplished are so serious they never have any fun at all.”
6. Do you seek out locales where simple peasants live in abundance farming or creating folk art?
7. Do you frequently mention using alternative modes of transportation, such as camels or tuk-tuks?
8. What’s that you say? You don’t travel because there’s no place that’s better than right where you are? If you say yes, you’re a reverse travel snob. Bam! 10 points.
Finally, does your idea of a great vacation involve pain and exertion– for example biking across a state larger than Rhode Island, or kayaking around Lake Superior or canoeing length of the Amazon? If your answer is yes, award yourself 20 points. “At the tippy top of the leisure status system are those vacations that involve endless amounts of agony and pain,” says Brooks.
Here’s how you stack up. 10 points: not a travel snob, but a little dull. 20-50 points: emerging snob, you just need to add on a few more miles, perhaps while trekking in Nepal. 60-80 points: You’re a snooty pants, and I’m sure those pants are made by Patagonia. And you’re probably a Bobo, too. 90-100 points: You’re an insufferable travel snob. We’d all like to go where you’ve been, but we don’t want you to tell us about it, so go kayak around Lac Superieur.