Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When people equate talking about travels to bragging or showing off

I've mentioned before that if I start a story with a sentence like "When I lived in Bratislava ..." that people sometimes have a giggle at me. Same goes for "When I was in Tunisia ..." or "When I was on the Trans-Siberian ..."

Me on the Trans-Siberian. Not bragging!
As far as I can figure (and some of this figuring out comes from asking the people who have done the giggling) a lot of people are uncomfortable hearing these kind of phrases. I think part of the fear is that the story to follow might involve a lot of bragging. I am definitely not trying to show off when I start a story like that. I just have a story to share and the setting is an important part of the context. It's just like someone else starting a story with "When I worked at KFC ..." or "When I was in high school ..."

But it's funny, isn't it, that people sometimes tease others for telling stories about their travels. There are occasionally people who really do "place-name drop", who mention a few cool cities or exotic countries with the intention of bragging a bit, but for most people they are just stories from our lives which we think have some relevance to the topic at hand.

I've been trying to figure out why people are reluctant to hear these stories about travel and sometimes react with discomfort when others start to tell them. Is part of it that the listener feels envious or inadequate? But if so, why, really? Shouldn't we be grateful for new and different perspectives? And shouldn't we do something about this reaction and go travelling ourselves - after all, for most people in the first world there are lots of excuses to not go travelling but very few legitimate reasons. This reluctance to listen to travel tales is surely a part of what makes returning travellers suffer with reverse culture shock (I know I did).

On the other hand, perhaps people have just been burnt too many times by travellers going into long, detailed, boring stories about what happened to them when they tried to flag down a taxi in New York or a bite-by-bite description of their meal in Paris. Like sitting through an unedited slideshow of someone's holiday snapshots, perhaps it's just a defence mechanism to avoid death by boredom.

Either way, I promise I'm not trying to show off when I mention some place I've been; and even though I talk a lot, and write copious long posts about my trips, I still try very hard not to say boring stuff when you meet me face to face.

17 comments:

  1. I think maybe people are envious they haven't been able to do all that travelling and pretend to be bored...
    When people tell me their travel stories I think they are lucky to have wonderful memories and learn new things.

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    1. That's a good point Sami - I think if you tell travel stories to well-travelled person like you then they're usually very interested!

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    2. Personally, I find most travel stories rather boring. They usually involve 3 elements: cupious drinking (or drugs/sex), how "authentic" the local peasants are, and how dirty/crappy their surroundings were.

      And I find most travel stories are just a form of bragging, equivalent to someone telling you about their BMW, private yacht or giant cock.

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    3. Thanks for your feedback Anon ... fortunately my travel stories don't tend to have any of those three elements (especially not the first - perhaps copious chocolate eating?!) so perhaps you're still able to read my blog :-)

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  2. well I sort-of know what you mean. But I think that, for me, it's less likely that anyone actually thinks I'm showing off and more likely that I'm just being self-conscious of people thinking I'm showing off. And I sometimes feel a little guilty (unreasonable, I know) for the experiences I've had when so many will never travel outside of their own country.

    People love hearing other peoples' stories, but sometimes if they haven't shared those types of experiences themselves,they may have no way to relate, and maybe not much to say in response. hence, a giggle.

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    1. Hmm, very good point - perhaps I'm just self-conscious about it too. Well explained.

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  3. I think most people simply prefer to talk about themselves rather than hearing about someone else's life, so when you're talking about traveling to someone who hasn't traveled much, they don't have anything to contribute and they quickly lose interest.

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    1. Good point Daniel - perhaps it's not specific to travel at all!

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    2. I agree. They don't have any interest in the hundreds of photo's you took either LOL

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  4. I am the a type of person wherein I love to listen to travel stories or experience of my friends because it gives me a picture how cool is this place or country that they've been and then note it on my notebook on places that I want to go. For me hearing their story is like watching a movie. I don't think it is bragging. Well people can say what they want but at the end of the day you will know which person is a friend who can understand you and which people are not.

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    1. You and I should get together and chat Kristy, we'd get along just fine!!

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  5. Thanks for such a thoughtful post! I lived overseas until high school and when we moved "back" to the States I used to have this issue all the time. I used the places I lived as indicators of a time period in my life or because it was relevant to the story, not for bragging rights, but I do not think my peers saw it that way. I agree with commenters above that it is probably just people not being interested, or not wanting to express interest in something they do not know much about. Or your conclusion about getting screwed over by boring travel stories might be it too. My weakness is food stories; no one really needs to hear a detailed description of that amazing waffle I bought at a stand that one time, I just like reliving it.

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    1. Great perspective Liz, thank you! I laughed about your food stories. I think I'm probably not good at listening to food stories because they make me too hungry!!!

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  6. Interesting post - but to be honest this doesn't surprise me at all. I did a similar thing you did during a dinner with old college friends several weeks ago, and one of them made a very condescending remark about me right after (along with the whole giggling sound byte and sneering look). The other instance where this happened was during a business meeting when a co-worker gave me a WTF look, pretended he didn't hear what I said and try to change the subject. It's actually quite scary the reactions you illicit from these people when you talk about your travels...

    So is it about envy? Well, for the majority of the people, travel is a luxury item. The assumption is that in order to travel, the person must have both time and money to spend. Indeed, if you try to add up your airplane ticket cost, visa fees (if you need to get one), lodging fees, transportation fees and food costs for each of your past trips, you'll find that it might cost as much as a big flat screen TV or a brand name hand bag/shoes/watches. And unless you tell your audience ahead of time that you were able to traveled on a super tight budget (or you won a free plane ticket), everyone will automatically assume that you must have blown off several thousand dollars on these 'exotic' trips.

    But this hypothesis didn't seem to apply in my case. The two people who lashed back at me were far better off than I was financially (and everyone knew it) and could have easily went on the trip I did if they had wanted to. Conversely, the people who were receptive and wanted to hear more about my experience, oddly enough, was either not financially well off, or unemployed at the time.

    My conclusion is that if you get these sort of reactions from certain people despite your best effort to keep the conversation friendly (i.e. not bragging), then may be they have something against you, and it's time to consider evaluating your relationship with these persons.

    I certainly stopped talking to the guys who made faces or rude comments at me.

    Hope this helps - and keep on travelling!

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Anon!

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  7. I haven't traveled extensively - I have been to NYC, Washington DC, Boston, Florida, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec City and Montreal and outside of North America I have been to Scotland and Germany. I'd love to do more. I want to eventually visit every province and territory in Canada. But it is a time off/money issue for me for sure. Anyway, even if I am slightly envious of a person's trip (my best friend is going to England for her honeymoon this summer - colour me slightly green), I still want to hear all about it. This is because I love stories, I love travel, I love culture, I love different foods, I love electric urban centres and beautiful landscapes. The only thing I don't love is being forced to look at 500 blurry photos (*cough* my parents when they came back from Paris). Edit your photos first, people! I like Facebook for the express purpose of curating a select portion of photos from trips I have taken (even just local trips around Ontario) - I can put them up, caption them with some interesting tidbit of information, and not have to force my friends and family to sit for 3 hours looking at them.

    I do think sometimes people are envious of travels, or hearing about other people's trips makes them feel badly that maybe they feel they cannot afford a similar trip. Or perhaps they just have zero interest in travel (like a coworker of mine who hates traveling anywhere) and so are just really not interested in your story. Sabina

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  8. I think that a listener's enjoyment of travel stories all depends on what the traveler went looking for. If they took a trip to explore and discover new things, to visit a place they love or have always hoped to see, or to widen their horizons or viewpoint, then their stories can be very entertaining. If they went solely to check yet another country off their list, or post photos on Facebook of every gourmet meal they consume, or complain about how they are spending a lot of money at a luxury resort and not being treated like the VIP that they think their bankroll makes them, then it gets boring pretty quickly. I have friends of both types. The first I listen to and encourage to travel more. The second I block on Facebook for the duration of their excursion.

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