Tourism is a business and an activity that is prevalent throughout the world. People love to go to foreign places for a variety of reasons: vacation, to see family, or to witness another culture. The latter can be tricky to do without being offensive or objectifying a people, even when that is not the goal of the tourist.
Tourists want to observe the way of life of another culture, but unfortunately a common way to do that is also to intrude on an individual’s personal life. Another huge issue with this is that many people assume that the specific events that they have witnessed represent the entire culture of that country or region. An article from ‘the Guardian’ cites the common phrase, “the people are so beautiful,” as an example of this type of generalizing.
Another hugely offensive tourist trend is the slum tour, discussed on aidleap.org. This essentially treats a slum like a zoo, and those living in it like animals.
I do appreciate the experience and understanding of the world that tourism can provide, and I by no means think that people shouldn’t visit foreign countries. I have been a tourist many times and have even lived abroad. I have objectified people and assumed things about a larger group myself, but I have become aware of that and consciously work to not do so. To some extent this means to treat things as if they are not special, and remembering that everybody in the world is an individual.
To me this presents a bit of a ‘Catch 22,’ because one cannot try to learn about a culture without generalizing. But the tourist can simply seek new personal experiences, and become aware of the existence of people that are vastly different from him/herself. Just keep in mind that you are as strange to the other as they are to you.