Book Preview: The Most Exotic People On Earth

Slow hostel nights always lead to backpackers exchanging hours of amazing travel stories. But there’s a catch. First you must deal with 10 minutes of one-upsmanship from the night’s peacocks. It’s boring here, they say, “but at a party in Cambodia…” The words crazy, insane, exotic, and unbelievable then dominate their descriptions of what happened. It’s boring here, they say, but every experience that the peacocks talk about on these boring nights becomes exotic. And when they return to the 9 to 5 with their crazy, insane stories, they hope to be exotic back in Australia.

The temptation to exoticize foreign people ends as soon as you speak with them. “Exotic” people have different circumstances than we do, yes, and different opinions and tastes, but all have the same basic aspirations: be happy, take care of family, and live a meaningful life. Nobody considers himself the exotic furniture maker from rural Brasil. He considers himself Marco, who lives in Arambepe to stay close to his ailing mother and who feeds his family because he is skilled at making chairs with palm leaves. The unbelievable guy who makes crazy furniture using only a gigantic, ancient machete would be a software developer if he were born in Seattle.

Of course there are unique people. The man who spends his days as a teacher and his nights exploring the subway and sewer systems of Des Moines, Iowa and the Tanzanian woman born with AIDS who is now an honors student at Yale are certainly unique people, as are those who quit well-paying jobs to run a small charity started by their deceased sister. Nobody wants to meet these people though. They want to visit a Mumbai slum and gawk at the children. The practice of proclaiming foreigners, who are perfectly normal in their home environment, as unique because they’re unfamiliar is somewhere between condescending and colonial.

After staying with locals in gringo-free “exotic” locations like Brazil, Bolivia, and Kenya, the most out of place I ever felt was in… Switzerland. The expensive prices, rigid adherence to traffic laws, and whispered xenophobia made me feel like an outsider in Switzerland. A well-educated blond haired, blue eyed outsider of European descent. I don’t consider myself an honorary Kenyan or anything so silly, but I saw myself in the Kenyans that I met. The only major difference I saw between us was opportunities. I didn’t see myself in Swiss people who pretended not to notice the swastika drawn inside their train car. If I were Swiss would I look over my shoulder so I could complain about the Eritrean immigrants? Would I be angry at a man who just committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, viewing his horrific way to end his suffering simply as an inconvenience to me? I’ll never really know but I hope not.

I’ve yet to meet an exotic person.  From Arizona to Athens to Africa, most everyone is formed by the circumstances they were raised in. I have met people who consider themselves exotic though. Plenty of them. They are almost always from the middle class and fleeing what they consider to be boring lives, thinking that if they live in a rain forest or take part in indigenous religious ceremonies that they themselves won’t be boring. If interesting people do this, and I do this, then I am an interesting person. Their new, exotic life is insane, crazy, and unbelievable, they say. The “exotic” people they want to emulate, of course, want nothing to do with them.

On slower nights, after the braggarts finish their stories, Bolivians sit around and talk about wide-eyed Californian visitors and the crazy, insane, unbelievable things they do.

 

 

40 comments

  1. I hear what you’re saying about Switzerland—of all the places I’ve traveled and experiences I’ve had, my biggest moment of culture shock was in Belgium, watching people dressed up in blackface for the feast St. Nicholas.

    Like

  2. I love to travel and experience the people and history of each place I go. I have visited maybe twenty-five countries and sixteen states in America. People everywhere just want what we all want and that is to feel connected in their lives to something meaningful. From a visit to the grocery store in my local town where I find out about the person bagging my groceries to a guide in Istanbul Turkey who shares her story of a sacrificed lamb to her cousin. Listening to people’s stories expands my connection to the world. And I mean really listening, not waiting to tell my story, but allowing the spirit of the person to come alive.

    Like

  3. Well put. Like the Bolivians you write of, the Balinese no doubt are thinking quite the same about the hordes of exotic-seeking westerners that are descending in droves on the (this) island, feigning interest and affinity with their beliefs, adopting some of the locals’ ways as their own without the depth of understanding. Nice to stumble upon your blog 😉

    Liked by 7 people

  4. “The practice of proclaiming foreigners, who are perfectly normal in their home environment, as unique because they’re unfamiliar is somewhere between condescending and colonial.” So completely true and very perceptive of you to pick up on society’s notion of what is considered “exotic”.

    All the best,

    pathswewalk.com

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Thank goodness someone finally said it!

    “Exotic” leads to all sorts of interculture problems, from cultural appropriation to positive racism.

    As you pointed out, the middle-class need to feel like someone more exciting helped bring about things like New Ageism, Japan or Korea crazed fans, and all sorts of non-Natives celebrating various (usually twisted) indigenous traditions & habits.

    People are viewing other people & their lifestyles as “exotic”; merely an interesting curiosity to spice up their lives. I’m sick of it.

    So I’m glad you made this post. Very educational.

    If you’re willing, I’d like some clarification over your ordeal in Switzerland. It sounds like you felt exotic iced, but their strict & close-minded ways also seemed strange & exotic to you. Is that correct?

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think this post wasn’t about exotic unique people and “cultural appropriations and positive racism”. This post was written just about small egos and empty minds. They were always out there, they will always be there/ here. If you stick your head out of a window for too long a wind will start to leave in it. Lost minds…

      Liked by 2 people

      • …Except that he directly mentions cultural appropriation.

        ” I have met people who consider themselves exotic though. Plenty of them. They are almost always from the middle class and fleeing what they consider to be boring lives, thinking that if they live in a rain forest or take part in indigenous religious ceremonies that they themselves won’t be boring.”

        That is cultural appropriation. When white people uptake foreign (especially, but not exclusively, indigenous) it’s because they feel an empty part inside of them.

        I remember reading an article for Germany’s “Native American culture”. My memory’s vague, but I remember it discussing how white Germans host “pow-wows” and pseudo Native American “tribes”. A group of actual Native American people was alsk brought. At the end of the article, the people interviewed claimed that they needed a “home”. They couldn’t connect to the modern world, so they stole, twisted, and invented Native American traditions for themselves. (Why they didn’t just re-enact ancient Germananic tribal traditions, I have no idea.)

        It was…rather sad. These people felt empty, so they sought to exoticize themselves. Make their life and personal selves seem interesting.

        That’s exactly what this article is about. Viewing a culture as exotic leads to cultural appropriation. Simple as that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. That’s what I’m talking about. If you dig deeper inside all “exoticizing” laying emptiness. And we feel empty inside when we have no core, self strength or self reflection. We use others to reflect us, to prove us right, good enough or interesting. We are vulnerable and uncomfortable – that’s the reason for “exotitizing”, low self esteem as I said.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Partly I agree with you, but partly I think if everyone adopted this attitude then every place you went would feel like Switzerland. Maybe some cultures and the people thereof are more welcoming than that? I would hope for this anyway. However if people don’t want visitors there then visitors should respect that.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I worked briefly in Israel and Jordan plus spent a bit of time in Palestine, Turkey, Lebanon and Kuwait. I’m not too interested in seeing Qatar or UAE but I feel the need to return to Lebanon and Palestine… a small taste wasn’t enough.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. “‘Exotic’ people have different circumstances than we do, yes, and different opinions and tastes, but all have the same basic aspirations: be happy, take care of family, and live a meaningful life.” Agreed, in the end, we are all the same. People who try so hard to be “different” and “interesting” are often very lonely and empty inside. Just be yourself and do what makes you happy. Once you start feeling comfortable in your own skin, you will start meeting like-minded people who will find the true you “exotic” and “interesting” enough. Happy to have discovered your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great read, enjoyed this, as I can utterly relate. I grew up in 5 countries on 3 continents, believing that I would find unique, exotic people in each place. Yet, as you mention, the stereotypes are omnipresent. Funny world!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There are no ‘exotic’ people, an inferior or a superior race. we are all humans, same propensities to do good or bad, same abilities to achieve. That is why those you may see as ‘exotic’ also see you as such.Because we are all the same.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s