Your holiday does not make you an expert August 11, 2020 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I am reaching out to the community as I am not sure how to fix this but - can we please stop with the 'I visited somewhere for a week so here is my hot take about a country/culture based on a few days as a tourist'?

I commented on this in one thread, but since then have seen several posts where this seems to happen a lot (and maybe it is just because this site has a lot of Americans but almost all the people who do it seem to be based in the US).
I am not sure these comments rise to the level of flagging for the mods, but they are a bit gross tbh. We are all aware of cultural appropriation and associated matters these days, so I am not sure why it is considered okay to expound upon cultures that you don't know beyond a facile level gained on a holiday. Of course you don't have to live in a country or culture to have studied it and/or have a deep understanding (otherwise no-one would know about historical periods...) but that is not what I am talking about. And I think it is a negative for a few reasons:
a)it muddies the discussion with ill-informed hot takes, often drowning out the voices of people who actually know something about the culture being discussed
b) it is often comes across as insensitive, or even showing off (like when a disaster happens and everyone wants to claim a bit of connection by telling us about the holiday they took in place X 15 years ago so now they have a deep connection to a place)
Does anyone have ideas on how to constructively tackle this?
posted by Megami to Etiquette/Policy at 9:32 AM (102 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

Hey folks. This is a kind of MeTa we haven't had yet under the new system - the kind that is more user-education and community-consensus-focused rather than a policy or development request. I'm going to keep an eye on it but probably in a less-structured way than in the other types of thread.

Please keep in mind the Site Guidelines - especially the sections on being aware of your privilege and avoiding microaggressions - and let's keep this focused on ways the community can move the needle on this issue. I especially want to avoid people coming in and saying things along the lines of "this doesn't bother me so we shouldn't talk about it", which is a dynamic that often sends these threads off the rails and is completely unhelpful. Thanks!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:35 AM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's a problem when someone says, "based on my limited experience, here is what I saw/experienced/think." This is mostly what is in the thread you linked to. People should be able - even encouraged - to go experience things that are out of their daily norm, and talk about what they took away from it, and how their first-hand experiences compare to other people's, or to portrayals in the media, etc.

I think the problem is when someone says, "based on my limited experience, I'm an expert in this topic." I see less of this, but it is problematic when it occurs, for numerous reasons (although I don't think cultural appropriation is one of them).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:08 AM on August 11 [57 favorites]


Perhaps this is some bad conservatism about the site on my part, but I think:
  • Users should be free to post dumb things that aren't outside the site guidelines
  • Other users should feel freer to note that those comments are hurtful and bad, and should feel free to point at specific comments and users about this in-thread. My impression is that the site currently encourages indirect response to other comments and users for things like this, but there’s certainly plenty of direct back-and-forth that goes on when people are being insensitive. Keeping things vague sometimes leaves me scratching my head trying to figure out what I’ve missed. Did someone think a thread was terrible because of the two most recent comments, or because of the whole trajectory of a thread?
  • You should always feel free to flag anything you have a strong opinion about to alert the mods, and you should do it often.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:12 AM on August 11 [54 favorites]


This is a very real problem on the site, and I appreciate you bringing it up, even if the likely outcome is that nothing changes, this thread is so bad that it makes more people button, and the majority of the work falls on people who are the ones being harmed. I have, unfortunately, lost any faith that mefites are willing and able to speak up for marginalized communities over their right to say whatever the hell they feel like spewing into the comment box.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:39 AM on August 11 [21 favorites]


I read the Iceland thread, and only saw one comment that seemed to match that description. While the comment did indeed come off as a bit odd, it happened fairly early in the thread, and doesn’t seem to have influenced the tone or direction of the conversation (which seems to have turned out OK, unless a lot of comments were deleted behind the scenes). All being told, I wish it had received a little more pushback earlier in the thread.

I agree that US-centric audiences often tend to engage in this kind of behavior, and that it does indeed reflect a fairly problematic worldview. The comment in question was explicitly framed as coming from a place of relative-ignorance, and... that only barely makes it better.

However, if we’re going to discuss this as a matter of site policy/etiquette, I think we need specific examples of threads where this has become a central theme, so that we can anchor and frame the discussion. Right now, this post seems to be calling out a single user from the Iceland thread, which doesn’t seem like a great basis for starting a community discussion.

As a whole, we should always be mindful to avoid engaging in stereotypes or microaggressions. That includes avoiding “positive stereotypes,” or ignorant comments that we might make about a foreign culture (even when that culture is perceived as privileged). I think it’s good and healthy for us to be reminded of that from time to time.
posted by schmod at 10:45 AM on August 11 [7 favorites]


I get this. Americans have a tendency to do slide show monologue on foreign travel. at worst it's a culture appropriate cornucopia of generalization coupled with unseen bias and racism. But working for many folks from other cultures, the same thing happens here but not so much. I find talking with folks from a different culture enriches me, I learn. I've done it twice today, visited with folk from elsewhere and they are happy to talk at the appropriate time concerning thier own country and many are leery, and I don't blame people, it's a big part of life to move away. The success, hopes and aspirations of new citizens or in process of, is part of America I love but it's shameful to process cultural differences in a view that's 'murica first, you have nice country, pass the gelatos.

but as to this on Askme, I differ to Maines' Thesis above.
love another and listen, esp. to bias.
posted by clavdivs at 10:46 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I gave the Iceland thread as an example and I am not going to call out specifics because I am not going to shame individuals. But I will say that there are many cases where people conflate a tourist experience with understanding a culture or society. I have had other people contact me about this so all I will say is if you are not seeing the problem rather than just dismissing it have a look at your assumptions and viewpoint.
posted by Megami at 10:57 AM on August 11 [17 favorites]


Here is an example of an Ask thread where some of the commenters seem to have no idea what they're talking about, but if you weren't familiar with British culture (as the OP states they personally are not) you'd have no way to know that.

Luckily in this case, more knowledgeable commenters started weighing in, but would it have really killed all the folks there who had no personal familiarity with British traditions to just ... not answer?
posted by quacks like a duck at 11:00 AM on August 11 [17 favorites]


I am reaching out to the community as I am not sure how to fix this but - can we please stop with the ‘I visited somewhere for a week so here is my hot take about a country/culture based on a few days as a tourist’?

This is a very real problem on the site, and I appreciate you bringing it up, even if the likely outcome is that nothing changes, this thread is so bad that it makes more people button, and the majority of the work falls on people who are the ones being harmed.

all I will say is if you are not seeing the problem rather than just dismissing it have a look at your assumptions and viewpoint.

To try and operationalize my last comment a bit more, it seems like the next steps are for:
  • Community members who see this meta post to be considerate in their commenting
  • Community members who see this meta post to be more activate about flagging these comments
  • Mods who see this meta should watch out for these comments more.
It seems reasonably unlikely that the majority of people who make these comments are going to show up here, but those of use who do show up can do better.

the bad conservatism here seems to boil down to "works for me/wontfix"

If you have a practical suggestion instead of just aggro, please give it, since obviously the process is not working and needs to be changed.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:07 AM on August 11 [19 favorites]


I don't think it's a problem when someone says, "based on my limited experience, here is what I saw/experienced/think."

I suspect part of the issue ends up being looking at this in terms of individual behavior. If it were just one or two people in any given thread, it'd be more manageable. But much like pile-ons, a whole bunch of people each doing what they think is innocent cultural chauvinism snowballs into a whole lot of inertia that drowns out the voices of people able to actually speak on a topic/concern (and further forces them to have to go through extra work to break apart that snowball before getting to the thing they wanted to say, further exhausting/discouraging that behavior)

Based on how the community's built up over the years & continues to roll along, anything that relies on "make the people hurt by insensate behavior do the work to convince people a problem is a problem, and then further work to counter it" is a non-starter.

It's not exactly an unknown pattern of the unmarked behaving in aggregate patterns & getting tetchy when that aggregate's observed. Everybody's an individual, how dare you point out I'm behaving in a pattern that's driving people away, etc.
But that means it's all the important to call attention to it, and for people (myself definitely included) to sit with that when it's called out vs. reflexive defensiveness, and to amplify those people who've been doing so for years.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:08 AM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Does anyone have ideas on how to constructively tackle this?

I think there needs to be more immediate pushback, in the comments, against it. Megami, I agree with schmod that more specific examples would be great. I'm more likely to roll my eyes at that kind of thing -at most-, and I wouldn't necessarily have twigged that fatbird's comment was seen as a problem. Now that you bring it up, I totally see where you're coming from, and this can be a thing I keep an eye out for in the future.

Also, more specific examples - which I acknowledge is some work up-front - allows people who are less familiar or don't know what to look for to take a more active stance in the future. Which is what has been the call for awhile, right? Getting the majority group to expand their frame of reference and not rely on others to do all the heavy lifting.

Possible solution: someone(s) post some comments that are kind of a problem like this. Someone(s) uses those comments as a template, write up some synthetic, example comments (i.e. user WellMeaningButMissedThePoint writes, "My trip to Mexico really taught me a lot about making tortillas, and how deeply entrenched the culture is in these foods, over that one weekend in Cabo 20 years ago," becomes, "The people of Flunderband can only really be truly understood through their whozits, which I encourage all of you to do, like I did, for that week on my honeymoon"). These new example comments get posted on the Wiki.

Once the Wiki examples are largely agreed upon by the necessary actors, maybe there can be something added to the site guidelines on the site itself -- "You can make these comments, but it'd be pretty shitty! Try not to be shitty!"
posted by curious nu at 11:18 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Revisiting the guidelines (which we/I should probably all do more often, and r_n encouraged at the top of the thread), it seems like this sort of content could reasonably be construed as breaking several of them:
  • Be aware of your privilege
  • Be mindful of microaggressions
I don’t know how much it would help, but adding an explicit link to the guidelines right next to the “Note: Everyone needs a hug.” message might be a useful, all-purpose nudge.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:25 AM on August 11


I stayed out of the recent thread about Aya Sophia being reconverted to a mosque, recently, for reasons similar to the posting of this Metatalk. Despite some personal feelings I have about Aya Sophia and about Turkey in general, I recognized that the post itself was about the current political scene there, rather than the aesthetic experience that architecture provokes (and it is an experience.)

Since I know only a bit about Erdogan, and only a little bit more about the 19th and 20th century context for the more recent politics, I stayed out of the thread altogether. My interest in the region is real, but tangential, and certainly much less interesting and important than the thoughts of people who are more directly affected by this particular move.

I'm not asking for a cookie here. It just feels like that is the responsible way to engage with topics about which I know just enough to be dumb.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:50 AM on August 11 [11 favorites]


we’re still getting “bad conservatism” pushback to a milquetoast request to stop with the “i visited i are expert” shit.

I’m sorry if my “bad conservatism” comes across as pushback to the request - it certainly wasn’t intended as that, and that’s on me. I’m not trying to defend any “i visited i are expert” comments as being helpful. Rather, I was hoping to convey the idea that the best remedy for this is for MetaFilter to be a community where aggressive pushback on such microaggressive content occurs - via comments, via flags, and other actions. Not everyone reads MetaTalk, and it’s obvious that not everyone is going to change their commenting behavior. Having to actively object to bad comments in threads is going to be the norm forever.

and it's that work that has gotten the admin staff to add in the stuff about being aware of privilege and microaggressions into those guidelines

That work is incredibly important! And it’s why I would like see those guidelines plastered everywhere, so ignorant folks like myself do the work of paying attention to them. Reddit, for goodness sakes, pins community rules right up on the front page of a subreddit. The guidelines aren’t tucked away, they are in your face and made to matter. My conservatism is bad, I think, because it disregarded the actual guidelines. A revised comment for me to have made at the start of this thread would be
“Comments like this appear to violate the guidelines so should be flagged and deleted. People are probably not thinking before they post them so they should maybe get memailed a note by the mods about the deletions, unless this is some kind of habit in which case something more drastic should perhaps be done.”
The rules are the rules, and they have changed thanks to many other peoples’ complaints and work. So let’s be aggressive about using those rules.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:42 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


I think there are at least two kinds of comments (and they both appear in the Iceland thread).
  1. "I visited X once and this was my experience." I think this kind of comment is benign in isolation but it becomes a problem if these kinds of comments drown out more interesting conversations. I think mods should treat this the way they do other kinds of derails, or when someone brings up US politics in a post not about the US.
  2. "I visited X once and now I'm going to make sweeping generalizations about it." This is an inherently bad comment and mods should delete it, the same way they now delete it when someone tries to argue that there's no such thing as cultural appropriation.

posted by jomato at 12:48 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


It is a real problem. Unless there were a ton of deletions, the Iceland thread is a poor example, especially as you're trying to avoid calling out individuals -- a couple of posters mention visiting the country, but the most substantial comments are from someone living in Iceland and someone from Iceland now living elsewhere.

Particularly on this site, I'm not sure how to dismantle the primarily white-American-with-discretionary-funds fervid cultural belief that passport travel is essential, the belief that even brief trips fundamentally shaped the traveler as a well-educated, worldly person, and the belief that any impressions gained from holidays should be shared as they are certain to elevate the audience (as well as the speaker). I'm describing the issue like it's some kind of Möbius loop, when it's more of a rat king situation.

"Hey, you seem to think you're posting a charming and relevant anecdote about the time you honeymooned in ____, but you're actually contributing to the further marginalization of _____ people, some of whom are sharing this very discussion space with you" doesn't lend itself to a handy acronym.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:59 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


Going to Maine, you're being disrespectful, and I am not going to explain why because others upthread already have. Please talk less and listen more so that the voices who raised this issue can be heard.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 1:24 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


How on earth is Going to Maine being disrespectful?
posted by leslietron at 1:47 PM on August 11 [38 favorites]


Please review the responses made by other members of the community who have already explained why they feel uncomfortable and disrespected.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 2:21 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


First, I think it is not helpful to conflate the issues around marginalized communities with the issue of US (or UK) Mefites posting hot takes based on their semester abroad (or weekend in Ibiza).

My second thought is that the people who are most likely to blithely post text vacation photos are the least likely to read this thread and think it applies to them (they're travellers, not tourists).

I don't think it's possible to make a rule about being insensitive or show offy--that's not a characteristic that is unique to any single group.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:32 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Rather, I was hoping to convey the idea that the best remedy for this is for MetaFilter to be a community where aggressive pushback on such microaggressive content occurs - via comments, via flags, and other actions.

Going To Maine - independently, your comment might make sense, but in the appropriate context that anem0ne points out -- these pushbacks don't seem to lead to any change.

A note is that your strategy continues to place labor on the people who experience these microagressions. Your strategy as such, helps uphold the status quo (whether intended as such). We don't have to debate this but rely on the historical record presented by anem0ne. The mere presence of continuous aggressive pushback without any change should give you pause.

==

[[ insert constructive comment here ]]

(I don't have emotional bandwidth to write this right now, so I encourage you to imagine what this would be.)

==

Honestly sometimes my exhausted trickster self says that everyone should band together and flip the script and become bad actors in the way to highlight this issue. like:
- "I know what this Metatalk is about! I mean, I haven't read any of the posts above, but whatever!"
- "I know all about USA! I mean I've only been there a few times but here's my weird experience based on my time in Las Vegas"
- "Oh yeah you should totally do X. This isn't legal advice but my friend is a lawyer and this is just what I believe"
- "I'm not an expert on White culture but my three white friends tell me all about their lives and based on that I really think you should do X because it's kind of the thing they like"

==

Oh look! I wrote about this in 2017. Has anything changed?
posted by suedehead at 2:42 PM on August 11 [28 favorites]


I do not have any good solutions but I agree that this can be an issue and I hope people will stop doing it. Thank you for this post.
posted by ferret branca at 3:33 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


As participation on Metafilter in general declines and posts like this are frequent and active, it is almost possible to imagine the Metafilter empire reduced to Metatalk posts where the community hashes out how to be a community and if it is even possible. I'm not being glib, I think these discussions are genuinely interesting and important and I think it is not obvious that this community can continue to function indefinitely. Also, there are worse things to be than an experiment to find out if a group blog/discussion site is can still exist. Or maybe to be more specific, to exist in a way that respects its individual members, which was not a real concern when the site started.
posted by snofoam at 3:45 PM on August 11 [34 favorites]


“I know what this Metatalk is about! I mean, I haven't read any of the posts above, but whatever!"

To be fair, this is about 10-15% of all MeTa comments already.

Ironically, the comments that annoy me in Iceland-related threads are less “I went to Iceland once and learned all about Iceland,” but a weird fetishization of Iceland as a cute country full of elves an Björk. Also see Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which an Icelandic friend says people in Iceland liked, so maybe I’m getting inappropriately worked up.

I suspect that a site full of autodidacts is going to have a lot of over-estimating one’s competence in a lot of areas (we’ve had MeTas about this in law and medical FPPs and Asks, and almost everyone who comments in threads on Higher Education know a great deal less than they think they do about how it works), so this is a general problem, but, yes, it does sting especially when your culture is being shot back at you in a weird distorted way.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:05 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


Hello, I am a white person who hasn't used his US passport for anything other then new job payroll registration in the past 5 years. I believe a request was made for someone other than the same users from marginalized groups to push back against nonsense, so here's my best attempt.

I have flagged some comments in this thread.
I have notified the mods through the contact form that this thread requires more clear framing of discussion.

It seems to me that this derail is coming, not out of a maliciousness, but because some users are asking "Can we address this within the framework of the comments, flagging and current site guidelines?" This is already a microagression, because it sounds too close to, hardly two steps away from, "Is this really a problem?"

THEN, after getting a clear answer from non-white, or non-American users that "No, this problem requires awareness and constant conscious effort from both mods and users, and this burden shouldn't fall exclusively on one group" those same people are saying "Really, maybe the Guidelines need to be updated!"

The problem is not the guidelines. This site could have the ideal guidelines, and there would always be someone saying to themselves "Yes, but my take is unique and should be shared!" Then comes the pushback, the argument, the recrimination... in short, what's happening in this thread. If I understand the original poster correct me (please forgive and correct if I haven't) they are asking for directed, conscious effort to avoid the behavior in the first place, which no Guidelines could adequately explain.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 4:28 PM on August 11 [21 favorites]


I agree this is irritating. I've also found that a flag or gentle push back on an ignorant comment typically gets a prompt response from the mods and redirection, or shuts down the derail pretty quickly as most mefites aren't interested in talking about that stuff.

Always good to have a reminder, though.
posted by smoke at 4:56 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


"Can we address this within the framework of the comments, flagging and current site guidelines?" This is already a microagression, because it sounds too close to, hardly two steps away from, "Is this really a problem?"

I don't understand this.
posted by bashing rocks together at 5:01 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


There's a distinction to be drawn here between literal holiday commentary content and culturally dismissive or ignorant content, which isn't necessarily related to tourism. The first is an intellectual engagement with unfamiliar cultures and the largeness of the world, the second is exactly the opposite (and the subject of this thread). The first is generally extremely good and to be encouraged, and thinking of my own society which is well-known for insularity, provincialism and chauvinism, a bit of unfamiliar inexpert contact from the rest of the world can be for the best.
it does sting especially when your culture is being shot back at you
Sometimes a bit of sting is deserved if it's based on actual observation, not just generalisations. One of my favourite stories about tourism to Australia is that Chuck Berry toured in 1959, and was so completely disgusted that as soon as he got back to America, he wrote Back In The USA, about how good it was to be back home 'in old St. Lou'...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:37 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


that's something.
Back in the USA" was famously parodied by The Beatles with their song "Back in the U.S.S.R." from their self-titled 1968 album The Beatles (aka the White Album).

Learn something everyday.
posted by clavdivs at 6:28 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


Having to actively object to bad comments in threads is going to be the norm forever.

People who have the lived experience of dealing with bigotry always and forever do not need yet another explanation that the world just is how it is, so give up on expecting better.

If you have a practical suggestion instead of just aggro

Dismissing the concerns and perspectives of marginalized folks as 'just aggro' is disgusting. Especially since marginalized folks have been offering practical suggestions here for years, only to be met with dismissiveness -- like, oh, I don't know, explanations that the world just is what it is, and btw be less mad.

You asked for practical suggestions, for 'MetaFilter to be a community where aggressive pushback on such microaggressive content occurs'.

Here's you getting your wish: knock it off.
posted by amery at 6:32 PM on August 11 [28 favorites]


can we please stop with the 'I visited somewhere for a week so here is my hot take about a country/culture based on a few days as a tourist'?

I can and will try.

I mean, that's all that can really be said here without causing a fight. Why is there a comment section?
posted by ctmf at 6:38 PM on August 11 [21 favorites]


That's not (entirely) a snark. I can and will try, honestly.
posted by ctmf at 6:40 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I find it strange that the post starts with can we please stop with the 'I visited somewhere for a week so here is my hot take about a country/culture based on a few days as a tourist'? implying that people who aren't a deep part of that particular place should stay out of things. But ends up with a segment of a population saying that they're too tired of pushing back and desire some other group of tourists to make things right.

It's like the complete opposite of the original request for unqualified to speak people to please stay out and let the qualified do their thing. It turns into the qualified are sick and tired of doing the explaining and want the unqualified to do it instead.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:54 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


Why is there a comment section?
woo, let's not attack the server:)

It turns into the qualified are sick and tired of doing the explaining and want the unqualified to do it instead.

I get that, therefore all should strive for quality of equality
posted by clavdivs at 7:03 PM on August 11


I want to gently push back on the idea that anem0ne was being aggro/aggressive. I have noticed repeatedly that various people in Meta threads will make statements, seemingly off the cuff, that minimize the pain that marginalized folk feel, and when marginalized people are upset by the dismissal of their concerns and express their anger, they are told they are aggro/aggressive/angry and that's bad.

We probably deserve a whole separate meta on how the site's expectation of absolute civility in discussions and a demand that people mask their anger (or I guess not feel it) because anger is bad is it's own micro-aggression against marginalized people. It's very easy not to act angry if the status quo doesn't bother you, but I notice regular push back on ideas regarding changing the status quo to better support marginalized members, and complaints about how they express themselves and if that's not indicative of some feeling on the subject, I'm not sure what it's indicative of.

As for the idea of unqualified people, I'd point out qualifications are something people get from training and education, including self education. People can also point to prior work by subject matter experts by linking to it.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 7:24 PM on August 11 [53 favorites]


an intellectual engagement with unfamiliar cultures and the largeness of the world

and something to keep in mind:

one person's "unfamiliar culture" is another person's family, home or heritage

one person's "intellectual engagement" is another person's patchy/incomplete analysis of a vivid, complex, dynamic, and altogether incomprehensible place

-

A while back I read this passage about Palestine and think it applies here. I can't remember the original author, apologies, and I'm paraphrasing:

"If you spend a day here, you could write a whole book about this place. If you spend a week here, you might be able to write an essay. But if you spend a month, or years, or live the rest of your life here, you'll find yourself unable to write a single letter about this place."

It's always much easier to write about places that are unfamiliar to one's self because they appear easily summarizable thanks to our own limited knowledge. But when you actually live/inhabit/are part of a culture, a culture and a place becomes infinitely broad. I hope we can have a site where that infinite broadness is respected, and that the folks who are tempted to write that 'whole book' recognize the limitations of their experiences.
posted by suedehead at 7:35 PM on August 11 [94 favorites]


one person's "unfamiliar culture" is another person's family, home or heritage

word. for example writing on the Cambodia genocide I needed to reference Myanmar. I didn't like using that name for obvious reasons but as teacher pointed out a proper reference and signifier are nessesry, no matter how you feel. same for a prof who always qoated Malthus as Parson Malthus in a dissertation, they made him take it out.

expect from someone with a..frame on their profile pic.
glad archives are available for cross reference.
posted by clavdivs at 7:48 PM on August 11


[Couple comments removed. Pruitt-Igoe, if you blew your point enough the first time to get promptly deleted, probably time to just skip coming back around for another go.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:18 PM on August 11


On the main topic of the thread: this vacation-expert commenting happened in the Juan Carlos leaving Spain thread, and it really bothered me.
posted by medusa at 9:10 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]



I want to gently push back on the idea that anem0ne was being aggro/aggressive. I have noticed repeatedly that various people in Meta threads will make statements, seemingly off the cuff, that minimize the pain that marginalized folk feel, and when marginalized people are upset by the dismissal of their concerns and express their anger, they are told they are aggro/aggressive/angry and that's bad.


Per Popehat, this is the problem of the preferred first speaker:


“The problem of the preferred first speaker” is the tendency to impose norms of civility, openness, productiveness, and dialogue-encouraging on a RESPONSE to expression that we do not impose on the expression itself.


It's not ok to expect civility in response to incivility.
posted by medusa at 9:15 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


I like the idea of encouraging people to share their stories and experiences more than their generalizations in the guidelines. I think people read them.
posted by michaelh at 10:39 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


On the main topic of the thread: this vacation-expert commenting happened in the Juan Carlos leaving Spain thread, and it really bothered me.

That was at least honest. It wasn't half as annoying as the "let me plug an unrelated song I like that mentions the King of Spain for a cheap rhyme" and "let me reference My Fair Lady for no good reason" comments.
posted by sukeban at 10:42 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


I've commented in quite a few place-based AskMe questions about what my experience has been living and travelling in those places, and this thread is making me more conscious of what those answers should sound like to be both of maximal use to the asker and minimal work for people with more lived experience there than me. Thank you for posting this, Megami.
posted by mdonley at 11:53 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


Zengargoyle I am going to assume your comment is in good faith and try to explain - we are asking 'non-qualified' people to stop assuming that their minor interaction with a culture makes them qualified to speak on behalf of a culture, or in some way deeply knowledgeable about it. No one is saying you can't comment on cultures you don't belong to/know very well, it is about how your approach it.

The 'qualified' who are sick of explaining are the people who have raised this issue (and ones like it) again, and again, and the response is to be told we have not given enough examples, can you tell us *yet again* why this behaviour annoys people, and basically told that if you expect other people to be decent human beings it is 'our' job to continually do the work to make that happen rather than just expect other people to do the decent thing.

I am far from a marginalised person - I am a middle class white woman of an English speaking background. Doesn't mean I am not aware of, or concerned about these issues. Not sure why if I can manage it others can't.
posted by Megami at 11:57 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


Here's an example from today. I know what the fuck I am talking about when I write a couple short paragraphs and on serious topics, I am being utterly serious. If someone wants to address what I said, at least a) have the decency to demonstrate effort more than a shallow two-liner clever dismissive response, and b) show me you're not a white person finding the moment so important to tell me, that I must be wrong. It is like White Ideology DDOS. Stop the casual whitesplaining like, 10 years go.
posted by polymodus at 1:01 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


As non-US person of color the video in the linked thread, with its crescendo of murky Blut und Boden themes that culminate in close-ups of steely, determined white faces, that bothered me more than misguided paeans by would-be Magellan's.
posted by dmh at 3:59 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I have also observed--and cringed at--the "generalizing about entire groups on the strength of a 5-day Airbnb sojourn" stuff on Mefi over the years, and agree with Megami that some of the stuff in that Iceland thread is downright embarrassing. Ditto the Juan Carlos post. I have not been a regular for long enough to realize that that sort of stuff was OK to flag and have so far refrained from commenting on posts when the comment would solely be about pushing back on comments like this; that is ending today and I will not hesitate to challenge folks engaging in this and/or flag for moderation. However, I'm a white US-American with the spoons to do this; I really hear anem0ne when they say (again) that "flag/push back in the thread" is neither OK to ask of marginalized users nor an adequate solution all on its own.

Indulging in national/ethnic stereotyping and generalizations of any kind, in what is ostensibly an international/multinational forum is...it's hard to find a succinct way to express how irritating and offensive and corrosive it is. Absolutely no one likes being on the receiving end of it, yet somehow some of us feel comfortable doing it. It needs to stop if we are at all serious about trying to attenuate the overwhelmingy white USian bent the site has always exhibited.

In the (much smaller) international communities I help to run elsewhere on the internet/in meatspace, I personally have no qualms about coming down hard on people who do this; on the intertubes I will delete it and in person I will tell the individual "don't do that or I'll ask you not to show up anymore". IMO this kind of behavior contravenes almost every one of the site Guidelines either literally or in spirit, and I think--with the caveat that I realize modding is already very taxing and time-consuming--mods are going to need to make a sustained and conscious effort to delete this shit where it arises. (I have seen more mod pushback recently on people trying to hijack non-USian threads to pontificate about US culture/politics and do appreciate it.) Mefites from dominant groups have a corresponding responsibility to actively challenge and flag these kinds of "contributions".

I get this crap all the time IRL (in Europe) on the basis of both my cultural/national identities, and also hear a TON of it from white people about other places/peoples, and honestly aside from a general "hmm sounds like your 7-day resort trip is p flimsy evidence for that" I just tap out of the conversation because I am too tired and too irritated to fight about it when I already know the likely outcome (defensiveness, denial and doubling down); on Mefi I imagine site members are similarly noping out and in large numbers, because this kind of thing is just relentless whenever anything about a culture outside white America is under discussion.
posted by peakes at 5:17 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


I can and will try.

As someone who has traveled a bit, I know I am prone to this, and appreciate the reminder that there are better ways to contribute.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:21 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Morning, folks. Deleted a comment - long, carefully-qualified eulogies for the good old days when we didn't care about members if they weren't exactly like Matt aren't welcome or necessary. Those days are gone, and good riddance.

I can and will try.

As someone who has traveled a bit, I know I am prone to this, and appreciate the reminder that there are better ways to contribute.


This is the end goal of threads like these. Metafilter, being an open-membership site, is going to have a constant flow of new folks with widely varying life experiences, standards, and habits. We can't make them never be jackasses. We don't - can't, and shouldn't - have that level of control, either as moderators or as a whole community. What we can do, as a community and as moderators, is recognize jackassery when we see it, call it out, and correct it. The more people who read conversations like these and have that "huh, I could do better here" reaction, the quicker and more widely-distributed that pushback becomes.

So, read, think about what your habits are, and how you can change them.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:08 AM on August 12 [29 favorites]


we are asking 'non-qualified' people to stop assuming that their minor interaction with a culture makes them qualified to speak on behalf of a culture, or in some way deeply knowledgeable about it. No one is saying you can't comment on cultures you don't belong to/know very well, it is about how your approach it.

or as I was about to say, context is essential here. Please try not to present as expert on something about which you have at best passing knowledge. Suedehead's comment on Palestine pretty much says it all in that regard. Not that all the world is Palestine, but every culture is complex in its own unique way. The surface remains the surface and even the skin has more than layer ...

I happen to live in a location which, every summer for six to eight weeks, gets overwhelmed with visitors, tourists, summer residents* ... and yeah, it can be annoying to hear one of them chiming in expertly on what life is really like "here on the island". If I'm feeling snarky, I feel like saying something like, "Funny, I don't ever recall seeing you around here in January." But mostly, I just bite my tongue.

* summer residents (folks who show up pretty much every year but only for a month or a few weeks at the time of peak weather, activity, crowds) are in many respects the worse. Simply because their experience of the place, though prolonged, is so narrow. The urban equivalent would be assuming sidewalk dynamics are the same at noon as they are at midnight.
posted by philip-random at 8:34 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


I find it strange that the post starts with can we please stop with the 'I visited somewhere for a week so here is my hot take about a country/culture based on a few days as a tourist'? implying that people who aren't a deep part of that particular place should stay out of things. But ends up with a segment of a population saying that they're too tired of pushing back and desire some other group of tourists to make things right.

It's like the complete opposite of the original request for unqualified to speak people to please stay out and let the qualified do their thing. It turns into the qualified are sick and tired of doing the explaining and want the unqualified to do it instead.


I read the original post, and the subsequent comments, rather differently.

I think the original request is much in line with suedehead's paraphrased or rephrased quote: "If you spend a day here, you could write a whole book about this place. If you spend a week here, you might be able to write an essay. But if you spend a month, or years, or live the rest of your life here, you'll find yourself unable to write a single letter about this place."

If you only have passing knowledge about a place, or a topic, don't come in and claim to be an expert, or make cheap remarks that flatten diversity to a trope. It's not that inexperienced people shouldn't post at all, it's that they shouldn't post flippant comments for the lulz and favorites, intentionally or not. Looking at the thread in question, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon made a joke about Iceland, and got a ton of favorites. But later, they wrote an apology for that joke, which I'll quote here for emphasis:
like from an american perspective it's too easy to think of it in reductive terms as a pure utopia, as this stunningly beautiful hypereducated hypercreative superfeminist social democratic paradise with no serious problems. which uh is a blinkered perspective, especially given that there are in fact hard-right nationalists there, and especially given that reykjavik is being hit by a housing crisis, and especially since so much of the political leadership was so recently tangled up with the corruption exposed in the panama papers.
That's an "unqualified person" realizing that their joke flattened a nation to a trope, and then putting in the effort to un-flatten Iceland. They put in the work, or reflected further on what they had read or heard about Iceland, to make it un-funny, but more of a real place.

"But that post was about an epic national football promo video!" Yes, so joke about the video, not about Iceland as a cartoon land. Because when a culture is treated as a cartoon, why would people who live there expect to be treated as real people in this or other discussions?


Part 2 of this thread, where "qualified are sick and tired of doing the explaining and want the unqualified to do it instead," isn't really about qualifications, it's about who puts in the work to make MetaFilter more welcoming to everyone. The majority of the site is users from the US (or at least were in 2012, but I doubt the ratio has changed too much in the last 8 years, but I could be wrong). So how do we make the site welcoming for others? It's back to jokes and tropes - don't reduce a culture or a country to stereotypes and cartoons. And I'd hazard that most mefites are qualified to do that work, not just the people from the locations in discussion.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:56 AM on August 12 [18 favorites]


This popped up in a recent thread about my home province. It was mostly people who had visited, or knew someone who visited, rather than Nova Scotians commenting. I was mildly bothered, since people from outside the Maritimes tend to talk over/condescend to us and treat us like we're all naive idiots living in some giant amusement park they come to gawk at. But the OP seemed to find their comments helpful.
posted by Stoof at 10:11 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


(It's kind of amazing how confident people are when they're saying something totally wrong about a topic they know little about.)
posted by Stoof at 10:14 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


amazing how confident people are when they're saying something totally wrong

This talent is straight-up taught as a skill in many business schools, so it's probably not surprising it bleeds over into daily business, and thereby into the rest of life. Also, Dunning-Kruger, as always.
posted by aramaic at 10:53 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Stoof: "(It's kind of amazing how confident people are when they're saying something totally wrong about a topic they know little about.)"

And I listened because I hadn't found my own voice yet
So all I could hear was the noise that
People make when they don't know shit
But I didn't know that yet

posted by signal at 12:32 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Yes, this is a problem and if you are doing this, you are annoying.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:15 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's a problem when someone says, "based on my limited experience, here is what I saw/experienced/think." This is mostly what is in the thread you linked to.

One of the comments literally said that under every single Icelander's calm demeanor is a desire to eat your heart out of your body, but okay. I take issue with everyone in here who says that, because this one given example isn't a big problem (it is), then the site as a whole doesn't have a problem (it does).

Metafilter's userbase tends to be slightly more educated than just the general internet, and it has created a culture of American-centric know-it-all-ism. This meta is more than warranted. If you feel personally attacked by someone suggesting maybe it's better to listen than to talk sometimes, I suggest doing some internal reflection. (this comment is for everyone, not the person I quoted)
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:34 PM on August 12 [17 favorites]


Maybe it's the straw of 2020 that broke the camels back but this entire thread has made me want to Button Out more than any post in the Blue has. The lack of self-awareness and general meanness of spirit I see in so many other parts of the internet has seeped in to the point where I wonder why I'm here anymore. Does anyone bother to read the site guidelines???

We used to be a community. Now it feels like we're a collection of micro-agresssions that won't take our own advice.

I'm sick of it.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:09 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


Decrying people making generalisations about cultures on the one hand then denouncing this as an American phenomenon on the other is just beautiful.

"Have you been there?"
"No, but my hot take from visiting this one website is the people there do this thing, and it's a bit gross tbh."
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 11:10 PM on August 12 [10 favorites]


Always annoying when tourists pontificate about your home. I live in a small country that is sometimes on the receiving end of this. So I agree with Megami's request.

Quite weird, however, that the comments here took a common global issue and quickly applied the language and narrative of the US social justice movement to it. Apparently the people of Iceland, Spain, and Nova Scotia (the concrete Mefi thread examples raised) are "marginalised communities" being "harmed" by "micro-aggressions". Are they really? I'm in the non-US minority on the site but certainly don't think of myself as a victim.
posted by Klipspringer at 2:44 AM on August 13 [57 favorites]


Well, since most of the offending behaviour is committed by Americans, I think people are trying to put it in terms such that Americans will better understand why it's problematic behaviour—and this issue is, after all, proximate to broader issues about people commenting on other cultures.

As someone also not from the US whose country has attracted irritatingly uninformed comments from Mefites in the past, I don't have a problem with it.
posted by Panthalassa at 3:56 AM on August 13 [4 favorites]


In fact I would argue that in the context of Mefi, these voices ARE pushed to the margins of discussion and site culture by the armchair-expert attitude that started this thread. It's an issue which has been raised several times, in the most recent instances I've seen by folks self-identifying as British and Canadian. You may not be seeing the same thing I am or have the same experience obviously. And yup, I'd also say that flattening, mischaracterizing, and/or otherwise failing to respect someone else's culture and identity for the commenter's own purposes IS a micro-aggression, regardless of whether said culture is currently associated with a "white" highly developed country like France or Iceland. It's a steady drip-drip-drip of BS that eventually wears people out and makes them feel they don't matter and aren't welcome here. OK, the terminology comes out of American social-justice movements, and that in itself is telling, but the nature of the behavior and its corrosiveness exist regardless.

In my own comment use of the word "marginalized" was in direct response to anem0ne's comments, wherein they reminded us that the "if you see it & are offended please flag and explain for the umpteenth time why it's bad" is an issue that has already come up many times in other discussions about people from outside a given group taking over discussions that directly concern said group with ignorant, damaging remarks. The work of flagging this behavior tends to fall disproportionately to marginalized people *because they tend to be the only ones paying attention to this dynamic*. In the context of the Mefi commentariat, the dominant group here IS white US-Americans.

Does this mean all Americans on the site are doing this, or that the only people doing it are Americans? Lololol absolutely not, and it's not what I implied. But if we want to shift things, it can't always be JUST the impacted groups, even if that means Europeans or Commonwealth folks or whatever, asking over and over again for non-experts to Just Not, Americans need to visibly be doing it too. Just like USians don't deserve to be flattened into a vicious semi-literate gun-toting monolith just because we come from a high-GDP imperialist country, people from other places deserve the same courtesy even if their home countries don't come up to some arbitrarily defined bar of poverty or oppression or whatever.
posted by peakes at 4:12 AM on August 13 [11 favorites]


I've lived in the UK for most of my adult life. I certainly get annoyed when somebody asks "What's an authentic place in London for [X] nowadays?" and the first three answers start with, "I visited London twenty years ago and my tour guide took us to..."

And I get beyond annoyed when people stumble into a Brexit thread, ignore the dozens of posts about how this is a real issue that is going to destroy people's lives, and make easy jokes based on ignorance or misconceptions.

At the same time... I remember one occasion when an Australian poster made a series of interesting and well-informed posts that contributed a great deal to a Brexit thread, until they were chewed out by another poster for daring to speak up in a thread about Britain. I posted saying that I appreciated the Australian's comments, but they never came back, and the thread was poorer for their departure.

Plus, although the Australian's original comments had been very much part of the natural flow of the thread, chewing them out ended up causing a mini-derail that took some time to come back from.

So, I personally would strongly object to a blanket "Never comment about a country unless you've lived there" rule. Instead, I'd ask people to think about the bar for participation in the thread. A chatty MeFi post about some light-hearted cultural phenomenon has a lower bar for participation than an AskMe seeking specific contemporary information. A thread about people's livelihoods has a higher bar than either. And a thread about a group that has been routinely murdered for their sexuality or ethnicity has a vastly higher bar still.

In some cases, personal lived experience may be the only way to meet the bar. In other cases, extensively researched knowledge may be enough -- or even a brief three-day visit a decade ago. It just depends on what the bar is.

The Iceland thread that prompted this MeTa is an interesting case. It was initially framed as a light-hearted thread about a sports video, with a correspondingly low implicit bar for participation. Everybody treated it as such until Kattullus explained that the video actually "plays with nationalist imagery in really problematic ways," at which point, most people shifted tone in a way that seemed appropriate to the newly revealed seriousness of the topic.

So for me personally, the only comments in that thread that bothered me were the ones that followed Kattullus' comment -- but when a thread's tone changes suddenly, I get that it can be hard to keep up. (But I hasten to add that I am not Icelandic! "I am not from Iceland but I know it annoys them when outsiders claim to speak for them" would be a pretty paradoxical thing for me to claim.)
posted by yankeefog at 6:19 AM on August 13 [39 favorites]


IMO the application of words like "marginalized" to the populations of Iceland, Spain and Nova Scotia reads a lot like "Irish slavery" in terms of how it misappropriates terminology. That is my main issue with this whole Meta in terms of its framing. It is totally possible to make a plea for better behavior without coopting language that creates derails like this.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:37 AM on August 13 [18 favorites]


some little punk in a rocket: Decrying people making generalisations about cultures on the one hand then denouncing this as an American phenomenon on the other is just beautiful.

When I find myself pushing back or bristling at feedback or criticism, I stop to ask myself "am I bothered by the specific words, or the general idea?" Because if it's the words, I'm probably at fault and I'm defensively trying to pick apart the comment based on details, not the whole of it.

Also, speaking as an American, we do this to each other, too. States and cities are simplified to caricatures, the butt of jokes. Often it's well-meaning, but that's not always the case.


yankeefog: "I am not from Iceland but I know it annoys them when outsiders claim to speak for them" would be a pretty paradoxical thing for me to claim.

I disagree, and I think that's the point that has been made by many MeFites in this and other threads -- it shouldn't be up to the impacted people alone to defend themselves from micro and macro aggression. And the very point of this thread is "don't act like you know a place if you don't," so pushing back against such comments can be done by anyone.

The duration of one's stay in a place is not the only way that someone is or isn't suited to talk about a place. Sometimes a person may have family or friends somewhere, or studies some aspect of the country and know more about local politics or regional fashion or national culture than someone who has lived there for a few years but isn't involved in those areas of the "national self."
posted by filthy light thief at 8:08 AM on August 13 [7 favorites]


I've been keeping up with these threads even though I only post rarely. I hear the frustration about, for lack of a better term, touristsplainers(?). When I look at these situations, it seems like the frustration comes from a mismatch between expectations of the poster (people with deep knowledge on the subject/culture will direct discussion) versus yon average mefi user (whatever I (we, the touristsplainer unconscious aggregate) have to say is valid, interesting, etc).

So to help, perhaps we can make expectations clearer.

I was thinking about the THINK acronym (is what you have to say True/Helpful/Inspiring or Informative/Necessary/Kind). Is there any way we could come up with some micro-guidelines that posters could include on their post to help guide discussion? I don't quite have the brain for it right now but I imagine you could have different guidelines for different subjects, or different ways of framing your post.

"Does this post reflect your Lived Experience?" / "Does this issue meaningfully Impact your life?" / "Does your comment Acknowledge your privilege?" etc

There will still be people who shouldn't be talking, talking. But setting expectations early will weed out some and provide clarity for the rest on how to push back / flag / shape the conversation.
posted by snerson at 8:14 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I just realized that I accidentally acronymed LEIA for my suggested guidelines. :) I think she's a good one to accidentally namecheck in this sort of thing.
posted by snerson at 8:18 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


amazing how confident people are when they're saying something totally wrong

This talent is straight-up taught as a skill in many business schools, so it's probably not surprising it bleeds over into daily business, and thereby into the rest of life. Also, Dunning-Kruger, as always.


Not just taught at business school, this is pretty much the white male superpower, recognized and accommodated by white men in power as "ballsy." It's difficult to unlearn because all the cultural feedback and pressure is to keep doing it and we don't get (and shouldn't) any cookies for NOT doing it. I don't expect any sympathy, but some of you would not believe how difficult it can be to just say "I don't know the answer to that" when all your upbringing screams to give some bullshit answer.
posted by rikschell at 8:49 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


Toss in a positive feedback loop of people appreciating goofy comments and some bold statements, and here we are.

Except we're also here, considering what MetaFilter could and should be, to be more inclusive (or not).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:32 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


Filthy Light Thief: I disagree, and I think that's the point that has been made by many MeFites in this and other threads -- it shouldn't be up to the impacted people alone to defend themselves from micro and macro aggression. And the very point of this thread is "don't act like you know a place if you don't," so pushing back against such comments can be done by anyone.

I hear you. As a Jew, if somebody made an anti-Semitic remark on MeFi and the thread was filled with Gentiles pushing back, I would feel grateful and supported and safe.

But "I spent a week in London and I love the plucky British spirit" is a very different statement to "George Soros controls the media". Obviously I can't speak for anybody else but as one particular Jewish resident of the UK, I am personally requesting that you treat those two statements very differently. I am asking you to speak up loudly and often about anti-Semitism. I am also asking you to silently flag the Plucky Spirit comment, and then move on, so that you don't turn a UK-centric thread into a debate among Americans about whether British people mind it when Americans make things all about themselves.

I believe that the use of words like "marginalized" and "micro-aggression" in this MeTa come from the posters' passionate commitment to social justice and I applaud that. It's much better to look too hard for places to be an ally than not hard enough!

But when people treat the entire non-American population of the world as if it were a marginalized minority, it becomes its own form of America-centrism. Again, I appreciate the genuinely positive intent behind it, but I think it's an unhelpful way to frame this specific discussion.
posted by yankeefog at 9:53 AM on August 13 [49 favorites]


Oh, yes, FLT, we should be better no matter how difficult it is. Didn't mean to come off as making excuses. It requires awareness (posts like this one can be great wakeup calls for the clueless), it requires effort to relearn harmful behaviors, and it requires straightforward apologies from those of us who screw up in practice. It sucks that the world is arranged this way. Callouts on MetaTalk have absolutely made me a better person.

Making generalizations about a whole culture based on a vacation (or reading a lot of manga, or taking a cooking class, etc) is a thing people do, and it's gross. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as the saying goes.
posted by rikschell at 10:32 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


yankeefog, I agree with you on the difference between anti-Semitic remarks and generalizations about a country.

That said, MetaFilter is ridiculously US-based in terms of MeFites, if the 2012 breakdown of countries of origin for MeFites is (still) accurate at all:
Looks like the top 10 countries for MeFites (with number and MeFites per million) are:
1. United States of America (7153 MeFites, 23.86 per million)
2. Canada (611 MeFites, 18.93 per million)
3. United Kingdom (544, 9.03)
4. Australia (234, 11.52)
5. China (111, 0.08)
6. Germany (80, 0.97)
7. Netherlands (56, 3.43)
8. New Zealand (46, 11.23)
9. Japan (43, 0.34)
10. France (32, 0.52)
From these numbers, MetaFilter is very predominantly US-based, so on this platform, being from somewhere other than the US puts you in the minority. Yes, there are plenty of people in the US with diverse experiences and backgrounds, and some are also MeFites, but when most of the comments about a place, culture, or even a fruit are uninformed jokes or worse, "that thing is awful and sucks," why would anyone join the discussion?

Or if they're coming across MetaFilter for the first time and the first thing they saw was the earlier durian thread, they'd probably walk away. Compare that to the newer durian thread, where the discussion is full of positive, personal experiences, someone might say "hey, this is my kind of place."

Will taking time to reconsider that comment I am tempted to make because it's funny in my head, but I realize might be a lazy generalization that could make someone feel unwelcome mean I may be making fewer jokey comments? Yes, but is that really a bad thing? Should I flag such comments that I see, or gently push back in such threads? Yes, because if I want MetaFilter to be more open and welcoming, that means reminding myself what such comments would look like and feel if I were in essence the target of that joke.

Or I can just give in to the US-centric MetaFilter, which is continuing to decline in number of active members and general activity, will continue to shrink and become more and more homogeneous.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:35 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


Being a minority doesn't defacto make a person a member of a marginalized group. The 1% are not a marginalized group, why is that? What marginalization is is a power dynamic and that's something decided in context on a case by case basis, in particular being cognizant of intersectionality. The power dynamic in touristsplaining is basically global capitalism, of which America has and continues to play a hegemonic role in. This is very simple to state and explain, all the objections about "SJW" here I see are in degree, not kind.
posted by polymodus at 12:19 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


I’ve spent roughly half my adult life outside Iceland. One of the things you get used to as an Icelander living abroad is being the only Icelander people have met, so you become the lightning rod to years of stored up questions and opinions about Iceland.

The other thing you get used to is meeting people who’ve visited once or twice and have stories to tell you. Most of the time these encounters are benign, every so often they’re a bit weird, and once in a blue moon they’re deeply uncomfortable. I had one of those last ones two evenings ago.

I was with my family in an outdoor restaurant in Finland (where I live now). My one-year-old daughter was wearing an Icelandic style sweater. A Dutch-speaking couple at a nearby table commented on the Icelandicness of the sweater when I was walking past with her to make an order, and I said that she and I were indeed Icelandic.

Then they immediately start talking about Icelandic last names, and how her last name is my first name plus “dóttir”. I then say, no, I have a family last name, and she has the same name. They then said that then we couldn’t be Icelandic because that’s not how Icelandic last names work.

Which was weird, and I honestly didn’t know how to respond other than by saying things are more complicated than that.

All I wanted to do was to order an ice cream for my son, not have the ethnicity of my daughter and me questioned.

I didn’t have time or the energy to explain the strange consequences of changes in naming laws during the early part of the 20th century which left some Icelanders with family last names, I just wanted to get to the bar so I could order that ice cream. So I blathered something about things always being more complicated, and made my exit with my daughter as they raised more objections to what I had told them.

It takes a lot of mental energy to negotiate these kinds of situations, when challenged ignorance turns into indignance. The worst thing is that you never know when it will happen. One moment you’re walking with your one-year-old and the next some random person is casting aspersions on your Icelandicness for not fitting into some random factoid they picked up about Iceland.

I give this example not because the thread Megami linked to was exactly like that, but because for Icelanders, and this goes for any exoticized ethnic group, having to explain yourself and your culture is the price you have to pay to take part in any community other than your own.

What this means is that you have to constantly weigh the cost benefits of participating. To give a negative example, there was a bookstore I used to frequent in a city I lived in. I liked the selection, and the staff and clientele were lovely. But when the owner was there he would start sharing his views and opinions about Iceland with me. There was no malice, but there was a fairly confident ignorance that was impervious to challenge, and eventually I got tired of having to be “the Icelander” when all I wanted to do was buy a book. So I stopped going.

I’m not going to ask everyone to tattoo “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” on the backs of their hands, but it’s good to remember that real world places, cultures and social groups, are generally more complicated than can fit inside a Wikipedia article. Being aware of the limits of your own knowledge is useful.

It’s good to remember that having to explain things to people who have a Wikipedia article’s worth of knowledge about your lived experience takes a lot of energy. Some have lots of energy to draw on, and the time to expound, others are just trying to buy their kid an ice cream.
posted by Kattullus at 1:08 PM on August 13 [92 favorites]


There are so, so many previous threads on the same US/ international problem. The reason I joined after a long time of lurking was because at that point I envisioned that this could/ would be at least welcome to worldwide people, ideally being an international forum. I still really wish for that kind of place. There have been so many people who have written such interesting insightful comments here. I get annoyed by jokey comments plumped down in the few international posts. Especially when there are people commenting with first hand experience! I'm like, why would you talk over that, it's so valuable! And when the posters are commenting in English as a second language - using English along with a handle of norms and US culture- couldn't we respect that, notice it, embrace it?

Anyway since this post came up I've been thinking about how to empower(?!) international members and all I've got is trying to get more such international peeps rather than guidance for US peeps cos this has been a thing for so long if it was going to sink in it would've done so by now. But, I really don't know how to do it.
posted by peepofgold at 2:27 PM on August 13 [6 favorites]


some light-hearted cultural phenomenon has a lower bar for participation

One if the problems with this that I’ve noticed is that the smaller the country, or the more “foreign” or the less “important” it is perceived to be, the more likely that the framing of a post is either going to be more light-hearted, or be US/Westerner/White person focussed. A lot of the time, that’s because these posts are being posted by well-meaning outsiders who may not understand the nuances of the cool thing they’ve come across.

There’s also a spectrum involved here - posts about the UK and Canada are less likely to be dominated by outsiders giving their hot-takes, because there are enough people who live in both,or who are familiar enough with both to drown them out. (I keep trying, for example, to imagine what the current A-level results post and thread would look like if it were about a smaller , or non-English-speaking country and wincing.)

more such international peeps rather than guidance for US peeps

This is one of my pet peeves - dividing the world into US vs International is again reflecting a US-centric viewpoint. From where I’m sitting (literally), the US is international. (Even US vs non-US feels a bit icky, to be honest.)
posted by scorbet at 3:54 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


It’s small potatoes in relation to actual important stuff, but being Canadian, one thing that happens on this site with such regularity that my reaction to it has almost become a glazed-eyed ennui is the Americans who have “had it” and are going to move to Canada, like THAT IS JUST A THING YOU CAN DO and we’re their personal Plan B backyard utopia (we’re not, we’re dealing with our own stuff, lots of really bad stuff; so sort your own house out because YIKES.)

The flip side of that is when people who are just finding out that we are not, in fact, a socialist utopia respond to some story about an awful thing that’s happening here with the entirely obvious, unoriginal and patronizing “Oh, Canada” like they aren’t the thousandth person to offer that exquisite bon mot. Oh Canada! Because it’s our anthem! If you’re not from here and you comment on a post about shitty stuff in Canada with “Oh, Canada” please know that you are boring.
posted by chococat at 7:56 PM on August 13 [18 favorites]


Quite weird, however, that the comments here took a common global issue and quickly applied the language and narrative of the US social justice movement to it. Apparently the people of Iceland, Spain, and Nova Scotia (the concrete Mefi thread examples raised) are "marginalised communities" being "harmed" by "micro-aggressions". Are they really? I'm in the non-US minority on the site but certainly don't think of myself as a victim.

This has been really bothering me about this thread. As a white Australian, I get irritated by armchair experts, but I feel very uncomfortable about them being labelled as micro-agressions and now being part of a marginalized group. There are two separate issues, that sometimes do overlap, and sometimes don't.

At the same time, I really really want to emphasise that we don't equate "Non-US" countries with "White", as all countries have significant marginalised members.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:35 PM on August 13 [14 favorites]


The power dynamic in touristsplaining is basically global capitalism

Perhaps a bit of a sidebar, but I think tourism on the whole is better understood as an outgrowth and extension of colonial & imperial privilege than as global capitalism. Where the capitalist just wants to accrue profit, the colonialist harbors more edifying aspirations. To travel the world and marvel at the habits of the natives, to experience the storied bounties of conquest, this is the crown, the consummation ne plus ultra of the education of the colonialist. So of course people like to talk about their travels. To explain the world to others as if you own it is a valued social currency, at least when the audience are colonialists like yourself.

Tourism is the vestigial colonialism where it's expected as part of your upbringing and education to view the world as your oyster, and expound at length about your love for it, as you devour it.
posted by dmh at 5:49 AM on August 14 [17 favorites]


I think that's splitting hairs, it goes without saying that capitalist consumption and American imperialism today are two sides of the same coin. That's actually why I used the word "hegemonic". No postcolonialist scholar would try talk about one in absence of the other. Your very argument makes appeal to "social currency", so, capitalism again. It's just a shorthand.
posted by polymodus at 7:00 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I think colonialism with its specifically European legacy is quite distinct from and indeed historically opposed by the American political project, even if it is also the case that capitalism played and plays a vital role in both. If that is splitting hairs, because "capitalism" and "hegemony", then it appears to me the categories are cavernous to the point where they swallow all difference.
posted by dmh at 8:23 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


"Social currency" predates and is distinct from capitalism. Tell me tankies don't care deeply about social currency.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:28 AM on August 14


The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour was the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip through Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank (typically accompanied by a chaperone, such as a family member) when they had come of age (about 21 years old).

[...]

The New York Times in 2008 described the Grand Tour in this way:

Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.[1]


Pretty sure it's where we got the word tourism from.
posted by philip-random at 8:29 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


It seems to predate the Grand Tour (reference located via Wikipedia entry, - which does make sense, as if "tour" wasn't used in the sense of multi-destination travel before, there would be no need to differentiate one pattern of such as "Grand"). I checked the OED: "tour" comes into Middle English from French for "turn," as in on a lathe, making a full circle. It was in use by the 1600s for travel, with references like "making a tour of Italy" and "travellers making a tour" and also of doing one's appointed rounds, as in "tour of duty." There was lots of tourism within specific countries like England (spas, scenic views) before the Grand Tour became a thing - "Grand" generally implies multi-destination international tourism that hits all the most famous spots.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on August 14


Before the 16th centuries, tourists were better known as pilgrims, though locals still would sell them souvenirs.
posted by jb at 11:41 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I'm enjoying the details here, but mindful that geeking out over whether it's a club or a cudgel doesn't really help the feelings of the person being hit.
posted by freethefeet at 1:07 PM on August 14 [12 favorites]


freethefeet: I wasn't "geeking out", I was also pointing out that tourism is not modern, and modern explanations for it are ... problematic.
posted by jb at 1:13 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


I should probably also specify: modern and Western-centric explanations are problematic. It ignores the history of the rest of the world. (I'm especially fond of Rabban Bar Sauma, who should be more famous than Marco Polo).

As one of the call-out-ees in the Nova Scotia thread: I responded because no one from Nova Scotia had yet responded, and I qualified my response (I don't live there, I have close family who live there, and hopefully someone else who knows more will come in). I also linked to articles relevant to the issues from people who are there.
posted by jb at 1:21 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


As well to the issue of "geeking out" or, as has been complained about elsewhere, being "academic": I am trained as an academic historian. Being "academic" is part of my lived experience, even if no one pays me for it. And when it comes to any issue that pre-dates 1900, we're all academic about it, since none of us were alive to have experienced it, only some of us actually know the history in question.
posted by jb at 1:25 PM on August 14 [8 favorites]


This is getting sidetracked from the original request, in a way that seems like it's going to create a lot more heat than light. jb, if you or others want to talk about the history of tourism, great, but please make a thread on the blue about it instead. Please everyone drop the broader history thing in here, and let's refocus on Megami's original point about commenting behavior in the Mefi community, and how people should be mindful not to act like they know all about a place when they've just visited there once.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:16 PM on August 14 [8 favorites]


I think colonialism with its specifically European legacy is quite distinct from and indeed historically opposed by the American political project, even if it is also the case that capitalism played and plays a vital role in both. If that is splitting hairs, because "capitalism" and "hegemony", then it appears to me the categories are cavernous to the point where they swallow all difference.

You admitted what you were saying was a maybe sidebar yet persisted in this academic debate about what "causes" tourism, trying to pick apart my word choices and one tiny thing I said in context of this discussion. Then dug into your point instead of read my words broadly and see things from my point of view. This is the kind of derail behavior that marginalized groups talk about.

"Social currency" predates and is distinct from capitalism. Tell me tankies don't care deeply about social currency.

I am not here to teach Marx 101—nor do I consider myself qualified to—but if people could refrain from their clever neoliberal comebacks before having evinced understanding about a topic when engaging with someone else who has spent the time and effort reading and studying it, that would be great. Apparently toxic tourists apply to domains of knowledge in general.
posted by polymodus at 3:07 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


Being "academic" is part of my lived experience

I completely understand that, and also it's good to keep in mind that sometimes a tendency towards an academic perspective can be alienating to people whose real lives and experiences here and now are under discussion. I think this point has been made quite a bit in earlier metatalk threads.
posted by JenMarie at 5:39 PM on August 14 [9 favorites]


but if people could refrain from their clever neoliberal comebacks before having evinced understanding about a topic when engaging with someone else who has spent the time and effort reading and studying it, that would be great. Apparently toxic tourists apply to domains of knowledge in general.

I'm not sure what point you think you're making here but this is essentially just a broad-brush appeal to authority. While I am all for people exercising more awareness of the limits of their own knowledge, I do not think a thing that will improve Metafilter is "a bunch more gatekeeping".

If you only want to discuss Marxist perspectives on the history of tourism and the concept of social currency with people who have made extensive study of such things, I recommend seeking out a specialized forum that caters specifically to people who have made that study, rather than starting up such a discussion 80 comments deep in an unrelated post on a general-interest website and then getting snarky when non-"experts" weigh in.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:09 PM on August 14 [9 favorites]


I doubt it was intended but I'm appreciating how this thread has become a discussion/dissection (sometimes sharply pointed) of frames of reference and related impressions and assumptions. Academic, Marxist, neo-liberal, colonial, indigenous -- I'm sure I'm missing a few.
posted by philip-random at 9:25 PM on August 14


Perhaps a bit of a sidebar, but I think tourism on the whole is better understood as an outgrowth and extension of colonial & imperial privilege

I found this comment enlightening. As a young adult in the early 1980s and a product and subject of the British colonial project living on stolen land, my own early travel whims to visit 'exotic lands of the old Raj' came from a problematic romanticising of resistance by the 'exotic marginalised' against the Empire, encouraged by literature such as M.M. Kaye's, The Far Pavilions and, more locally to me at the time, B. Wongar's work.

Unquestioningly, these 'dramas' and dramatic places existed in real life for my entertainment when I visited, like they did for other colonial offspring. When there, I could construct an experience of my visit to take home and bring out later if there was an opportunity to show it off and create some cachet - an experience naturally, and at the time unconsciously, shaped and limited by my own beliefs, understandings, expectations, prejudices, blind-spots, and influenced by the economic, political, racial, religious and gendered affiliations, oppositions and intersections I encounter or thrust on others during my temporary occupation of some of their space.

As the change of tense in the last paragraph might indicate, the 'becoming conscious' of perceptual and attitudinal limitations and impositions is an ongoing project and it's useful to have some signposts, such as this post by Megami and the commentary it's generated.
posted by Thella at 9:51 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]


You admitted what you were saying was a maybe sidebar yet persisted in this academic debate about what "causes" tourism, trying to pick apart my word choices and one tiny thing I said in context of this discussion.

I think you read me all wrong. I'm not "admitting" or "persisting" in anything, least of all an "academic debate". You make it sound like I have to justify myself before you. Whereas I just commented on a comment of yours, in a place where people comment on stuff. To be clear, I didn't mean to disparage your original comment at all. Indeed I thought it was an interesting comment, which is why I responded to it.

Then dug into your point instead of read my words broadly and see things from my point of view. This is the kind of derail behavior that marginalized groups talk about.

It's funny you should say that because I had the exact same impression about your response. Instead of seeing things from my point of view, you turn my words into an "argument", then summarily invoke "capitalism" to dismiss it, and vaguely suggest I brush up on my postcolonialist theory. It comes off snide & dismissive and frankly I find it a bit preposterous. I hope I have explained myself to your satisfaction.
posted by dmh at 6:47 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


I am not here to teach Marx 101—nor do I consider myself qualified to—but if people could refrain from their clever neoliberal comebacks before having evinced understanding about a topic when engaging with someone else who has spent the time and effort reading and studying it, that would be great. Apparently toxic tourists apply to domains of knowledge in general.

It was extremely clear from reading dmh's comment that the invocation of "a valued social currency" was not referring to this bullshit marketing theory but rather as a euphemism for cachet, influence or goodwill. When viewed through a capitalist lens you get concepts like social capital but that does not make cachet, influence and goodwill de facto products of capitalism. Influence and goodwill are universally valuable across all economic systems. AKA it is always in your best interest to have people like you. That was my point.

And the reason I made that point was because you attempted to refute dmh's argument by drawing a line directly from "social currency" to "capitalism" - a line which doesn't exist. I was not saying that contemporary international tourism, and specifically the scale and nature of American tourism, is not largely a byproduct of and enabled by the spoils of capitalism and the accompanying mindset that other cultures are products to be consumed by the erstwhile vacationer. Clearly that is true. And clearly capitalism, particularly the unbridled evangelical capitalism we practice here in the USA, is a destructive force on almost every level.

My response, however, was not "neoliberal" - which WTF - but rather a pushback on a pithy dismissal of someone else's POV. And honestly if you're going to go on about how very learned and smart you are every time someone disagrees with you and frame their POV as somehow endemic of toxic rot you are going to get a lot of pushback.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:27 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile, the problem goes on

At the time of writing, that post has 4 comments - 3 of which paint it in terms of America, and 2 of which don't mention a damned thing about the content of the post.

But go on, keep on dissecting what each other's arguments *really* meant…
posted by Pinback at 4:35 PM on August 15 [8 favorites]


There's also a video post that can't be watched outside the US. Can we please try to make sure that any videos posted can be seen internationally, wherever you are posting from?
posted by daybeforetheday at 6:09 PM on August 15


Can we please try to make sure that any videos posted can be seen internationally

That's pretty difficult to do, unless you either use a VPN or find a number of guinea-pigs to test it. Unfortunately most videos, (or news sites for that matter) usually don't make it clear that they are geo-locked unless you are in an affected region.
posted by scorbet at 6:13 AM on August 17 [6 favorites]


I agree with this somewhat-- a one-week holiday does not an expert make, and these things dont tend to happen on US posts, so why when X country is mentioned is that carte blanche for people to go 'well I did this there,' ... perhaps a thread about the political climate or sports team of X isn't the appropriate place for your travel story, especially if you are making a oddball sweeping generalization about a country or people in it.

But as someone who has been on the receiving end of misguided pushback about stuff I've said online, I'm also am wary of a lot of assumptions that are being made and generalizations about commenters. I feel like it can become a slippery slope to assume.

I feel like I shouldn't have to constantly say that I'm a bilingual immigrant who has lived in various countries over the years and has done various things professionally, to be 'qualified' to comment on a thread, or to be worthy to have a voice and not get push-back on the comments I post though. Maybe that's not the intention of the OP and if I am misunderstanding I apologize, Meta is totally different to Ask, where I usually am, and I feel like the Blue often has these kind of derails by well intentioned people, and yeah, I have been on the receiving end of weird assumptions about my 'home' culture, my country of residence, etc. It is terribly annoying. Also, the amount of times people assume I'm American just boggles, but its whatever.

But I will say that even if you are an expert you aren't immune to push back. I got slight push-back on advice I gave a long time ago on something relating to my profession at the time, which was a bit bemusing. It's happened before to me too. I didn't specify in the thread that did it professionally for years before commenting, but should I have to? Maybe? I personally dont like to, but if it stops people assuming my race, gender, cultural or academic background to do so maybe I should. I have specified my expertise in the past though, and let me tell you: It doesn't really stop people with no experience from offering dissenting opinions though or chiming in with stuff, or treating me as if I don't know anything. People will explain things I already know back to me constantly. I don't mind all that much though, the profession I'm talking about isn't an exact science and it's something that differs greatly from person to person--people should be free to post their experiences of course. Even with my life experience, my experience isn't definitive and valid for everyone, nor should it be.

I just feel like I should be able to comment without people calling me out, assuming I totally can't know about a thing/culture/profession etc because I didn't sit there and go, 'full disclosure, I did X for a living. Or I lived in X for X years, or I am X." That's just me though, maybe I'm sensitive and too private and I should just rattle off my life experience even though it feels weird to do so. But as someone who is multicultural, getting pushback/assumptions on my own knowledge about my cultures kinda sucks also, and it makes me loathe to post at all.

That said, I personally try not to comment about things I don't feel I know particularly well nor have experience in though, that's just me. I imagine that if people are doing this about things they don't know well or have places they've been to once then that's not only annoying but harmful. There is definitely a weird 'otherness' that sometimes pervades those threads full of travel anecdotes, and I think people as a whole should refrain from sweeping generalizations.

I'm obviously overthinking this, but while I think yes people should refrain from posting stereotypes as soon as a country is mentioned, I would rather just flag harmful statements that are truly problematic and ignore things that are mostly benign travel stories etc, rather than have people auto-censor and refrain from commenting on threads out of fear of misinterpretation. Because I feel despite our differences, our experiences are valid and interesting and yes-- even if they contain a hyperbolic statement (which I assume was not meant in any seriousness?), a story about a cool and famous watch place is interesting to somebody, no?

And I don't think a certain few people with extensive experience should be the only voices worth listening to. I welcome the thoughts and anecdotes of tourists to my country, after all, even if they don't have the full picture of life here. Despite being an 'expert' I guess, in a country I've lived in most of my life, I cannot speak for everyone that lives here, as they all have differing experiences. Also, a tourist point of view not only differs depending on cultural context of the person experiencing it, it is still a valid experience worth being told, especially because it's subjective. (As someone mentioned, Chuck Berry's experience in Australia, if true, is absolutely valid point of view of the country, even if his short stay he could not be called an 'expert' either.) I would hate for someone to not post their story out of fear of being misunderstood.

That's just my thoughts on it.
posted by Dimes at 5:40 PM on August 19 [12 favorites]


Also I disagree with these two points personally. a) it muddies the discussion with ill-informed hot takes, often drowning out the voices of people who actually know something about the culture being discussed'

Even in threads full of travel stories or hot-takes, I hone in and eagerly read the accounts of people with first hand experience living in the culture or with anthropological knowledge. The ill-informed hot-takes just give me a different and funny perspective and I personally dont take them all that seriously.

b) it is often comes across as insensitive, or even showing off (like when a disaster happens and everyone wants to claim a bit of connection by telling us about the holiday they took in place X 15 years ago so now they have a deep connection to a place)


And I disagree with this too; this connection is important in my opinion. When Notre Dame's roof burned, the stories that people shared about visiting it were really great to hear, and as someone who has never been, I really welcomed hearing them. Same with people's experiences of the WTC. It really made me feel connected to both places to hear what it felt like to be there before the disasters, even if they were tourist accounts.

Again that's just me.
posted by Dimes at 5:54 PM on August 19 [10 favorites]


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