I heard someone say that Queenstown is an arch “tourist” town, with seemingly every establishment catering to tourists.
An army of eateries, several divisions of sleeperies,
a battalion of outdoor clothing and gear stores, and a few platoons of tour and adventure agencies dominate the town. Yet I immediately objected, as it seemed to me that using “tourist” to describe the people or the town misconstrues their character and purpose. In that instant, I hadn’t thought through the relevant issues but merely reacted to the sense that “tourist” doesn’t fit. Here are a few (perhaps overwrought) thoughts as to why this term roused me so linguistically.
Most of the people you see in Queenstown bear the markings of visitors, but that doesn’t make them tourists, as there is more than one subspecies of visitor, which is another way of saying that all visitors are not tourists.
Before pursuing this line, I admit that I recoil a bit from being labeled a tourist, as, whatever its original sense, today it sounds so unserious and connotes at least partly negatively, and I like to buoy my spirits with the mental placebo that what we (Sarah and I, and Sarah, Gideon, and I) should not be clothed in this appellation.
Much of what we do when we visit places relates to our, especially Sarah’s, professional work, and this journey is intended to produce at least a couple of books, so my own perhaps at least partly self-deceptive self-conception as anything but an authenticity-sullying tourist is buttressed and legitimized by our vocational bents and activities. We are at once anthropologists of the globalized world, sociologists of the built and unbuilt environment, social psychologists of family life, and cultural critics of the arts and gluten-free food. Alas, to the untrained eye, we look and sound like tourists. The diagnostic truism “If it looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck…” is either on the money or, like many truisms, not clever enough by half.
It seems that most of the people visiting Queenstown are the snowless equivalent to the out-of-towners at ski resorts, who do not get described as tourists – because they are there for an activity, other than taking in “sights” and sampling local wares and fares.
Thus, we call the people at Stowe or Alta “skiers”. The problem with naming the visitors to Queenstown is that we have no linguistic concept that captures what they are, and so we are stuck with choosing between the anodyne “visitors” and the iodine “tourists”.
Unless, of course, you waste a few words and a little time musing about linguistic effrontery and injustice.