When I meet strangers, I’m always the interviewer, never the interviewee.
I like to pile question after question.
What do you do for a living? Do you follow any sports? Have you heard about this recent international incident?
Generic questions to be sure, and I do my best to disguise them with interesting phrases, because goddamnit, I’m a writer at the end of the day and if I don’t flex my vocabulary, then why bother?
How do you find work nowadays? Are you into Formula 1? I’m a diehard tifosi. It seems like your country has been going through a lot nowadays, so is that why you came here?
I like to keep information about myself, to myself. So I do everything I can to make the other person feel like they are the most interesting person in the world.
But in reality, I’m stroking their egos to see how they answer these questions. A lot of people give stock answers. I don’t blame them. It’s hard to be interesting when you’re stuck in a 9-5, feel tired all the time and barely make enough to scrape through.
Those factors then lead into the most annoying and cliched answer I’ve ever gotten to my age old question.
What are your hobbies?
Travelling, they say with a wistful look on their face.
Every time, I struggle to contain an eye-roll.
It’s such an egotistical answer, that leads to a conversation dead-end.
I have to pretend to be interested in the places they’ve visited.
Oh wow, where have you been?
This is the logical question that these “travellers” hope for next. They will then rattle off all these countries, saying nothing of note about them and boast about how well travelled they are.
Oh I’ve been here and here. I would totally revisit this place. I really loved it here too because it’s just so interesting.
The answer is just so fucking boring.
And here are the reasons why.
Travelling on its’ own, is not some special achievement. Anyone with decent money can afford a plane ticket to some random GPS coordinate on the world.
The word, travel, is something that people do every day.
You go from home to work. Work to some fancy restaurant. Restaurant to bar. Bar to home.
Rinse and repeat.
The act itself is dull. We are always in transit in some shape or form. It doesn’t matter if you’re on foot or 20,000 feet in the sky. We are always on the move.
You cannot state that verb as your hobby.
Especially when you do nothing of interest in the country. You went there because everyone told you so. Because a billion pictures from social media influencers, movies and advertisements told you, you must experience this place.
If your boss told you to jump off a cliff, would you just do it? Just be a rational human being and push the bastard off yourself.
That is the worst part for me. People who do the same thing in Tokyo, L.A., N.Y.C., Jarkata or New Delhi. Being forced to hear the same touristy experience every time makes me long to hear something interesting. I’m not asking about the place, I’m asking why you went there.
For example, you could hear three very different experiences about New Zealand.
One tourist might say …. I went there to see Hobbit-town and visit Auckland! It was really cool. New Zealand is so beautiful and natural.
An adventurous person would say … New Zealand was awesome, because I learned how to sky-dive and bungee jump there. I also climbed a lot of mountains there. My favourite was Aoraki.
An actual person who wants to have a conversation though, would say … I went to New Zealand so that I could trace Captain Cook’s journey and visit all the Maori settlements. I also volunteered in a conservation program and stayed there for about 2 months.
Here, we have three very different answers. Number One was boring. A conversation-ender, because I can already picture the trip. I have Google for fuck’s sake. It’s not hard for me to look up the tourists traps and imagine myself there.
You did nothing special. You learnt nothing. You relaxed, spent money, ate food and slept in a foreign country. Congratulations.
You also took a million photos to prove that you were there and invariably make everyone jealous, not of your actual trip, but the fact that you could take so long off work being lazy.
See, that is the main issue. People aren’t really envious of your destination. They’ve seen it advertised a billion times over in travel agencies, airplane commercials, movies and TV series. Hell, the actors in those ads make a good substitute for them to experience the city and explore interesting parts of the tourist town without your lame photos and smiling selfies. They’re actually more jealous that you got such a long holiday in, without worrying about your finances.
You got three weeks off and had this much money to spend? You lucky sonvuabitch. I can’t afford that! I got rent to pay.
So that’s why Answer One is boring. It doesn’t offer anything about you to me. You went to a place …. and ate and slept there. How exciting. If I offered you a similar story about a 5-Star Hotel in our town, you would be equally nonplussed.
Did you really love Lord of the Rings or did you go because everyone does it? Regardless, it’s not exactly, very exciting. You went on a tour. Someone told you facts about a global franchise that had a horrible prequel trilogy. You took photos of the town, pictures that tell me the place looks much better without tourists and that it looked the best in a film.
The conversation ends before it starts and now I have to think of a completely unrelated question to ask you.
The second answer is better. It shows that the person is interesting. They went to New Zealand for a purpose. It’s cliched, but it also shows they did their research. New Zealand has the best sky-diving courses in the world. You could probably be HALO-qualified by the time you finish your 40th jump. There is also no better place to indulge in extreme sports than NZ and indulge they did. They rock-climbed, bungee jumped and I can probably ask them if they are also into parkour, or into some obscure sport like kite-surfing or doing the Iron Man competition.
The point is, Answer Two wasn’t about the destination. It was about what the destination had to offer beyond buildings, trees, and pictures. The person wasn’t going to New Zealand just for its’ tourist attraction, they were there to improve on their skills and entertain their real passion …. rock climbing or sky diving. That is a conversation I can ask about. I don’t know any rock climbers or sky divers. I would have a thousand questions to ask them, from why they don’t fear heights to what is it like to fall at terminal velocity.
The conversation isn’t just about the destination which I have seen a billion times in LOTR B-roll, but instead it’s about seeing it from a sheer rock face or 20,000 feet in the air. I can talk more about their hobby than a place I’ve never been to before.
Answer Three is the similar in vein to Answer Two. But with a key difference.
There is an anthropological element to their answer that I will always find fascinating. People who do “work-vacations” are the one who interest me the most. Because they spent a month or more over there. They got to study the people who live there, observe strange customs, pick up slang, maybe even find a local partner.
And because they know they are going to spend a month in a foreign location, they have to study it more. They become low-key experts on the destination, because they’re not there as tourists … they want to be a local. They want to go native. A person who looks up Captain Cook and want to trace the famous English explorer’s route, isn’t just some casual tourist. They’re interested in history, want to spend time retracing ancient steps, and seeing the context of such a historical voyage.
They’re also keen on Maori history, hence their willingness to help out at conservation programs and spend nearly two months there, helping maintain the beauty of Aotearoa. They want to give back, to a place they think is fascinating. I can ask them random questions about all sorts of things.
What fauna lives in this forest? What sort of people were you with in the conservation program? What colours were the police uniforms? Are the local people really as friendly as they seem? What are bushfires like? What is different about the composition of the ground? Is NZ skincare products more volcanic based? What is the minimum wage over in NZ? How do the locals really feel about Jacinda Ardern? We fetishize her over her in Australia, but no PM is ever that popular. So what do people really think about her?
They may not be able to answer everything, but they can dive deeper into my questions. They got more details stored about their trips than endless foreigners surrounding them at every tourist destination. They actually got to try and work as a local. They experienced things like a person living there.
That is interesting.
I like comparing average day to day lives and experiences between countries. You don’t get that as a tourist. Unless you’re like me, where you spent days of your holidays in Japan, looking at opera houses, observing those opera-lovers’ fashion choices, or visiting hospitals, police stations and fire brigades. I also waltzed down seedy alleyways during “busy” night hours and would literally walk in any direction, keen to get lost. I’ve wandered into grocery stores, shopping malls, arcades, peered into people’s garages, checked out schools, beaches, local roads and mountains in Gunma.
In short, I did everything I could, to create a picture of what day-to-day life in Japan would look like, feel like and what it work out to be like if I did ever want to live there.
The differences between my own country, Australia and Japan are what I talk about the most when asked about my only overseas trip. It is what conversations interesting. People like hearing about my experience getting a haircut in Japan, and the fact that I only agreed to go, because … car culture (Initial D) and Formula 1. They laugh at the stories I tell about Japan being a time capsule for the 90s or the fact that the airport looks ancient, as does a lot of the buildings in Osaka.
When you tell people about the comparison between a foreign land and the country they reside in, the conversation can just be endlessly curious. I have three weeks worth of observations, criticisms and amusing anecdotes about Japan. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better for a conversation than me going I spent three weeks in Japan and it was amazing. I visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka!
Being more anthropological about my trip helps me appreciate how good I have it at home and that I can put to rest the idea that I would want to live in Japan.
Those more “scientific” observations and conclusions by people who have lived abroad for some time are what generate real discussion and conversation. People like comparing what they know to what they don’t. It helps bring you into the conversation, instead of excluding you.
Travelling isn’t really a hobby. It’s not something that can be said to make you interesting. Travelling without purpose, without reason, without skill, is still as aimless as it is done at home. Sure, it can be meditative in a sense, to have an expensive aimless trip, but that is for you and you alone.
Because nothing create eye-rolls faster than someone who won’t shut up about their spiritual awakening they found in another country, all because they found another religion that coincides with their exact thought processes at the time.
So there it is, if you say travelling is your hobby, just know, if I ever converse with you, I’m going to be extremely bored by that conversational dead-end. Please have a purpose for your destination. Don’t go, just because you saw some attractive B-Roll footage of a shit-hole like Paris.
Find a reason to justify your trip to Paris.
You went there to shop your arse off.
(Tell me about the differences in customer service in a Parisian Gucci store to an Australian one.)
You entered France because of a rumour you heard about a certain catacomb rave.
(How does that compare to the ones here? Was the music better, the drugs? The dancing?)
You chose Paris because you wanted to see someone urinate publicly against a wall.
(Does everyone favour a certain wall? How often do they do it? When is the most popular time to pee?)
You tolerate the terrible Parisian odours, because deep down you wanted to find the inspiration for the Perfume book by Patrick Suskind.
(I love that book too, have you read anything else by him? What do you think is the smell of a virgin?)
Hell, it can be as simple as not paying any lessons and preferring to learn French on the streets or going to see Madeleine Peyroux or watch the fucking Farmer’s League.
Whatever your reason, do some research, find a purpose and make it more than just aimlessly looking at some ugly metal tower, an art museum and putting on some dumb beret with a baguette in your hand, cigarette in mouth.
If you went to a country for no real purpose, then please, for the love of God, do not mention to me that travelling is your hobby. You went on an expensive holiday.
It was one-off. A singular event.
Hobbies are meant to be done regularly for leisure or pleasure.
The only time travelling is my hobby makes sense is if you are one of those crazy mechanical appreciators, the people who are still in love with trains, planes and cars.
Then, I’ll consider it interesting in a conversation.
So, please … don’t bore me with a list of places you’ve been to. I’m not interested. I’ve seen enough photos without looking at your selfies.
Tell me the true, underlying reason why you went and please let it be a skill or a big global event.
Otherwise, why make me jealous of your big long expensive holiday for?
I’m not here to stroke your ego that much. I’m just a guy trying to be polite and pass time before I can go home. I just hope you’re interesting enough to make that time go quick.