June 27, 2011

What qualifies as having "been" somewhere?

What, exactly, qualifies as saying you've "been" somewhere? And by "been," I mean experienced. Because let's face it, when someone says, "Oh, I've been to Ohio/Ottawa/Outer space," the assumption is they've actually had a meaningful experience in the place, explored, learned something firsthand while they were there. But increasingly, I hear people touting long lists of places they've "been," that in reality are places they passed through, "experienced" as layovers, or were connect-the-dots on a road trip to somewhere else.

Example: when Bear and I were in England last year, we took a day trip to Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor. There was a pretentious Australian couple on the trip with us, going on and on about what all they'd been doing, and I heard the girl say, "Oh yeah, we did London one day last week."

Um... what? You "did" London—one of the coolest, oldest, most culturally rich cities in the world—in a day? I always wonder what exactly they "did," though I have a feeling it was something like this: take famous red double decker bus tour, see major sites from bus, get dinner, go back to hotel, leave the next morning.

I mean, really. On the way to and from England, Bear and I spent 5 hours in Helsinki International Airport, but is it realistic to say I've "been" to Finland? Sure I have technically, and sure I learned a few things (such as: Bear must have Scandinavian blood in him—every single airport worker in Helsinki looked like him—over 6 feet, blond, blue-eyed, even the same type of nose. It was freaky. I'm sure this isn't representative of the whole country, but those were the people working in the airport, no lie.), but c'mon.

So again, what qualifies as having "been" somewhere? It's a hard thing to define. To illustrate, let's go back to my day trip: I would say I've "been" to Stonehenge. There's not a whole lot to do there, and I spent 45 minutes walking the perimeter of it pondering the huge stones, who put them there, how they relate to the stars, etc. And I'd say I've "been" to Windsor, because I saw basically everything a tourist could see at Windsor (though I would love to go back someday and see it all much. more. slowly. Seriously, you're talking to someone who spent an entire hour in ONE room at the British Museum studying medieval artifacts).

But Bath? We spent a little over an hour there. All we got to do was walk around and pop into a couple shops. Beautiful, beautiful Bath. Would I say I've "been" there? Well, obviously I've technically been there. But have I truly experienced it? No. If you asked me about Bath, I would tell you something along the lines of: I only got to spend an hour or so there but I really liked what I saw and I'd like to go back one day. I would not say, "Oh yeah, I've been to Bath it's so wonderful you really must go some day blah blah blah."

I'm not trying to be all lawyer-y. Obviously, if you've been somewhere, you've been somewhere. But when you present an experience as something it's not to garner impressed looks or to achieve a higher opinion from others, it boils down to is misrepresentation, which is annoying.

I'm not saying you need to bold-italics-underline experience every single place you go, or that you can't learn things by passing through. I mean, I've never done more than stop in Connecticut a few times, but I can tell you it's the land of CVS and Dunkin' Donuts, not 7-11 and Krispy Kreme country like here in the South.

All I'm saying is, people look kinda silly ticking off this long list of cool and exotic places they've "been," only to eventually reveal that the majority of said places were experienced via gas station, airport terminal, or car. It was fun to play, 'How many states have you been to?' in 4th grade and count up all the places you'd driven through on the way to Aunt Sally or Grandma Jones' house.

But as an adult? Just be honest. No one cares one way or the other how much you've traveled. And if you frame it truthfully, people will be interested in hearing your story, whether it's a weird cashier at a gas fill-up in middle of nowhere Arizona or a grand adventure in a distant land.

So what do you think? Have you noticed people doing this? Does it bother you? Or am I just crazy and splitting hairs? ;)

PS - the winner of my YA prize pack is Meredith! Congrats, Meredith! I will be emailing you!


Tracey Neithercott said...

I know what you mean. I always go off of places where I've vacationed or lived. There are a few places I've technically been to (I spent many hours in the Munich airport, but Munich to me is all clean lines and hushed voices) but I don't usually mention those. And with places I've gone for work, I usually end up saying something like, "New Orleans? Yeah, I spent five days there for work. I can tell you about the inside of the convention center or what it's like at 6 am or after 6:35 pm."

Chelsey said...

I've travelled a good amount, but I've never really thought about this. I do think there is an important distinction between having seen some place and having been there. Like, I wouldn't say I've been to Stratford-upon-Avon, really, because my time there was short and I didn't do much. On the other hand, I have been to Arles and I didn't spend much more time there.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

You're nuts. JK. =) Actually, I've thought about that, too. My husband and I would compare notes on how many US states we've 'been' to. I didn't really feel qualified to say that I'd been to Texas because I was only there for one long stormy layover on the way back from Europe (where I lived and technically have BEEN there!=) ha ha). I think it all lays in your description. IF you've been somewhere but it was just a crossover point, I think people can explain that so as not to give a wrong impression. But really it doesn't bother me one way or another. As you get older, you're right, things like that don't matter as much. This is a small world and gets smaller the older I get.

IF you are talking about it from a writing aspect, it depends on your character's personality what they would say. If you are basing off research from experiences you've had going places, you better not have just wandered through a place. I lived in Germany for three years and still don't think I understand it completely. There are a lot of things I feel stupid about. I didn't even learn the language fluently even though I had ample opportunity. (Which is a huge embarrassment still). And I've also forgotten a lot.

Long answer for what I'm really saying: It's all relative. =)

Yahong Chi said...

Oh, I dread that checklist of famous places. When you've "been" someplace, in my opinion, you have to know what it's like to live there. I know that's a taller order than what most people are used to, but, see, I've been to Rome. Seen the Colosseum, seen the Pantheon, seen the Pope, eaten at a Roman café, everything -- and I still don't know what it's like to go to school, go to work, buy groceries there. So do I even know what the city is like? I think you need to see both sides of the streets.

On a slightly unrelated topic, once I hung a camera around my neck and pretended to be a tourist in my hometown (which happens to be Ottawa, Ontario! ... That is the Ottawa you're talking about in your post, right?). It's really eye-opening to see how different you get treated, plus you gain an appreciation for your own city unlike before. :)

KO: The Insect Collector said...

How cute is it to imagine Yahong playing tourist in her hometown!

I hear you, Abby, and when I see some of those FB lists I roll my eyes. Airports, layovers, and drives through don't count.

Yahong makes a good point-- visiting a place as a tourist is not exactly like living there.

Kathryn-- I lived in the Netherlands for 5 years, and I still speak terrible Dutch! Don't feel bad about German! My longstanding excuse is, "they all speak English so well!"

It's definitely relative.

Abby, you should know- my dad (visiting CT from GA a few weeks ago) remarked SEVERAL times about the number of Dunkin Donuts. He couldn't believe we have so many!

Miss Cole said...

If you ever have the chance to return to Bath, you must. It's one of my favourite cities.

And you're right, you cannot "do" London in a day. I go at least once a year and always find somewhere new!

I think you can certainly say "I've been..." if you've spent a day there, but to truly experience and appreciate somewhere, you need to spend more time there.

Pam Harris said...

Lol, that's never really bothered me too much. I got to spend 10 days in England over a year ago, and I was able to go and visit London for a day. That's the term that I like to use--"visit." I got to see a lot, but there's so much more I want to do. Once I hit the lottery, I'd like to take a massive trip throughout Europe (Rome and Athens are at the top of my list!).

Meredith said...

I love playing tourist here, but I'm in Florida, so it's expected that we do once in awhile.

Thanks for choosing me! I'll be waiting for your email!


Abby Stevens said...

Tracey: I think places you've vacationed or lived is a good general rule of thumb. I think what it really boils down to is representing things as they are. So many people just try to turn a few hours in an airport into what sounds like a week vacation. It makes me scratch my head.

Chelsey: I agree, it really does depend, I think, on how much there is to do in a place and how much of it you did rather than the amount of time you've spent there.

Kathryn: LOL. You're not the first to agree! :) Yep, I agree, it's the wrong impressions that annoy me. And it's so cool you lived in Germany!

Yahong: I agree with you somewhat. I mean, spending 2 weeks in London in no way qualifies me as knowing everything about it or having experienced everything there is to do there. But in my opinion I would definitely say you've "been" to Rome (VERY cool, btw). You've had meaningful experiences there, and I think by my definition, that's what matters.

Also, your comment was my husband's favorite! He thought it was pretty cool that you experienced your city as a tourist. :) And yep, that is the Ottawa I was talking about!

KO: Yes! The FB lists! So silly. And I agree, it is definitely relative. Also, I'm glad to see your dad noticed too! I think we have like 1 Dunkin' Donuts in a 15 mile radius here, but there it's like there's one on every street corner. I joke the South has churches and 7-11's on every street corner, and the North has Dunkin'!

Miss Cole: I 100% intend to return to Bath and spend at LEAST a week there one day. What a gorgeous, gorgeous city!

Pam: I think visit is a good term for that! And Rome and Athens are at the top of my European cities to visit, too! (Along with PARIS!!!)

Abby Stevens said...

Meredith: There are so many great things to do in FL, I imagine playing tourist every once in a while is unavoidable. :) Emailing you today!

Claire Dawn said...

If soemone asks me how many countries I've been to, I pretty much count every single time I stepped out of an airport.

But I feel a bit the same about saying i really saw a country. I spent 4 days in Hong Kong, and every day went like this:

Wake up, eat free hotel breakfast, zoom out to place someone reccommended, spend the whole day toursiting, come home, conk out.

I don't really feel like I saw Hong Kong. I feel the same way about cruise visitors at hom in Barbados, and backpackers here in Japan. You can't see "real" Barbados in a day. It's small, but not that small. And you can't see "real" Japan only in the big cities.

Also, I kind of feel that if you don't have a local friend, you miss out on so much of a country. (Why I'm building up an international army. :)

Also, randomly I've been to 11 US states, not counting the ones I've driven through. Not bad for a non-American.

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