Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Is Arthur Frommer an "Ugly American"?

Arthur Frommer is one of the most well respected voices in the travel industry. He's been writing travel guidebooks for more than 50 years, and has grown the Frommers line into one of the industry's top brands. But, with all due respect, maybe it's time for him to retire.

I'm blogging about old news at this point, but a couple of weeks ago, Frommer wrote fearfully about the presence of firearms at a political demonstration in Arizona, ultimately announcing a boycott of travel to the state. He felt the very presence of guns was de facto intimidation, and called the gun-toting demonstrators—who were law-abiding citizens—"extremists." I'm probably starting to lose those of you who believe in gun control, but please read on; this posting is not about politics.

The best kind of traveler is he or she who respects the culture and values of the place they are visiting. Conversely, the worst kind of traveler does the opposite, tries to impose their own beliefs and expectations on those who live where they are only visiting. Lacking evidence to the contrary, I have always believed Arthur Frommer to be the former; how else does one become a star in the travel industry over a 50-year career?

But Frommer's rant makes me think of the old label "Ugly American," defined by Wikipedia as "a pejorative term for Americans traveling or living abroad who remain ignorant of local culture and judge everything by American standards." Revising that definition slightly, I'd say the shoe fits: "Pejorative term for American liberals traveling to other states who remain ignorant of local culture and judge everything by American liberal standards."

Arthur Frommer's Best Places to RetireYes, maybe traveling from uptown Manhattan to downtown Phoenix does not constitute foreign travel in a strict geopolitical sense; but culturally, the two places might as well be on different continents. In any case, regardless of one's politics or stance on the Second Amendment, the fact remains that here we have a travel professional boycotting a state just because the citizens of that state have different values than he. That's just plain wrong. In my book, that makes him an "Ugly American."

And if that's the kind of perspective that Arthur Frommer has to offer these days, then I think it's time for him to consult his own reference material (pictured at right), before he ruins the reputation of the brand that bears his name.



Blogger Michael Strickland said...

Though no one has yet to comment directly on this blog, I cross-posted to, where a heated debate is taking place about my posting. If you're interested, take a look.

August 31, 2009 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger usamctwo said...

Yes, he should retire. If he is frightened by Arizona, how can he go outside of our country and give decent travel reviews?

September 1, 2009 at 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, so you're in FAVOR of guns at political rallies? Even though they TERRIFIED many of the people there and stopped them from being able to practice their first ammendment rights? Come on, that has nothing to do with the local culture, it has to do with public safety. Frommer made a much more nuanced argument than you're giving him credit for. And just like it's illegal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater (a limit of 1st ammendment rights), so there should be limits on 2nd ammendment rights when safety and free speech are involved. He's no "ugly American". You are for twisting this issue. Shame on you.

September 4, 2009 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Michael Strickland said...

Anonymous, if people were "terrified" by the presence of guns being carried legally, that is the problem of those who are scared. I guarantee you no one exercising their Second Amendment rights prevented anyone from exercising their First Amendment rights. If anyone intimidated anyone else with a gun, they would be committing a crime (see dictionary definition of "assault"). If someone felt too "terrified" to speak up because of the presence of guns, that's their problem; I recommend they take a gun safety course to get over their unreasonable fear.

In any case, this is all beside the point, which is that Frommer boycotted travel to Arizona because the local laws did not align with his personal values. As a traveler, he (and you) should by all means avoid travel to a place that makes him uncomfortable or afraid. But as a travel professional, he should keep his own politics out of his professional recommendations.

p.s. Obviously, I do allow anonymous comments here, but I don't understand why people are afraid to own up to their opinions by hiding behind anonymity.

September 8, 2009 at 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of us don't have google accounts. Hence "anonymous".

But if you read the reports of the incident in which people carried guns into large crowds of protestors (on both sides of the health care issue), you'll see that many left that rally because they felt the people were there to intimidate those who disagreed with them. Why else bring assault weapons into large crowds of people?

Frommer never called for a boycott. He said he personally wouldn't go to Arizona. And in a later column he said that he wondered whether advocacy groups would feel uncomfortable holding conventions in Arizona knowing that the police wouldn't step in if folks threatened their group with weapons (since weapons are allowed to be carried openly, after all).

As for mixing in politics with travel: seems okay to me. There are political ramifications to pretty much everything we do in life. We either admit that, or we don't. (ie "the personal is political"). I think you're letting your own politics enter this discussion in calling him an "ugly American" and not acknowledging that in the case of guns being carried into large crowds of people, the issue isn't cultural, it's a public safety issue.

September 8, 2009 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Michael Strickland said...

You make an a priori assumption that the simple presence of guns carried openly is a threat to public safety. That is a flawed assumption; if it were true, then the practice would be illegal. Your statement "that the police wouldn't step in if folks threatened their group with weapons (since weapons are allowed to be carried openly, after all)" reveals this faulty logic. If someone threatens someone else with a weapon, it is assault (a crime), which every police officer has a sworn duty to prevent. Something cannot simultaneously be legal and illegal.

If you (and others like you) feel threatened by people carrying weapons openly, that is your subjective fear, not an objective threat to public safety. Again, if any of them use the weapon in a threatening manner, that's a completely different issue. But just carrying a weapon (whether standing around or carrying it into a crowd) is just as legal as carrying a baseball bat or knife. How the otherwise legal weapon is used makes all the difference. If guns scare you more than baseball bats and knives, that's a personal issue.

As for Frommer's boycott being "personal," he is a leader and a respected voice in the travel industry, so many people follow his lead. Thus, when he publicly declares his "personal" boycott, it is, for all intents and purposes, a call for a boycott amongst those who read his blog and respect his opinions (I count myself among the latter, most of the time). We can debate this fine point endlessly, and will probably never agree, so it's probably pointless to discuss it further.

September 9, 2009 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger Michael Strickland said...

p.s. You don't have to be a Google user to type your name at the end of your post.

September 9, 2009 at 9:15 AM  

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