Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Seeing Home as a Tourist

I’m not long for this place. At least, not anymore.

I’ve spent the last 25 years – with the exception of college – living in the same suburban town outside Washington, DC. My whole remembered life is one in which Reston and DC have been considered “home.” And as I’ve grown more accustomed to traveling, and my desire to see the world has only increased, my future in this area has been increasingly threatened. So now I stand at a point where for better or worse, my time here must end soon.

And so I found myself at the library one day, handling an old situation in a new way. A friend was coming into town – this is nothing new. They wanted to see some of DC – a reasonable request given the large amount of noteworthy stuff to see. Yet I wasn’t just formulating the same mental list of my favorite bars and restaurants and “local DC” culture that natives show their friends. And I wasn’t putting together the familiar tourist route of museums that everyone seems to want to see. Instead I was holding the Lonely Planet guide to Washington DC, starting to formulate a new plan. And in case I ran into someone on the metro who started to laugh because I was so obviously a tourist carrying the guide to the city, I formulated a list of selling points.

1 – Just because I’ve lived here my whole life doesn’t mean I should know everything there is to do and see. After all, the way I know about anything to see here is through other people. And my tastes do not always align with what other people would want to see.

2 – How many people have lived in DC and not been in the Washington Monument? Or to Arlington Cemetery? Or to the National Arboretum? No one ever sees their own city as a tourist does, and so we pass the same buildings on our way to work, on our way home, on our way to the bar. We find the places that our friends know, or that get recommended, or that happen to be conveniently close when it starts pouring and we have no umbrella. And these become the places that we know. People so rarely know their own city – something I’ve seen all too well in talking to people on my travels. The number of shocked looks I’ve received from locals when I tell them about something I want to see that they didn’t know was there, or that there is apparently a local cuisine they haven’t tried…

3 – This is also a way of vouching for Lonely Planet. If they poorly review the places I love, or lovingly review the places I detest, I know what to think of their future recommendations.

4 – And this is a way for me to learn how to read Lonely Planet guides for other cities. When I go to Chicago, the Million Dollar Mile sounds interesting. But I would never intentionally go walk the shops of Georgetown. In Istanbul, the main bar district seems worth a look. But I don’t want to travel 10 miles to go drinking in Adams Morgan. Seeing what the write-up looks like for a place that I know helps me calibrate when I’m reading on other cities.

And so I start on my journey. One friend to show around. One cousin to take out. And 6 months beyond in which to see all the city has to offer that I haven’t managed to see in the past 25 years (and there is a lot). Let the touristing of home begin.

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This entry was posted on March 18, 2011 by in Uncategorized.

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