How Do You Look?

Suzanna Gregg, Art High founder, considers different approaches to exploring new places.

New York 2012

Tourist or flaneur; which one are you? (A flanuer, in this context, is one who strolls and looks around them, drinking in their surroundings, with no specific agenda.)

Before we go any further I feel I should identify myself. As a tourist who religiously sought out the top ten attractions wherever I went, I struggled to relax and wander. Following a visit to Granada when my travelling companion took charge of the itinerary, in addition to visiting significant sites, I experienced the delights of the flaneur. I was converted! I make no apology if the following is therefore a little biased.

When visiting a new place the tourist first establishes the sights that must be seen, then purposefully explores them. Alternately the flaneur makes little or no effort to seek out the ‘must-see’, instead simply wandering around the place to see what he can see. Both approaches are worthwhile, yet both additionally present risks.

The tourist chooses those sites which are commonly recognized as significant, for whatever reason, to visit. In so doing she may see and learn much to increase her  understanding of this new place. The flaneur meanwhile, wandering with no particular purpose other than strolling and looking, is free to enjoy the atmosphere and to come upon unexpected delights. While the flaneur risks missing the most significant attractions, the tourist may fail to experience the life, the heart of the place.

Alhambra from below

On a visit to Granada, Spain, for example, the tourist will visit the Alhambra, the cathedral, and maybe a flamenco show, while the flaneur encounters a gypsy, a flamenco guitarist playing in the open air, and the plaza where an orchestra plays and local people dance in their lunch hour. The tourist looks at the story of the city while the flaneur sees it in the here-and-now. Which experience of Granada would you choose, or indeed do we need to choose?

View through window

There are individuals who, due to personality or purpose, choose persistently either tourist or flaneur. For the majority of us however, the two approaches might easily be combined if we are prepared to try something new. Tourists,  yes of course visit those significant sites, while allowing time also to stroll and to drink in your surroundings. Flaneurs, do a little research and choose a significant site to explore in the midst of your wanderings. Whether tourist or flaneur,  by embracing one another’s approach, our experience of any new place may be deeply enriched.

We would love to hear from you, to find out how many tourists and flaneurs are out there, and whether a change in approach has changed the way you look at and experience new places. Leave a comment here, or email us at suzanna@art-high.org, thank you.

One thought on “How Do You Look?

  1. Sarah says:

    I always want to be the flaneur but my well organised nature means I can’t help but research. I think the rise of the internet of things and the ease with which we can get a 0-5 star review of every option in whatever country we’re in makes it so hard just to wander!

    Like

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