English Tourists vs. Real Tourists


Semi-deep thought time: I finished reading Alister McGrath’s new book If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis right before we flew to Norway.  It is a book by one of my favorite Christian writers (Alister McGrath) about one of my favorite Christians (C.S. Lewis). The chapter on C.S. Lewis’s views about education had a passage that was very relevant to my time in Norway, and with which I strongly agreed. Since McGrath and Lewis both write about 100 times better than I do I will just copy their text.

… for Lewis, education is about more than being familiar with other ways of thinking or looking at things.  It is about inhabiting them – in other words, experiencing the way of thinking  and living that they make possible.  Lewis uses a nice analogy to help us understand the point he is making – English tourists, so vividly and amusingly portrayed in E.M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View (1908).  Some tourists … visit foreign countries without any intention of being challenged by them. They bring their own tea with them so that they don’t have to drink the local alternative. They keep themselves at a distance from the local culture, and see their “Englishness” as something to be preserved at all costs.  And when they return home, they are untainted by their experience.

… for Lewis, real tourists are those who are prepared to learn from their experience abroad.  They eat the local food and drink the local wine, seeing “the foreign country as it looks, not to the tourist, but to its inhabitants.”  As a result … these English tourists come home “modified, thinking and feeling” in different ways. Their travel has enlarged their vision of things. Education is about changing us – helping us realize that we are not always right, and that we can gain a deeper and better grasp of reality by experiencing the world the way others do.

Substitute “American” for “English” and you get the gist.

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