The Zen of Travel
Turismo is a concept so young that a century ago only the wealthy did it. And two centuries ago, nobody did. If you left “home” for anything, it was about mercantilism, conquest, or pilgrimage, and it was invariably dangerous. But nowadays, since so many of us do it, and since it has quickly become global, a vocabulary has quickly grown around it. The growing pains are still with us.
The old verb viajar and its associated nouns, viaje and viajero, only begin to cover the new senses. For real tourism, andamos, “we walk around.” But this verb, andar, hints at unstructured travel, not overly purposeful movement.
A packaged tour is a recorrido, a term suggesting a very complete look at something (a country, city, etc.). But a recorrido is also a moving inspection, such as what a field commander does to assess and shore up his flanks within a combat theater.
I have come to see the tourism and travel industry as a combat theater, rife with euphemism and subterfuge, an area where if we fail to look beyond language, it is at our peril.
I do not know if they still do it, but Mexican railroads used to have two levels of first class (with second class being what used to be called third class). There was (is?) primera clase and primera clase especial. Only on the latter were you guaranteed a seat. Huh?
You may recall from an earlier column the strange verb correrse, which looks like “to run oneself” but which is really about stressed movement, like inching deeper into an already crowded chicken bus. I think I pointed out that vacío (“empty”) applied to a chicken bus where one more person could be packed in without a high probability of asphyxiation.
So correr still means to run, but correrse is closer to reacting to shouted abuse, and doing what moving you can. Finally, recorrer means to go all over, to leave nothing out if possible. The meanings of these three verbs do not differ by nuance; they are virtually unrelated.
The most poisoned transacting between travelers and travel providers may be the frequent flyer programs, which now date from 1972 but remain the one area where record-keeping has not graduated to the age of modern data retrieval and miniaturization. The frequent flyer or his agent must be proactive by never forgetting to remind (recordar, a false cognate) the airlines that you made this or that trip. The miles do not add up automatically. Hotels bill you for every drop of scotch taken from suite refrigerators, but airlines “forget” entire flights that we have paid for, unless we jump through hoops and hammer them.
It is as if each airline’s programa de viajero frecuente (PVF) were staffed by a single, overworked person in a room full of old-fashioned filing cabinets and no computer in sight. Everything must be recorded manually (grabado a mano), and this only if you manage to even reach (ponerse en contacto con) this person. When and if you do, you will be asked for everything but your blood type (grupo sanguíneo), shoe size (talla de zapato), and astrological sign (signo zodiaco). It is burden-of-proof with a vengeance.
To be fair, the flight purser (sobrecargo) does encourage you to log for yourself what the airline cannot log for you, by “reminding” you to ask for a form to apply for those miles. But the reminder comes at the moment of take-off, when you and the ministering flight attendants are strapped in at 2 Gs and not thinking of miles, much less forms.
Reader, the zenniness of frequent flyer programs is not a language issue per se, but with the globalization of travel, alluded to above, it magnifies the zenniness we already face as amateur linguists. So it is, too, with accommodations, whose labeling can be confusing.
The only way I know of to protect ourselves from the hype and euphemism is to compare notes with other travelers. Ask those people walking out of the airport, the train station, or the car rental agency if the provider met you expectations. Point to the brochure (el folleto) or the sign over the door, and ask “¿Cumplieron ellos con tus expectativas?”
Then, when you walk up to the ticket window (la ventanilla), you are armed.
Reader, Buen Viaje. Bon Voyage.