The Origins of “Culture Shock,” Part 2

In Part 1 of my discussion of culture shock, I examined the genesis of the phrase. In this follow-up post, I’d like to take a look at what seems to be Kalervo Oberg’s extreme dependence on Cora Du Bois for his views on adapting to a new culture.

A copy of Oberg’s “Culture Shock,” spoken to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro in 1954, was uploaded to The Pennsylvania State University’s CiteSeerx in 2004. It closes with the following simple notation:

Reference:
DuBois, Cora, Culture Shock. This talk was present [sic] as part of a panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.

This cites Du Bois’ address, also titled “Culture Shock,” without pointing to any specific sections of Oberg’s presentation. But I haven’t found any other mention of Du Bois in reprints of what Oberg said. This includes edited versions in Cultural Anthropology, as “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments,” (vol. 7, issue 4, 1960, 177-182), and in Guidelines for Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Training, Part III, Supplementary Readings (Center for Research and Education, Peace Corps, Estes Park, March 1970).

And yet, if you read Oberg’s and Du Bois’ presentations back to back, you will no doubt notice the similarities, and, in fact, the nearly word-for-word passages. My purpose in pointing this out is not to cast aspersions on Oberg (maybe I don’t have all the facts or maybe notions of summarizing or crediting sources have changed since the 50s). Rather, I want to give Du Bois the credit she is due for her original thoughts and insights. My hope is that those who would quote Oberg’s “Culture Shock” in the future would find this post and continue tracing the origins of the observations, when necessary, back to Du Bois.

With that said, here are the related passages, arranged for comparison.

Du Bois: Please do not consider me too irrelevant if I begin talking about an occupational disease among anthropologists. Some twenty years ago I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional status we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field with strange people cut off from our familiar daily surroundings. We all wanted to do field work. We loved it—but we realized that things happened to us when we did. We began calling this peculiar syndrome “culture shock.”

We anthropologists flattered ourselves when we thought culture shock was an occupational disease. It is a malady that seems to affect most transplanted people.

Oberg: We might almost call culture shock an occupational disease of people who have been suddenly transplanted abroad.

Du Bois: The genesis of the malady is really very simple. It is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all your familiar cues.

Oberg: Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life.

Du Bois: All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of cues, most of which we do not even carry on a level of conscious awareness. These cues are acquired in the course of growing up and are as much part of our cultural heritage as the language we speak. They have become so habitual that they have been forgotten as part of our conscious cultural equipment.

Oberg: All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.

Du Bois: Now suddenly remove all, or most, of these cues—and you have a case of culture shock. No matter how tolerant or broad-minded or full of empathy you may be—a series of props have been knocked out from under you, and more or less acute frustrations are likely to result.

Oberg: Now when an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed. He or she is like a fish out of water. No matter how broad-minded or full of good will you may be, a series of props have been knocked from under you, followed by a feeling of frustration and anxiety.

Du Bois: People the world over react to frustrations in fairly comparable ways. First they reject, with repressed or expressed aggression, the environment that causes them discomfort.

Oberg: People react to the frustration in much the same way. First they reject the environment which causes the discomfort: “the ways of the host country are bad because they make us feel bad.”

Du Bois: Second they regress with irrational fervor to the familiar and comforting.

Oberg: Another phase of culture shock is regression. The home environment suddenly assumes a tremendous importance. To an American everything American becomes irrationally glorified. All the difficulties and problems are forgotten and only the good things back home are remembered.

Du Bois: If you observe a group of Americans—or any other group of nationals—in the throes of culture shock the symptoms are startlingly similar. The slightest inefficiency or delay—particularly variations from our own obsessional time sense—provoke disproportionate anger. All things American acquire new and a sometimes irrational importance. You have all experienced how easy it is to shift from being a “live-and-let-live” patriot to being a chauvinist when you are abroad. You have all observed the tendency of American tourists to cluster together even though they may be spending only a few weeks of their hard-earned vacation to see the English in England or the French in France.

Oberg: You become aggressive, you band together with your fellow countrymen and criticize the host country, its ways, and its people. But this criticism is not an objective appraisal but a derogatory one. Instead of trying to account for conditions as they are through an honest analysis of the actual conditions and the historical circumstances which have created them, you talk as if the difficulties you experience are more or less created by the people of the host country for your special discomfort.

Du Bois: There are other manifestations—the sitting around together in favorite clubs or hotels and grousing about the host country. When you begin hearing broad, and usually derogatory, comments like—the Burmese are lazy; the Indians are ignorant; the French are grasping; the Americans are materialistic, or naive or shallow—then you can be fairly sure the speaker is suffering culture shock.

Oberg: When Americans or other foreigners in a strange land get together to grouse about the host country and its people—you can be sure they are suffering from culture shock.

Oberg: You take refuge in the colony of your countrymen and its cocktail circuit which often becomes the fountainhead of emotionally charged labels known as stereotypes. This is a peculiar kind of invidious shorthand which caricatures the host country and its people in a negative manner. The “dollar grasping American” and the “indolent Latin American” are samples of mild forms of stereotypes.

(Cora Du Bois, “Culture Shock,” To Strengthen World Freedom, Institute of International Education Special Publications Series, No. 1, New York, 1951; and Kalervo Oberg, “Culture Shock,” presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954)

The Origins of “Culture Shock,” Part 1

While planning my previous post, “Reverse Culture Shock: Repatriating Back to Post-COVID ‘Normal’ in the Church,” I figured somewhere near the beginning I’d include a definition of culture shock, preferably from as far back as I could find one. Pretty quickly I came to the words of the Finnish-Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg, spoken in 1954 to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro:

Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse. These signs or cues include the thousand and one ways in which we orient ourselves to the situations of daily life: when to shake hands and what to say when we meet people, when and how to give tips, how to give orders to servants, how to make purchases, when to accept and when to refuse invitations, when to take statements seriously and when not. Now these cues which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues, most of which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness.

Now when an individual enters a strange culture, all or most of these familiar cues are removed.

(Kalervo Oberg, “Culture Shock,” presented to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 3, 1954, at CiteSeerx, republished in a slightly edited version as “Cultural Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments,” Practical Anthropology, vol. 7, issue 4, 1960, 177-182)

His is a well-known, often lauded description, and many cite Oberg as the originator of the term culture shock. But not blindly trusting the combined wisdom of the many, I wanted to see for myself it that were true. It didn’t take me long to find evidence to the contrary, and my search led me to Cora Du Bois’ earlier (1951) explanation of the term, which I used for my post. It comes from a talk that she gave, referenced by Oberg, as being “part of a panel discussion at the first Midwest regional meeting of the Institute of International Education in Chicago, November 28, 1951.” Here is some of what Du Bois had to say:

Please do not consider me too irrelevant if I begin talking about an occupational disease among anthropologists. Some twenty years ago I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional status we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field with strange people cut off from our familiar daily surroundings. We all wanted to do field work. We loved it—but we realized that things happened to us when we did. We began calling this peculiar syndrome “culture shock.”

. . . .

We anthropologists flattered ourselves when we thought culture shock was an occupational disease. It is a malady that seems to affect most transplanted people.

The genesis of the malady is really very simple. It is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all your familiar cues. . . . All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of cues, most of which we do not even carry on a level of conscious awareness. These cues are acquired in the course of growing up and are as much part of our cultural heritage as the language we speak. They have become so habitual that they have been forgotten as part of our conscious cultural equipment.

Now suddenly remove all, or most, of these cues—and you have a case of culture shock. No matter how tolerant or broad-minded or full of empathy you may be—a series of props have been knocked out from under you, and more or less acute frustrations are likely to result. (22)

(Cora Du Bois, “Culture Shock,” To Strengthen World Freedom, Institute of International Education Special Publications Series, No. 1, New York, 1951, 22-24 [a reprint can be found in Guidelines for Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Training, Part III, Supplementary Readings, Center for Research and Education, Peace Corps, Estes Park, March 1970])

While Du Bois’ presentation preceded Oberg’s, she doesn’t claim to have coined the term herself. Rather, she points to someone else as its creator, but we’ll circle back to that later. First, let’s go back to the 1920s.

In 1929, Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio wrote about immigrants from Mexico adjusting to life in the US, using the term cultural shock.:

The civilization of the larger part of the immigrants is originally of native or mixed type and consequently different in form and background from that of the American people, all of which, together with the climatic differences between both countries, make the cultural shock sharp and the biological adaptation for the newly arrived Mexican painful. From this situation a selection results; some individuals go back to Mexico not to return to the United States while others gradually become adjusted to the new environment. (468-469)

(Manuel Gamio, “Observations on Mexican Immigration into the United States,” Pacific Affairs, vol. 2, No. 8, August 1929, 63-69)

H. Ian Hogbin, the next year, uses the same words in his discussion of decreasing populations among South Pacific tribes brought on by the arrival of Europeans.

I think we may now conclude that the causes of an increase in the death-rate are, firstly, the introduction of new disease purely and simply, and secondly the break-up of the old culture. This latter has undermined the mental balance of the native and makes him die more quickly from both his own and the new diseases. That is why epidemic diseases have a lasting effect. European society had received no shock at the time bubonic plague was ravaging it, and so it soon recovered. Ongtong Java had been dealt a heavy blow already when influenza reached it, and therefore society there did not recover. (57)

And as he considers that the deaths of the older men leave no one to pass on traditional ceremonies, he writes,

If these ceremonies, or the useful ones, had remained, they might have roused the members of society and in their hours of leisure given them something to occupy their minds, instead of letting them face and acquiesce in despair. That, I think, explains why epidemics in societies which have sustained no cultural shock have no appreciable effect in the long run. All the customs have still a function and so are kept up. The prospect of extinction never occurs to people, because they are too occupied, or possibly too stupid even to think about it unless it is obvious. Therefore they do not become extinct. (64)

(H. Ian Hogbin, “The Problem of Depopulation in Melanesia as Applied to Ongtong Java (Solomon Islands),” The Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 39, March, 1930, 43-66)

And in her 1938 overview of Charles S. Johnson’s “The Present Status and Trends of the Negro Family” (Social Forces, vol. 16, no. 2, 1937), Myrtle R. Phillips talks about “cultural shocks”:

Crime, delinquency, illegitimacy, and the changing fertility rate of Negro families characterize the cultural shocks involved in the cultural expansion of these Negro families. (197)

(Myrtle R. Phillips, “Abstracts and Digests,” The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 7, April 1938)

Eventually, cultural shock was largely replaced by culture shock, though sporadic usage of the former has continued, as demonstrated in several references in this post.

It was two years later, in 1931, that sociologist and Episcopal minister Niles Carpenter used culture-shock in his book The Sociology of City Life. It appears in the context of the “shock effect” of people moving to American cities, either as migrants from rural areas in the US or as immigrants from other countries. He postulates that “the heavy incidence of mental disease” among this second group comes from the “general culture-shock” of relocating to a new country and “the special sort of culture-shock involved in the initial acquaintance with the city and it’s ways of life.” (335)

While I can’t say definitively that Carpenter coined the term culture shock (with our without the hyphen), there seems to be evidence to support that conclusion: First of all, from what I have found, this is the earliest occurrence of the exact phrase in print. Also, when Carpenter first uses the term in his book, it’s in the context of “a process that might be termed culture-shock.” Carpenter often uses this passive-voice construction (“might be termed,” “may be remarked,” “may be said,” and “might be said”) to introduce ideas in The Sociology of City Life, and in this case it is followed by “That is to say . . .” with an explanation of the phrase. Also, as shown below, Carpenter lays out the groundwork for culture shock by pointing out its similarities to the “shell-shock” experienced during wartime.

Here are several passages from Carpenter:

One authority, moreover, asserts, “Many of the neuroses of the inhabitants of big cities may be regarded as analogous to the shell-shock that followed deafening bombardments during the war. . . .” (208)

The shock-effect of the city may be carried into the second or even the third generation of migrants. Many conditioning influences are imbedded in traditional folkways. Others are passed on from one generation to another, by conscious precept or by imitation, particularly when the migrating group is also an immigrant group, as is often the case in the cities of the United States. That is to say, there may be reverberations for two or more generations of the shock-effect attendant upon country-to-city migration. (218)

[T]he rural migrant to the city together with his children is undergoing a process that might be termed culture-shock. That is to say, he is transferred suddenly from one sort of culture to another one, and the experience imposes a serious strain upon him, especially as regards the habituations in thought and attitude which he has derived from his rural heritage. This process of culture-shock is well recognized in the case of the immigrant. In its most marked manifestation, it involves personality disorganization, and even mental breakdown. A less spectacular and more common reaction is a sort of interlude of confusion, in which Old-World folkways are dropped while New-World ones are assimilated incompletely, if at all. This process is to be observed in connection with the immigrants family life, his intellectual life, his economic life, and his religious life. The immigrant and more particularly his son or daughter cease to be Germans or Poles, or Italians, without yet becoming in any vital sense Americans. (272)

The urban resident must be, in other words, somewhat more readily inclined to respond to inducements towards crime than the rural-dweller. One of those influences is suggested by the material that has been presented. It is that of culture-shock. (316)

In this connection, it may be remarked that the war neuroses (commonly called shell-shock), seem to be somewhat analogous to the type of shock-effect involved in the transition from a rural to an urban environment. The change was more complete, and the new environment was infinitely more trying. Nevertheless, the general process of sudden change from relative certainty and security to a life of intense mobility, insecurity, and the stress would seem to be essentially similar. Certain of those who gave way would probably have done so in any circumstances, but in a large number of cases it seems that no breakdown would have occurred if the individuals affected had been able to continue in their accustomed round of activities. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, according to Conklin, an essential feature of the war neurosis is the contrast between the mental patterns of the sufferer’s previous way of living and his present situation: “The man is left with only his old reactions, totally unsuited to the demands made up him.

May this shock-effect be continued for more than the migrant generation? Schlapp and Smith believe that it can be continued at least into the second generation, through embryonic and fœtal injuries following upon maternal glandular disturbances. And where ideational conflicts are involved, as in contrasting notions of parental authority, familial solidarity, sexual behavior, religious belief, and the like, such personality-disintegrating influences might be continued for two or three generations, before there would take place what might be termed compete psychic urbanization. (337)

(NIles Carpenter, The Sociology of City Life, Longmans, 1931)

The next year, H. Reynard included culture-shock (without quotation marks or italics) in her review of The Sociology of City Life, and social scientist Walter Greenwood Beach quoted Carpenter in his book Social Aims in a Changing World, writing,

In the conflict of ways it is no wonder that there is a “culture-shock”1 followed by a possible increase of crime or other indications of social maladjustment. (153)

The reference number in this excerpt points to The Sociology of City Life.

(H. Reynard, “The Sociology of City Life, by Niles Carpenter,” The Economic Journal, vol. 42, June 1932, 301-302; Walter Greenwood Beach, Social Aims in a Changing World, Stanford University Press, 1932)

In 1935, a team of sociologists and educators, made up of Mabel Agnes Elliott, Charles Omega Wright, Dorothy Grauerholz Wright, and Francis Ellsworth Merrill, published the high-school textbook Our Dynamic Society, which included explanations for the terms migration and disorganization, culture conflict, the marginal man, and culture shock:

Culture Shock. Such a drastic change in folkways, mores, and traditions may result in what is termed “culture shock.” The immigrant’s former security is exchanged for bewilderment and change. Crises appear which bring difficult new decisions. The shock may follow a severing of old family ties, the loss of old associates, or the facing of a new complex life in a strange city. As a result of culture shock, the immigrant may become highly disorganized and display his disorganization in conduct that runs counter to social values. He may desert his family, drown his disappointment in liquor, or commit suicide. Such disorganization results from his failure to redefine the situation in satisfactory terms. (100)

The authors describe “the marginal man” as one “who appears at the border-line where two cultures meet,” using a term coined/popularized by sociologist Robert E. Park in “Human Migration and the Marginal Man (American Journal of Sociology, vol. 33, May, 1928). They write that this person

may be said to pass through three states of disorganization. (1) The preliminary stage is that of early contact with a new group, during which he is unaware of his marginal problems. (2) The crisis stage appears when he is painfully conscious of his strangeness and his difficult situation. (3) The third stage is that of either adjustment or disorganization. If he meets the crisis in a satisfactory fashion, he becomes adjusted. If he fails, he becomes a disorganized man. (101)

Later in the book, the authors use the term cultural shock when discussing high rates of suicide among immigrants.

(Mabel Agnes Elliott, Charles Omega Wright, Dorothy Grauerholz Wright, and Francis Ellsworth Merrill, Our Dynamic Society, Harper, 1935)

Now, we’ll jump forward to Cora Du Bois, and back to the passage above, where she says, “Some twenty years ago, I remember first chatting with colleagues about the peculiar emotional state we anthropologists developed when we were working in the field.” As the quotation comes from 1951, “some twenty years ago” would put the conversations circa 1931, the same year as Carpenter’s usage of culture-shock.

In Women in the Field: Anthropological Experiences, anthropologist Peggy Golde writes that in “private communication,” Du Bois “credits” culture shock to Ruth Benedict, who was Du Bois’ anthropology teacher at Barnard College. Golde states that “by 1940, [the term] was so well accepted by social scientists that it needed no citation.” (11)

(Women in the Field: Anthropological Experiences, 1970)

Golde’s 1940 reference is to John B. Holt, of the United States Department of Agriculture:

Regarding the possible connection between the rapid rate of urbanization and social maladjustment in the Southeast, Odum observes, “The South, more than the other regions, fitted by habit and tradition to a life closely attuned to natural processes, finds rapid shift to artificial industrialism beyond its power for quick absorption and effective adaptation.” The administrator of a farm program in Kentucky is reported to have said, “The physical ‘bends’ of deep-sea divers exposed too rapidly to lighter atmospheric pressure is nothing compared to the psychological or spiritual bends produced in our mountain communities when subjected too rapidly to urban standards and ways of doing thing.”

All these citations suggest the “culture shock” arising from the precipitation of a rural person or group into an urban situation characterized by a loosening of mores from a strict social control, a liberation of the individual from his group, an increasing impersonalism as against the personal character of the rural environment, an increasing mobility as contrasted with the old stability and isolation, and on top of these changes, a blasting disruption of personal and occupational habits and status. (744)

(John B. Holt, “Holiness Religion: Cultural Shock and Social Reorganization,” American Sociological Review, vol. 5, No. 5, October 1940, 740-747)

Other instances of culture shock in the 1940s include

It is probable that the middle class attitude of sacrifice of family (though not of marriage itself) in order to climb the economic ladder may characterize the college students’ culture more than that of the university students. Some such “culture shock” explanation would seem at least tenable in the light of the religious compulsions, almost certainly more impelling in the college than in the university group, that would presumably operate in the direction of more offspring. (514)

(Wayne C. Neely, “Family Attitudes of Denominational College and University Students, 1929 and 1936,” American Sociological Review, vol. 5, No. 4, August 1940, 512-522)

The concept is most strikingly illustrated by the position of the foreigner who is bridging the Old World culture and the New in the necessary process of assimilation that every foreigner meets. Each individual in this position experiences a certain amount of culture shock. . . . (121)

(Paul Henry Landis, Adolescence and Youth: The Process of Maturing, McGraw-Hill, 1945)

The white man’s alcohol and the seizure of native lands also contributed to the population decline; and along with all these specific causes there was the general disorganization of native life and customs under the impact of foreign civilization. Bewildered, diseased, abused, exploited, the Pacific peoples in many instances seemed almost to lose the will to live. They were the victims of what might be called extreme culture shock. (29)

(Raymond Kennedy, The Islands and Peoples of the South Seas and Their Cultures, American Philosophical Society, 1945)

Individual personality disorganization also usually results, until a new institutional unity has been established by all, usually requiring a period of several generations. The individual’s life organization is bound up most intimately with the social organization which conditioned him and of which he has been a part. The rural-urban, interregional, or international migrant is transferred from one sort of culture and social organization to which he has had life-long adjustment to another one which is radically different. This new environment by virtue of the presence of himself and other in-wanderers usually is even more complex and confused. Immigrants and their children, country-to-city migrants, even those who have moved from one social level to another, encounter such new and unfamiliar experiences that the change is almost certain to produce great disturbance. This has been well called “culture shock” by Carpenter and others. (286)

(Joyce Oramel Hertzler, Social Institutions, University of Nebraska Press, 1946)

It is recognized that the approaching similarity of rural and urban experience, especially in areas where consolidated schools have developed and where farm youths have considerable contact with town and city, has undoubtedly had an important influence in reducing culture shock of those who go to the city.  (220)

(Paul Henry Landis, Rural Life in Process, McGraw-Hill, 1948)

It is interesting to note that leading up to 1951, the writings about culture shock applied largely to immigrants and others facing a transition to the often perilous culture of urban America, or to those in their own countries overwhelmed by the negative influences brought by Western outsiders, and discussions of culture shock in these circumstances included its long-term effects on society, including such issues as suicide rates, crime, alcoholism, declining populations, and even fetal development. It was into this context that Du Bois made her presentation in Chicago, not only shifting the focus to international students and to anthropologists working overseas but, in so doing, kickstarting a widespread application of the concept to the larger expat community. It also marked a change in tone, with what she characterizes as her “semi-facetious remarks” about the topic.

So, to sum up, did culture shock originate with Oberg—in 1954 or 1960? No. What I have found leads me to join others who credit Carpenter with creating the phrase, but I also realize that Oberg will probably continue to get a large share of the attention, as many trace our current usage of culture shock back to him. And he does deserve credit for helping bring the term into the common vocabulary of expats and international travelers and for exploring and promoting the idea that culture shock has a series of stages leading to adjustment.

I do think, though, that there’s more to be discovered about Oberg’s influence on the culture-shock discussion—or maybe I should say there’s more to be discovered about Du Bois’ influence on Oberg. Let’s take a look at that in Part 2.

Fire, 2, 3, 4

^Kilauea, Hawaii

“This Hellish Desert Pit Has Been on Fire for More Than 40 Years”

There are places on Earth that are a little creepy, places that feel a little haunted and places that are downright hellish. The Darvaza gas crater, nicknamed by locals “The Door to Hell,” or “The Gates of Hell,” definitely falls into the latter category—and its sinister burning flames are just the half of it. Located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan (a little over 150 miles from the country’s capital) the pit attracts hundreds of tourists each year. It also attracts nearby desert wildlife—reportedly, from time to time local spiders are seen plunging into the pit by the thousands, lured to their deaths by the glowing flames.

So how did this fiery inferno end up in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan? In 1971, when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union, a group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum in search of oil fields. They found what they thought to be a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the scientists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which couldn’t support the weight of their equipment.The site collapsed, taking their equipment along with it—and the event triggered the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert to collapse in other places too, creating a domino-effect that resulted in several open craters by the time all was said and done. 

The largest of these craters measures about 230-feet across and 65-feet deep. Reportedly, no one was injured in the collapse, but the scientists soon had another problem on their hands: the natural gas escaping from the crater. . . . So the scientists decided to light the crater on fire, hoping that all the dangerous natural gas would burn away in a few weeks’ time.

. . . .

But . . . the scientists in Turkmenistan weren’t dealing with a measured amount of natural gas—scientists still don’t know just how much natural gas is feeding the burning crater—so what was supposed to be a few-week burn has turned into almost a half-century-long desert bonfire. 

Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian Magazine, May 20, 2014

^Githurai, Kenya

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

More about Miriam Beard, from Someone Who Knew Her Very Well

Miriam Beard (far right), with her father, Charles (second from left), mother, Mary (third from right), and brother, William (second from right), while visiting Japan

I never knew Miriam Beard. I never had any conversations with her, nor do I have any personal anecdotes about her to tell. So last onth when I discussed her writing and her well-known travel quotation, I was limited to using what I could find in Google searches.

How happy I was then, when after I published my post, I received an email saying, “I really appreciate you bringing the work of my grandmother, Miriam Beard, to the attention of a broader audience.”

No, I never knew Miriam Beard, but now, thanks to Karen Vagts, I’m getting to know her better. And Karen has graciously allowed me to invite you into our conversation, so that you can get to know her grandmother better, too. Thank you, Karen, for sharing this with us:

“My grandmother was a person of immense talents but often under the shadow of her parents, the historians/activists Mary Ritter and Charles Beard, and her husband, the military historian Alfred Vagts; managing their literary output consumed more than her fair share of her time. But she was an immensely talented writer (one of the first women to attend the Columbia School of Journalism and wrote a wonderful series of stories for The New York Times, including an insightful article about the status of women in 1920s Japan) and published a two-volume History of Business. She was however very modest about her achievements, which is why her obit was sketchy.

Miriam Beard

“As an American born in England, Miriam perhaps was already predisposed to be a global traveler but her interest in travel was probably sparked by her travels to Asia in the 1920s, when her father was asked by the government of Tokyo to consult about the rebuilding of the city following a major earthquake. The Beards traveled throughout Asia during a very critical time—when the political tremors that would lead to WW2 were starting to vibrate—and that greatly impressed Miriam—I recall that she was particularly fascinated by Shanghai. After she married, she and her husband lived in Hamburg until the Nazis came along and then thereafter she travelled with friends and family wherever she could. She passed along her love to travel to her son and her granddaughters.

“My grandmother sent my father—in between high school and college—to the Experiment in International Living program in Germany. This was in the late 1940s and Dad had the task of sorting bricks from bombed out buildings in Munich for re-use; he then got to wander around Europe for a couple of weeks, a real eye-opener. Ironically, wherever he went in Europe, he was warned about thieves and pickpockets because the post-war situation in Europe was still so dire. But it was not until he landed back in New York Port Authority that his knapsack got stolen!”

“She also funded my sister and my first independent trip to Europe, took us on excursions, and gave us a subscription to National Geographic. She also assumed that being multi-lingual was an innate characteristic. The world might be rather different if everyone had such a cosmopolitan, well-travelled grandparent!

“Much appreciation and I look forward to the time—hopefully in the not-to-distant future when we can all feel comfortable traveling to view the world.”

[photos: “Family of Charles A. Beard,” The DePauw University Archives Documents and Photographs; Miriam Beard, courtesy of Karen Vagts]

Miriam Beard on Travel: A Change in the Ideas of Living

I’ve often wondered how a single phrase finds its way from being buried in a memoir or novel to being plucked out as a stand-on-its-own “quotation.” Of course, the creator of the thought is important, but so is the one who finds it and decides it’s worthy of display on its own.

Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Many will read the book before one thinks of quoting a passage. As soon as he has done this, that line will be quoted east and west.”

When Miriam Beard, the daughter of the American historians, Charles and Mary Beard, wrote Realism in Romantic Japan in 1930, I’m sure more than a few people read it. (In 1961, the Department of State’s Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs called it “the most popular book of the day on Japan.”) But I doubt that many stumble across it today. In fact, it didn’t warrant mention in her New York Times obituary in 1983. That honor went to her History of the Business Man, which she published in 1937. But even that work isn’t what she’s best known for now. Google her name and what rises to the top is a single sentence from her work about Japan:

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Who knows who originally brought this quotation to the attention of the masses? I’ll probably never find out, but I’d like to think that that person recognized Beard’s insight in the surrounding text. The passage comes in a chapter titled “First Timers,” in which Beard discusses how multiple experiences in a new culture bring about a growth in impressions, ultimately leading to the ability to “sympathize” (though not necessarily in the way you might think). Here is how she describes the three phrases of this progression:

If, at each repetition of a bowing, a chopstick meal, a song or a garden, my impressions were different—”how” I asked myself, “am I ever to know what I think of these things”? Should I live a hundred years before I have the right to speak my mind on any thing? If I shudder at a song the first time, and love it the last—at which stage have I the right to describe my sensations? What are impressions? Are they worth anything?

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. History is handled no longer as a mere chronicle of dates but as a progression from one stage to a succeeding. So travel is no mere heaping up of episodes but an evolution. It is of constant development and not of fixed judgment that I dare to write: of the steady submersion of the ego in a stream of life.

There are phases in this process. The earliest is a sense of bewilderment in the number and variety of scenes, gorgeous, comical, or amazing, that the East presents. It seems that two weeks in Tokyo are like a ten-minute trip through an overcrowded museum. You must rush, staring and crying out, through rooms and corridors, without a pause. The feet grow heavy as basalt rocks; the optic nerves, bruised by a thousand images, refuse to register; and the mind seeking in vain some balance in all the maze, turns round and round on itself like a kaleidoscope or a pin-wheel.

. . . . .

The sensation of living on a new planet—that is the second stage. “Home,” “America,” recede from the mind, seem farther and farther away. Nearer and nearer draw the problems and the drama of all Asia: Siam, Ceylon, Borneo, Turkestan, Afghanistan, Korea, China, and Russia the Colossus.

. . . . .

All at once a third period breaks. It becomes suddenly possible to be, not merely a spectator at a strange show, but a participant. Oriental life catches up the visitor in its swift current; and he finds that, after all, it is possible to feel at ease behind the closed gates.

. . . . .

People as well as buildings ceased to seem curiosities, as I learned to know their hobbies, families, careers, unhappiness and hope. No, I was not so perpetually startled now—far more absorbed. perhaps had ceased to observe, so clearly and directly; but then I had unexpectedly begun to sympathize.

I like this idea that the final goal of travel is to arrive at sympathy—not in the sense of pity, or even compassion. Rather it’s the true “feeling together” that the word means. This kind of sympathy is a destination not easily reached, but, as Beard writes, it’s an “evolution,” a “steady submersion of the ego in a stream of life” that is well worth the time and effort that it takes to get there.

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol. 8, Houghton Mifflin, 1876; Walter Moonaughy, “American Image of Japan,” address given to the Japan-American Society of Washington at the National Press Club, October 2, 1961; Miriam Beard, Realism in Romantic Japan, MacMillan, 1930)

[photo: “Kissako – 喫茶去,” by Christian Kaden, used under a Creative Commons license]

Snow, 2, 3, 4

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ^

“It’s Snowtime in Dubai as Majid Al Futtaim Opens the Middle East’s First Cinema in the Snow” 

Majid Al Futtaim, the leading shopping mall, communities, retail and leisure pioneer across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, has officially launched the region’s first cinema in the snow and the world’s only movie theatre in an indoor ski resort. Snow Cinema by VOX Cinemas, which is proudly supported by Dettol, allows guests to experience the magic of movies on the snow-laden slopes of Ski Dubai, which has been crowned the ‘World’s Best Indoor Ski Resort’ for five consecutive years.

. . . .

Adding to the unique and immersive experience, moviegoers will have cinema snacks including VOX Cinema’s much-loved popcorn and a signature hot chocolate from Mirzam Chocolate Makers delivered directly to their seat. Guests can also order from a mouth-watering menu, which features savoury options, including roasted baby potatoes with Raclette, hotdogs and burgers; as well as decadent desserts such as festive mince pies and gingerbread Dutch pancakes as well as hot beverages including an exclusive Mirzam Peppermint Hot Chocolate.

. . . .

All guests at Snow Cinema will receive rental clothing (jacket and pants), fleece gloves, socks, boots, beanie hat, blanket, wireless headphones and a dedicated locker.

Zawya, December 10, 2020

[photo: “|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|,” by Gerry Dincher, used under a Creative Commons license]

Flights of Fancy during Grounded Times

I was wandering around ebay the other day and found a piece of TWA fuselage for sale for the low-low price of $48,500 (including two seats!), and it reminded me of a post I’d written a while back about recreating the flying experience in the comfort of your own home. It’s titled Flying First Class minus That Pesky Flying Thing.

And that reminded me that a lot of people may be feeling earthbound, what with all the current flying restrictions. If that describes you, here’s a collection of some old posts that I hope can help you scratch your itch for flight. (And don’t worry, I’m not buying the chunk of plane I mentioned above. As of this writing it’s still there and it’s all yours.)

So with that said, buckle in and read on!

A Biscoff Cookie, an Inflight Magazine, and Some White Noise. . . Welcome Aboard

Inflight Magazines: My Virtual Seat-Back Pocket Runneth Over

The American Way, Way Up There

Speculoos Cookie Butter: A Little Bit of Air Travel in a Jar

Airport Chocolate: The Triangle and the Sphere

Airport Voices: Two Friends Who Help You Get Where You Want to Go

Remember when We Wore Our Sunday Best to the Airport and Had Manners to Match? Yeah, Me Neither

Here are two posts with clever safety videos I collected a few years ago. In the first post, you’ll see that the link to the clip featuring Deltalina is broken. To make up for that, I’ve included two more, more recent, Delta safety videos below. The first has an 80s theme, and the second is styled after video games. In both, if you watch closely, you’ll see Deltalina make an appearance. Watch for her signature finger wag.

Now That the Hobbit Air-Safety Video Has Gone Viral, Here’s a Look at the Prequels

Air Safety: The Musical, the Comedy, and the Reality Show

And finally, do you have miles in your airline wallet that you can’t use? Here are some options.

Help for Infrequent Fliers with Frequent-Flyer Miles

Give the Gift of Flight (and I’m not talking about those new Air Jordans)

[photo: “Airport,” by Jorge Díaz, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Cruise Ships Are Dismantled and the Waldorf Astoria is Remodeled, Vacations are Sold One Piece at a Time

Stuff for Sale Here

You’ve heard of an elephants’ graveyard. Recently, CNN’s Francesca Street wrote about a cruise-ships’ graveyard in Aliaga, Turkey. That’s one of the places where, it seems, that ocean liners go to die. It’s an eloquently written article, with rather dramatic photos to boot.

I’ve picked out a few lines from “Cruise Ships Torn Apart after Coronavirus Sell Off” for some “found poetry”:

On the beach,
once-gleaming vessels
lie dilapidated,
their innards exposed,
barely recognizable
from their seafaring glory days.

zombie cruise liners—
half impressive vessel,
and half skeleton and debris

“Armageddon
or something out of a science fiction movie”

“fascinating and heartbreaking”

And here’s a news spot from Reuters showing the deconstruction. The voiceover is informative, but I think the video would be better accompanied by some dramatic, haunting orchestral music.

Back to Street, she writes,

Once a cruise ship arrives at Aliaga, the vessel is torn apart. Everything inside must be removed, from the furniture to the bathrooms. Interior items may end up sold locally to business owners or collectors.

That would be some yard sale to attend.

But if you’re not heading to Turkey and a memento from a floating hotel is, therefore, out of reach, maybe you’d like to purchase something from a stationary hotel—a luxury hotel—from none other than Park Avenue’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

The internationally known five-star Waldorf Astoria was purchased in 2014 by the China-based Anbang Insurance Group for $1.95 billion and then closed in 2017 to undertake a $1 billion renovation. The result is the auctioning off of over 15,000 pieces of furniture, fixtures, and room decorations, with proceeds going towards renovating the properties of St. Bartholomew’s Church and Community House, next door.

Yes, the Silver City Galleria mall in Taunton, Massachusetts, where the items are on display, may be closer to you than Aliaga, but it still may be too far to travel. If that’s the case, then head over virtually to Kaminski Auctions to bid on nearly 1,000 items online.

Over the years, the Waldorf Astoria has provided residence for movie stars, US presidents, and foreign royalty, with their names gracing the suites in which they lived. That means you have the opportunity to own a bookcase from the Marilyn Monroe Suite, an electric fireplace from the Emir of Kuwait Suite, trash cans from the Elizabeth Taylor Suite, the door from the President Herbert Hoover Suite, and drapes from the Cole Porter Suite. The item garnering the highest bid so far? That would be the Saudi Arabian Suite’s baby grand piano. The Steinway and Sons Model M is currently at $22,000.

But if you’re interested, you’d better jump in. Live bidding starts October 17.

(Francesca Street, Cruise Ships Torn Apart after Coronavirus Sell Off, CNN, October 7, 2020; Carlie Porterfield, “Waldorf Astoria Will Auction Off Thousands of Hotel Furnishings,” Forbes, October 7, 2020)

[photo: “Stuff for Sale Here,” by David Hepburn, used under a Creative Commons license]