Hostels: Bubblegum

14 October 2020

Conversations in hostels sometimes really piss me off.

It’s like bubblegum. Bubblegum is popular. It’s kind of the lowest form of nutrition. It’s sweet and chewy. You don’t even have to swallow to get the calories.

Oh you’re from France? My favourite word is boulangerie! It’s so French! Bonjour madamoiselle, ça va?

Oh you’re from Mexico? I went there. You like tequila! Woohoo ariba ariba!

Oh you lived in the Netherlands? You smoked weed there? Yeah! I bet you did!

This is the bubblegum of hostel conversation. Soundbites are thrown around based on the most basic stereotypes. You could be speaking with anybody from France or from Mexico and say the same thing.

Ironically I noticed that in India Western tourists hated this same behaviour from the touts. The tourists saw it as a cheap way to drag them in to conversation.

Whether it’s liked or not may depend on whether one finds the other attractive. If it’s a cutie making fun of your French accent you might appreciate them making a fool of themselves reciting those same 5 words that they’ve been reciting to 20 other people the past couple of months. If it’s a poor Indian you might find the same recital pathetic and sleazy.

When I say I was living in NL and they asked if I smoked weed there what am I supposed to say? “Yeah, a few times.”, or “A few times, but not really. I was a software engineer who did some projects for some big companies. It was great experience. It changed the way I think about corporations and computer systems forever. You know, those 2 things that run our world whether we like it or not”.

This is something I continue to struggle with when I interview people on-camera. On the one hand, I want to have a nice conversation. Maybe that’s the role of bubblegum conversation: to see how each other reacts to what the other is saying - how they smile, laugh, move. On the other hand I want to know as much as possible about that other person, their life, their experiences, in a limited amount of time.

There’s a happy medium somewhere, both on- and off-camera, that I’m trying hard to find.