I am Tourist by Adrian Mitchell is a poem that takes a modern take on the definition of a “tourist”, focusing on the self-centred, petty, and ignorant nature of tourists who don’t appreciate foreign cultures. The tourist in this poem travels far away but he fails to connect with the culture and people of the foreign land. In this poem, Mitchell is highlighting how some western people have poor opinions about Asian/African countries. Imagery is used to call attention to the tourist’s intolerant mindset and arrogant attitude.
I am Tourist | Summary and Analysis
I am Tourist | Analysis, Lines 1-7
“I am Tourist
I fly across the seas with a cold glass in my hand
Watching Burt Reynolds movies
I am Tourist
With my chocolate-coloured spectacles
And my blue travellers chequetacles
And my video camera purring at the Sights”
The poem is written in the first-person narrative where the poet is trying to show the point of view of a modern tourist. The characteristics of a tourist defined here are flying across seas in airplanes with a drink in hand, watching Burt Reynolds movies, wearing sunglasses, traveller’s chequetacles and a video camera. The tourist is living a comfortable flashy life, obviously with a lot of money. The use of first-person narrative helps the readers see the mindset of the tourist. The poet uses “my” several times to emphasize the tourist’s self-centred attitude.
I am Tourist | Analysis, Lines 8-12
“I am Tourist
With my Tourist Wife
We live the full and beautiful
We are taken to a hill tribe”
The tourist is travelling with his wife and they have “the full and beautiful tourist life”. Meaning they are living a luxurious and stylish lifestyle. During their travel, their guide takes them to a local tribe village. Some countries have native cultures that are displayed as tourist spots. He says “we are taken” as if he has no interest to go to that place. For him, there’s no appeal in the native culture. There’s a sense of hypocrisy as while describing himself and his wife as “tourists” he fails to show enthusiasm and interest like a tourist as we learn about it later in the poem.
I am Tourist | Analysis, Lines 13 -18
“They live on a hill
They sell us many boxes
Painted green and grey
They are ugly boxes but very inexpensive
Then they put on hairy masks
And scarlet knickerbockers”
The tribe people live on a hill and they sell materials to the tourists. They sell boxes painted in different colours. The tourist finds the boxes ugly and inexpensive. He’s ignorant and dismissive of the native culture. He does not have any respect for their efforts. The painted boxes are unique to that place’s culture and they are beautiful in their authentic way but by calling them “inexpensive” the tourist fails to embrace the beauty of that place. He says that the tribe people wear “hairy masks and scarlet knickerbockers”. He doesn’t care to know the actual names of those masks and garments and has no interest in finding out their purpose.
I am Tourist | Analysis, Lines 19-22
“They bang their stomachs and circle round us
Is it a wedding? Is it a funeral?
Whatever it is we video it all
And it is picturesque but it is not inexpensive”
The tribe people dance around the tourist. He’s confused about whether it’s a wedding or a funeral but he still records it anyway. He shows a lack of interest in the native culture and he again uses a dismissive tone. He finds it all “picturesque” meaning he’s amused but he doesn’t care at all what it means. He says the recording was “not inexpensive” which shows that he has a materialistic attitude. He is fixated on his priorities and he is judgmental about things based on their appearance.
I am Tourist | Analysis, Lines 23-27
“On the way back to the hotel
I tell our Guide
No more painted boxes
No more picturesque ceremonies
No more hill tribes”
On their way back he demands the guide to not show any more of the native culture. His tone is disrespectful and arrogant while saying this. His ignorance is an insult to the culture of that particular tribe of people living on the hill. The way he commands the guide reflects the tourist’s narcissistic character.
I am Tourist | Analysis, Lines 28-31
“I want a mattress
And a pool and a bar
Just like back home
I am Tourist”
The tourist wants a mattress, a pool and a bar – all similar to what he has at home. He fails to appreciate the new surrounding and its culture. He wants to feel at “home” which completely contradicts the whole point of travelling so far to a foreign land. It’s as if travelling to a foreign land is just something he can show off. He has no regard for the people there. The poet uses “I am Tourist” several times in the poem and ends the poem with it to show that all these negative attributes are associated with the tourist only.
The purpose of a tourist is to explore new places, visit new sights and learn about different traditions and architecture. However, ironically the Tourist in this poem fails to show any interest in the foreign place he visits. He is ignorant and narrow-minded, he views the native culture of that place as an annoyance. His views toward the natives are disrespectful and he lacks the zeal that every tourist must possess. The tourist has no enthusiasm, urge and happiness usually associated with a tourist while visiting new places. Instead, he lacks the ability to connect with the native people and their culture. He found them ugly and nonsensical. His priorities are set differently; he wants to feel at home despite getting a chance to explore a new place.
Since most African and Asian countries have tribes, it can be assumed that the culture mentioned in this poem is African or Asian. The luxurious lifestyle (pool, drinks, planes and bar) of the tourist implies that he is definitely from a western country with a more “developed” atmosphere. The point the poet is trying to make here is that western people never appreciate the cultures of “less developed” societies, for them these cultures are like a show for amusement. They fail to understand the value and beauty of these cultures and often disrespect them as the tourist does in this poem.
The poet uses uneven sentences and doesn’t create any stanzas, this may be done in order to show the tourist’s view that the place he visited wasn’t significant for him; it did not have much value in his eyes. The poetry technique used here is imagery, to help guide the readers to see what the tourist sees. Mitchell was greatly influenced by William Blake who was well known for using imagery in his poems.
I am Tourist | About the Author
Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008) was an English writer. He has penned a great number of plays, poems and novels. He wrote his first play at the age of ten. He was also a journalist, screenwriter for films and television and also the chairman of the University Poetry Society at Oxford. Mitchell was the first to publish an interview with the Beatles.