Walking, Riding Subways Puts You Right Into the Culture

Don Miller, my friend, was happy to walk Paris with me

Traveling with me can be a pain or quite adventurous, depending on your perspective.

Generally, I like riding local public transportation, especially the subways. I also like to walk. I only ride taxi’s out of necessity. Why would I want to be in a car with just the driver when there’s a whole new environment to observe?

Last weekend, I visited Paris with a friend. We traveled mostly by the Metro and by foot.

On the Metro, I can observe the locals in their environment. I get a sense of the fashion. You can observe how couples express intimacy. I can see the protocal between the old and the young. You can observe the general reaction to panhandlers.

By foot, you get a good sense of the “energy” of a place. You smell different odors, hear new sounds, and see new surroundings. Even crossing the street can be a unique experience depending on where you are. In Ho Chi Minh, crossing a street full of scooters can scar you for life. In Seattle, police give tickets for jaywalking.  In London, the cross walks warn you on which direction to look before crossing.

My approach allows me to find subtlties that I wouldn’t otherwise. It allows me to fit in slightly more. I leave a new place with a better understanding of its culture than just what its tourist attractions represent.

Such effort to immerse oneself in a culture to observe is called ethnography, an anthropological term. For me, I figured ethnography would be a good hobby, until I got into the business of analyzing social media data. What better environment to observe behavior in people’s natural environment than in social media platforms? This is called Virtual Ethnography.

As for my travel habits, however, it turns out that I’m not an ethnographer after all. I’m a big fake. That’s because I participate as well as observe. While I love watching people, I also love talking and interacting with them as well. So, when I walk, I tend to talk to street vendors and anyone else who are willing to talk to me. On the Metro, I love trying to make strangers smile, or sometimes helping an old lady with her bags.

So now you are forewarned: Travel with me at your own risk.