Everyone has been on a holiday at least once in their lives; whether that holiday was a jaunt to a foreign country, or a roadtrip up to see the grandparents is irrelevant, as the very core of the matter remains the same. On holiday, people change. The same handful of habits become difficult to deal with, and if one is spending a prolonged amount of time with these people on holiday, then it might cease to be as relaxing as one would expect.
There is a cultural stereotype about British tourists on holiday that has become immortalized in pop culture: that of the British tourist who visits almost exclusively hot countries, lumbers along from stall to stall buying kitschy souvieners, drinks everything that they can find, and thus makes a nuisance of themselves to the locals. This appears to be the view that other British people have about their fellow men on holiday. Living in a hot country invites the worst of the worst.
That being said, the very idea of a holiday is to enjoy oneself and have fun, and this is where the poem Postcard from a Travel Snob comes in.
What is the point of visiting an island for cultural value and cultural value only? Is there such a thing as a better holiday?
This phenomenon of British people travelling abroad is not wholly new or exciting; in the 1800s, it was considered the height of polite society and social standing to go on what was known as the Grand Tour; a holiday all around Europe, mostly taking place in the crumbling cities of Venice, and the distant reaches of Germany. Poets such as Byron and Shelley wrote some of their best works on a Grand Tour, and have been immortalized in those countries by means of plaques and holidays to their brilliance. This is the same sort of idea that Postcard from a Travel Snob operates on: a Grand Tour, taking place when the rest of the uncultured world is visiting hot countries just to have fun.
Postcard from a Travel Snob is written in four stanzas of four lines each, with uneven rhyming; in the first stanza, the rhyme follows the pattern of ABAC, in the second it is DEFE, the third GHGI, and the fourth JKJK; it is only the last stanza that has both sets of lines rhyming.
It takes place in a resort town, and tells the story of a ‘travel snob’ who is writing a postcard to someone unspecified about how her holiday is superior to everyone else’s holiday, and how it is helping her to enrich and brighten her life. It is a short, but humourous, look at the vanity of people, the natural competitiveness of people, and the ease of pretending to be who you might not wholly be. It also forms part of the GCSE pack of poems, which are a group of poems that occur in GCSE English exams.
Postcard from a Travel Snob Analysis
Immediately, the poem, which can be read in full here, starts off with a rather controversial line – ‘I do not wish that anyone were here’. Although this is not wholly the case in all times, most people enjoy the idea of holidays because of the close proximity to other people; it is very easy to plan a holiday with one’s family and to have a shared experience that you can talk about in the years to come, but the narrator, here, goes against the grain by stating that they do not ‘wish that anyone were here’. It immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem; if the narrator doesn’t wish to share the experience with anyone, then it implies that they would really just prefer to be alone, which is ironic, in a holiday, particularly a holiday abroad in a hot country, as it would be impossible to find a single place where you are wholly alone. It is also ironic that the narrator is writing this sentence with the aim of posting the postcard to someone else – perhaps she is actually lonely, but not really sure how to react to this knowledge? Whether or not that is the case has yet to be seen, but it very well could be, considering the way the poem is titled.
Note the fact that the narrator is building up the place that they are visiting not by its merits, but by its absences; the holiday that she is on seems rather sad, because she is not speaking about the wonderful things that she is viewing, or the places that she has gone, but why, precisely, this place is superior to other places, which really just makes it seem as though she’s not having a single iota of fun. When she points out that it’s not a ‘holiday resort’, it makes one think of relaxation; the fact that she says that it isn’t this brings to mind a hostel in the middle of the countryside, where to get to and leave from places is immensely difficult. Immediately, the holiday that she is writing about doesn’t seem as enjoyable as one would expect, but rather something that is being done out of a sense of being better than everyone else; it is not a holiday in the strictest of terms, but a holiday of superiority, a holiday where she must be the ultimate holidayer, educated and clever and above all the trappings of fun.
The fact that she mentions these absences, however, speaks of experiences on other holidays, and the reader can make the argument that the absences is what she has noticed, and therefore what she misses on holiday, but this would be a feat to explain in an analysis; it makes sense, though, to notice the missing trappings of stereotypical holidays.
Once more, the specific focus on how peaceful it is, how it is ‘untouched by man’, seems a little bit like she herself is trying to convince herself of the value of the holiday that she has been on. It is not, therefore, a holiday that she herself is enjoying as a holiday, but as an educational experience which elevates her above all other people, she finds it enjoyable; this brings to mind the idea that the woman herself doesn’t really visit places for fun, but on an every growing quest for enlightenment and further knowledge, and above all, a competitive streak that pushes her to try to be ‘better’ than anyone else, more enlightened, more educational, more sensible than anyone else. From the description of the holiday that we are given, we can surmise that it is, perhaps, not quite as interesting as she makes it out to be – after all, she says that it is a ‘peaceful place’, that it is ‘untouched by man’, which means that there are very few facilities and home comforts, and thus cannot be very relaxing if she is going around and trying to get the most basic of needs sorted out.
Notice the fact that she mentions a ‘seaside-town-consumer-hell. It seems a little bit of a harsh statement, considering that seaside town resorts are generally very relaxing, whereas the holiday she is on seems like it would be very taxing and very unpleasant. She says as much when she comments that she is ‘sleeping in a local farmer’s van’ – anyone who has slept in a car for any duration of time knows that it is hardly an experience that one would repeat if they didn’t have to. The ensuing ‘it’s great’ seems very transparent, an attempt to make her life seem a little bit better in comparison to everything else that is happening around her. She continues to justify this by stating that there is ‘not a guest house or hotel / within a hundred miles’.
Again, this does not seem like a particularly enjoyable holiday, or a particularly enjoyable letter; so far, she’s mentioned that she is sleeping in a farmer’s van, in a place that is ‘untouched by man’ (which, unlike the idea of the countryside, seems to imply that there are very few facilities at one’s beck and call, and living in the countryside alone brings its own set of problems), and that there is nothing close to her within a hundred miles. She mentions the idea of a guest house or hotel, but there doesn’t seem to be anything, or nothing that we can infer from the postcard; there are no particularly pretty sights that she mentions, no art galleries that she has visited; it seems to be an isolated place in the middle of nowhere, and her holiday appears to be spent writing postcards about the absence of facilities to be found within the place that she is visiting.
To add to that, she says that ‘nobody speaks English (apart from me)’, which makes it quite a lonely holiday as well, and brings additional difficulties into play; it is very complicated to try and enjoy oneself on a holiday when there is no-one to talk to, which could explain why the narrator is writing postcards instead of exploring the place that she is so bravely holidaying in.
That being said, notice that the postcard’s language does not veer away from the fact that she has apparently accomplished something for holidaying in the place here; that she has done something that should be admired, and spoken about. To the discerning reader, it hardly seems like the case, but the narrator is wholly convinced of her own brilliance at holidaying in a place where nobody speaks English, where there are very few amenities, if any, and where she ends up sleeping in a farmer’s van. To the reader, it doesn’t seem like a holiday in the very sense of the word, but her pride in what she is doing is absolutely mesmerizing.
Notice that she mentions that she is not ‘your sun-and-sangria-two-weeks-small-minded-package-philistine-abroad)’, which, aside from being a run-on sentence, doesn’t really do much to set her aside from the general population; it seems like that would be a far more enjoyable holiday than the one she is writing about (it is left up to the reader to decide if she is writing about the holiday to make herself feel better, or if she is genuinely enjoying it; I err on the side of writing to make herself feel better). That said, the point is that we have no genuine idea of what sort of person the narrator is, aside from boring and overbearing, and that doesn’t really do much in terms of writing.
The last stanza takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the rest of the poem; once again, the narrator brags that ‘when you’re as multi-cultural as me’, and talks about how her friends are ‘wine connoisseurs, not drunks’ – which could be a little bit of a dig at the idea of the ‘cultured’ versus the ‘unctultured’ in Britain, even when their lives and their mannerisms are nearly the same, or just about. She carries this idea to the end of the poem, where she states that she is ‘not a British tourist in the sea; I’m an anthropologist in trunks.’ – an anthropologist being someone who studies people for a living.
Sophie Hannah is a British novelist and poetess. She was born in Manchester, England, and published her first book of poems at the age of 24, and in 2004, she was named one of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation poets, and is considered one of the best poets alive today. Aside from that, she is the author of a book for children, as well as the crime series Waterhouse and Zailer, some novels of which have had television adaptations on the drama ‘Case Sensitive’. She was also Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Cambridge between 1997 to 1999, as well as a junior researcher at Oxford between 1999 and 2001. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.