EDITOR’S NOTE: Xenophobes Need Not Apply

By on June 28, 2016


JACKSON HOLE, WY — This past week the world was stunned by Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, a move predicted to have disastrous consequences for not only Britain and the E.U. but myriad nations that comprise our increasingly globalized world—the U.S. included. The New York Times editorial board wrote, “Apart from creating economic turmoil, Britain’s calamitous vote to leave the European Union could have no less profound foreign policy consequences, weakening the interlocking web of Western institutions and alliances that have helped guarantee international peace and stability for 70 years.”

The Brexit is indicative of a rising nationalistic, anti-immigrant ethos: us versus them. Fueled by xenophobia, it is amassing alarming popularity among citizens in a long list of countries from France and the Netherlands to the U.S.

Promulgating this fear-based ideology are people like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and former London mayor and advocate for the UK’s exit from the E.U., Boris Johnson. (Street artists have deftly depicted the two men passionately canoodling—pictured above—on an exterior wall in Bristol.)

While we like to think ourselves immune to many of the ills transpiring in the rest of the world, here in Jackson Hole we practice our own iteration of xenophobia. Indeed, the us versus them ethos is alive and well among many locals who view tourists as nuisances. Residents who fail to see that these are folks seeking the same things each of us look for when we travel: authentic experiences. Part of what makes an authentic experience, whether you’re traveling to Dubois or Dubai, is the people; people who we can connect with on some level, people who help us to see the world through a different lens.

Yes it is true that our patience will be tested this summer, as record numbers of visitors flock to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks for the parks’ centennial. And the soaring numbers of travelers wont come without a steep price. The human-wildlife encounters to date—we’ve already lost bear cubs and baby bison—display tragic ignorance and carelessness.

In response to these incidents, however, instead of asking how we can forge deeper connections with our visitors and spark dialogue that will lead to awareness, someone dreamt up the rather profound bumper sticker, “Save a bison, euthanize a tourist.” At a valley eatery, one such sticker was slapped onto a vehicle thought to be driven by visitors. Welcome to Jackson?

Every time I feel myself losing patience as I wait for another set of molasses-paced tourists to saunter down the crosswalk; or while I work my second job for the airlines, confronting the ills of humanity left behind in rows of seats on an Airbus 319, I remind myself of a few truths. Some, many of us know well—that Jackson Hole’s tourism industry is what allows people like you and me the opportunity to plant deep roots here.

But beyond that, when my patience is tested and I want to pass judgment on someone I’ve deemed a visitor, I remind myself of the experience I hope to have when I travel: that people won’t immediately view me as a cross to bear simply because I’m an outsider. I bore witness to this disappointing attitude back in February. I spent the weekend with a friend from Zermatt, Switzerland at a Teton Village hotel. Although we were staying in a posh suite at one of the most celebrated ski destinations in the world, members of the hotel staff were curt and aloof each time they addressed my Swiss friend.

It was not until I found a way to reveal my status as an almost decade-long local that their demeanors transformed. Even when not in the company of foreign friends, I too have been the recipient of aloofness and all-together rudeness from service industry folk who perceived me to be a visitor.

If we think that the people who deserve the best treatment are the insiders, the locals, we have veered completely off course. We are not only robbing our visitors of a special experience—we are robbing ourselves too. During some recent travels abroad, I was reminded that even simple gestures are impactful: Look a stranger in the eyes—no matter her origin—say hello, smile and be willing to offer some part of yourself. And view these exchanges as an opportunity to impart wisdom on our guests. Tell them about being stewards of the land; about respecting wildlife and leaving a minimal footprint whether they’re strolling the dike or climbing a peak in the park.

Right now the comparisons between Britain and the U.S., about which country is on a faster track to destroying itself and unraveling years of progress, are plentiful. As a petition for an EU referendum rerun amasses almost 4 million signatures (fingers crossed), the Brexit is a warning to us as global citizens, as Americans, and as Jacksonites: In this hyper-connected world, it is not “us” or “them.” It is only us. PJH

About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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