The Difficulties of Buying a Travel Guide

30 Dec

I am going to Puerto Rico with my super awesome friend Dee this coming Sunday straight from work. Which means my flight is at 5:30am. I would just like to comment on the fact that I always book flights stupid early and I always, always, ALWAYS regret doing it. One of the times I did this I ended up sleeping on a marble slab in the Cancun Airport and the only way I managed to get the small amount of sleep in that I did was because I did not, at that point, know that the Cancun Airport is infested with cockroaches the size of New York City rats. Seriously they are fucking huge. If I had known they were there everything would have been different. And I mean everything.

Anyway, in anticipation of my trip I walked up to the bookstore to buy a Lonely Planet guide for Puerto Rico. I know, I know, we totally have phones for that but I still like to hold on to those days before smart phones and WiFi when I had to rely on guide books and really poorly drawn and labeled maps. I suck at maps and would always end up hopelessly lost but then something super fun and awesome would happen and it would be worth it. So I still buy the books. I don’t care that they are overpriced and non-returnable. All of that aside I found myself standing in the travel section at the book store and had the following questions:

Where do I even look for Puerto Rico? Will it be in the international or domestic travel section?!

Puerto Rico is not a state but it is an unincorporated US territory. Puerto Ricans are not able to vote in US elections but they do pay federal taxes to the United States government. So in my mind Puerto Rico is pretty much the same thing as Washington DC only with more beaches and less lawyers and Washington DC is definitely in the domestic section. So I looked in the domestic section. (This is actually how this all went down, by the way.)

In case you haven’t visited it recently, the travel section at the bookstore is very confusing. For me, anyway. In grade school, using the magic of music, I learned all about organizing library books (and, by extension, books in the bookstore) and how there are different rules for different types of books. We sang songs. We marched around. Here is an excerpt from the song about nonfiction books:

Nonfiction books
Are books that are so true!
They’re on the shelves in number or…
Number oooooor-derrrrrrr

And here is the one about biographies:

Biography!
It’s a real story!
About real people!
Woo!

We never had a song about travel guides though. I’ve had to learn this one on my own. So the way that they do travel guides, I have found, sort of depends on what bookstore you go to. Mostly it depends on how much people care about keeping it organized. The travel section is always getting all sorts of fucked up. I blame the wanderers who spend time leafing through the books. So in the domestic section the books are organized alphabetically by state, and then under the state the big cities are also organized alphabetically. So if you are looking for New Orleans you would look under L for Louisiana and not under N for New Orleans. Sometimes. Sometimes things are also organized by region. I don’t know, it’s weird and confusing. The international section is generally easier, as long as you stay away from Europe. The Europe section is all fucked up also because a lot of Americans go to Europe and so there are all kinds of country groupings, and regional groupings, and books about specific areas within certain small countries (France and Italy have a lot of little mini-books for more specific travel). Other areas of the world that seem less relevant to the majority of American travelers are not nearly so broken up and so are easier to find in the alphabatized world of travel books. So, for example,  it’s hard to buy a book called ALL OF EUROPE but you can get a book called ALL OF SOUTHEAST ASIA AND ALSO A FEW OTHER PLACES. It is located under A. For ALL OF.

As it turns out Puerto Rico was in the international section. The travel section was all like

Fuck you Puerto Rico you are not a real state.

But the thing that was crazy about it was that right near Puerto Rico, in the same international section, were all the books on Hawaii. Now that threw me for a little bit of a loop because last time I checked Hawaii was, in fact, a state with a star on the flag and everything. Also voting rights. So then I thought to myself,

Self, maybe the staff at Barnes and Noble only considers the contiguous United States to be domestic.

I mean, that is absolutely incorrect but I suppose I could see a small amount of logic in there? Maybe? So I looked around in the international section for Alaska. Alaska is not part of the contiguous United States. Alaska was also not in the international section. It was domestic. There goes that theory. So then I figured perhaps they only considered the continental United States, which is the lower 48 plus Alaska, to be domestic. Still inaccurate, by the way, but whatever. Which also brings me to wonder about why we call the contiguous United States the lower 48 when Hawaii is also lower, geographically, than Alaska. It should actually be the lower 49, if we are being specific. But perhaps that labeling came about before August 21, 1959 when Hawaii officially became a state and we just never stopped saying it.

So then I thought maybe the staff of Barnes and Noble just decided that the United States is not a country that brings to mind islands and so anything that is an island — Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam — is obviously not part of the actual country and therefore should be located in the international travel section. And besides, Hawaii is not in the Americas but instead in Oceania which sounds like somewhere you would need a passport to visit. Also it doesn’t follow daylight savings time although neither do parts of Indiana and Indiana is squarely located in the domestic section…I mean, it would be…I think…if there was a travel guide written about it.  Maybe it’s the volcano that does it? Or the fact that Hawaii has two official languages: English and Hawaiian.

Hold on a second!

Puerto Rico also has two official languages! English and Spanish! Or, more accurately, Spanish and English.

And then it dawned on me! Obviously the person who organizes the travel section is a linguist and made the domestic/international call based entirely on whether or not a place has more than one official language! Or, on the shittier end, maybe the person is not a linguist and is, in fact, one of those fucked up “English-only” people who doesn’t believe anyone should officially speak anything other than English in the United States, or its territories, and therefore places that do not abide by that rule must be relegated to the international section with the rest of the fascists and their subpar, fascist languages. (Have you noticed that closed-minded people are always throwing accusations of fascism around? I have.)

I think I might write a letter.

One Response to “The Difficulties of Buying a Travel Guide”

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  1. 2016: My Year So Far | franklyrebekah - January 14, 2016

    […] A few things have happened since I last posted on this blog. […]

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