It used to be easy to tell who was rich and who wasn’t simply by looking at their clothes and cars. But the increasingly casual tint of modern culture means we can scarcely tell the difference between a graphic designer and a tech billionaire. They both wear hoodies and flip-flops. They both live in a tiny house. They both drive Priuses, drink small-batch whiskey and have some giant, hard-to-price wristwatch. How are any of us supposed to know when we’re actually in the company of the truly affluent and privileged anymore? A hint: place-dropping.
If place-dropping sounds like name-dropping it’s because it is, only it’s as visual as it is verbal. Just as name-droppers hope to inflate their social status by hoping you’ll associate them with important people, place-droppers inflate their value by hoping you’ll associate them with important places and the money and free time required to visit said places. They do it by casually referencing or Insta-bombing all the far-flung locales they’ve visited — bonus points if they’re known celebrity destinations like St. Tropez or Monaco.
Heading to Berlin next week; sooo paranoid about the jet lag, you might say to pre-emptively place-drop. European city: check. Far enough away to experience jet lag: check. Seasoned enough traveler to complain about it: check. But what about Berlin? Why are you going? What do you hope to see there? Oops, you forgot to mention it. Classic place-drop.
“We go to New York a lot,” someone might mention with an air of annoyance, to let you know they can afford several-hundred dollar plane tickets to a cosmopolitan city several times a year, “and flying just isn’t what it used to be.” But why? What for? What it’s like? Did you form any actual opinions about it? ::Crickets::
You’ll know you’ve been placed-dropped because it feels like someone is not telling you anything other than than the fact that they’ve gone somewhere fancy and go similar fancy places a lot. A few other examples of place-dropping:
We usually do Bali but this year we might try out Morocco.
Drinks next week? Oh I can’t, that’s when I’m in Ibiza.
Just wishing I could get back over to Cannes; used to go every summer.
(Not to call out anyone specific here, but peruse #vacation for some good social media examples.)
There are a few caveats: Of course, traveling is a good, worthwhile thing to do. We should all try to see the world as much as possible, and exposure to different histories, cultures and ways of life are more mind-enhancing than the best drugs you can buy. And you should talk about where you go; that’s your life and how you spend chose to spend your time.
But place-droppers aren’t interested in talking about the experience itself; just checking the boxes of status. Place-dropping is not when someone genuinely and excitedly says they got back from an amazing trip to Spain and starts recounting the jaw-dropping sites they’ve seen. That is of value and merit; it’s also sincere. It’s not when a seasoned traveler goes to London for the hundredth time and mentions it because this time they really had a chance to take in the old castles.
Place-dropping is when someone casually mentions another Turks and Caicos trip because they’ve been going every summer for the last 10 years; haven’t you? There are no interesting details or insights; they simply went to the place and did the thing, so now you know you’re supposed to think they are cool and rich, or something.
The real crime in place-dropping is not much different than the crime of any bad conversationalist: You’re talking about yourself too much. But I’m talking about a place, you will now insist. No, you’re talking about how you went to that place. You’re talking about how you were rich enough to afford the trip and a nanny to watch the kids while you were gone.
Place-droppers are perhaps just like the kids in middle school who noticed everyone was wearing a polo shirt so they ran out and got one. They aren’t even sure if they liked it! They just correctly downloaded that everyone else liked it and thus aspired to wear one. (Reads about how everyone is going to Provence in The New York Times; books trip to Provence.) In a post-celebrity world where social media has turned likes into a virtual fame-counter for normies, we’re all reaching for the polo shirt still. And experience has replaced celebrity or other vague status symbols as an easy shorthand for Succeeding at Life.
Travel, then, is a perfect proxy for the late capitalist Instagram moment we’re all living in. It’s highly photogenic and the caption is implied: I’m here, and you aren’t. Proof? Some 50 percent of millennials admit to posting vacation photos just to make people jealous, Fox News reported last year. What’s more, these can’t be just any vacations.
“Traditional travelers choose Antarctica only after they have covered all other continents,” Todd Smith, who runs AdventureSmith Explorations, told Fox News, “whereas millennials start with Antarctica as part of a YOLO — you only live once — attitude.”
“We often hear they are aiming to claim the bragging right of stepping foot on all seven continents before they turn 30,” Shelley Fry of Expedition Trips said.
They’re going internationally and trekking glaciers, and stopping only to post it on social. What’s more, such broadcasting of one’s bragging rights — bragcasting if you will — is critical (i.e. Pics Or It Didn’t Happen). If it’s not on social media to make you feel bad whiling away your job as a paralegal, then it’s like it didn’t occur at all. If a place-dropping opportunity falls in the forest and only hits the foot of the braggart dropping it, does it make a sound?
Travel is a luxury that takes more than just money; it takes a lot of free time to go anywhere exotic. Consider that only a quarter of workers in this country even get paid vacation or holidays. Within the top 10 percent of workers, 93 percent get paid vacations and paid holidays off. Over half of Americans don’t take all their allotted days because they’re afraid they’ll be replaced on the job. And of those who do go on vacation, 74 percent of Americans will go into debt to do it.
All this means that anyone who can travel often is either actually rich or just desperately needs you to think they are. So we get it: You have disposable income, loads of PTO (possible unlimited, if you work at a startup) and a basic understanding of how places are ranked. You’re at least middle-class, and you’ve definitely read the Times travel section so you know where to jet off to for 36 hours to feel relevant.
Please, don’t stop waxing wistful about the street tacos in Guatemala that were out of this world, or the croissants in Paris that were. just. unbelievable. After all, how else will we know how we should be living if it were not for your handy consumption tips? All the rest of us victims of your place-dropping only ask that you try to convey something resembling an actual insight into the places you’ve seen. Something that demonstrates genuine curiosity about the world instead of navel-gazing about your own status. Yes, it is highly unlikely given most place-droppers’ proclivities for bragging over real conversation. But, as with a very nice vacation to a faraway land, we can dream.
Tracy Moore is a staff writer at MEL. She last wrote about how Barbie’s boyfriend Ken has always been a boring Instadude.