May 20, 2016

"When I packed my suitcase, it was as if I were doing the bidding of the money I’d paid."

Writes Jonathan Franzen, describing his feeling as he got ready for a cruise to Antarctica on a luxury ship that he'd chosen to make his girlfriend — who wasn't going after all — comfortable.

I love the whole story — in The New Yorker — but that sentence jumped out at me as the one to blog because it so quickly and precisely expresses a classic anti-travel feeling. And it goes beyond travel. Perhaps it would help in many situations as you are about to spend money to buy an experience — "Buy Experiences, Not Things" — to contemplate whether that experience, as it approaches, is going to feel as if you are doing the bidding of the money you paid.

31 comments:

mikee said...

One good example of this phenomenon is the modern US wedding, wherein one pays a great deal of money, the expenditure of which validates the event itself, in the minds of many.

I intend to offer each of my kids a significant chunk of change to elope instead of having a traditional wedding.

Michael K said...

Sunk costs heuristic. One more logical fallacy.

Evidence from behavioral economics suggests this theory fails to predict real-world behavior. Sunk costs do, in fact, influence actors' decisions because humans are prone to loss aversion and framing effects. In light of such cognitive quirks, it is unsurprising that people frequently fail to behave in ways that economists deem "rational".

MadisonMan said...

I also do not want to waste money on a wedding. Now, an open bar after the nuptials? Yes.

But the kids have to want to get married first ;)

glenn said...

I've never worried about "doing the bidding of money I paid for a plane ticket". Matter of fact I think the Boeing 747 is a miracle. Give me more.

MadisonMan said...

I think if you're doing the bidding of the money then you haven't chosen wisely in your purchase.

I have a very hard time deciding to spend the money on travel -- but once I do, I enjoy the travel experience and realize that I can afford it after all. Work is so busy right now, though, that the idea of having time off conjures up a feeling of panic and missed deadlines.

traditionalguy said...

They sell travel insurance for cancelling a cruise when booked and paid for. And airfare can be rescheduled unless it was a bargain basement flight on sale.

mockturtle said...

I intend to offer each of my kids a significant chunk of change to elope instead of having a traditional wedding.

Bingo! Some wedding preparations last longer than the marriage itself.

Bill Peschel said...

Comments like Franzen's seem to reflect his state of mind more than any hard-won piece of wisdom.

Sort of like when he won the Oprah prize for "The Corrections." After accepting it, he wondered what it would do to his reputation, what the other writers would think of him, if men would be scared away by Oprah's cooties.

All that thinking out loud before microphones and notebooks, only to reach the mouse-sized conclusion that "I care more about status than in reaching readers."

Now I'll do what I usually do, which is to read the article after commenting on it.

Bill Peschel said...

Now that I've read most of the article, I can see that Franzen had a happier time when he wasn't inside his head. There, he stands aside from everyone, thinking snotty comments, rather than talking with anyone to learn what they're really like.

At the end, there's a climate change lecture: "His lecture was a barn-burning reprise of “An Inconvenient Truth,” including the famous “hockey stick” graph of spiking temperatures, the famous map of an America castrated of its Florida by the coming rise in sea level...."

I thought the "hockey stick" was discredit by its creator, Mann. Whether false or fraud, it did not represent even current catastrophic thinking by climate scientists. And for all this talk about "the coming rise" in sea level, we haven't actually seen any of its predicted effects, right? (I'm asking out of curiosity, not challenge). We certainly haven't seen any of their short-term predictions come to pass.

Wilbur said...

I live in a place to which a lot of people pay a lot of money to travel and vacation. So when I have a few days off, I just stay home and do what I want.

Roughcoat said...

I like to take naps during my free time. I've napped all over the world.

JPS said...

Interesting story. I noted this:

"When they model future climate scenarios and predict the rise in global temperature, they have to pick a lowball temperature, one reached in ninety-plus per cent of all cases, rather than the temperature that’s reached in the average scenario. Thus, the scientist who confidently predicts a five-degree (Celsius) warming by the end of the century might tell you in private, over beers, that she really expects it to be nine degrees."

That must be why climate scientists have been struggling to explain why it's been so much hotter than they predicted over the last twenty years or so. They're just being cautious. Or why they are so careful to factor out El-Nino-driven spikes from the background rising trend.

I've about decided the alarmist pitch is the perfect example of begging the question:

"Anthropogenic CO2 release is the main driver behind global warming."

"How do we know increasing CO2 is the main cause?"

"Have you seen how warm it's getting? All the shattered temperature records and melting glaciers? Are you a fool or a shill?"

This summer, Arctic sea ice will probably set a lowest-minimum extent record. This will be treated as proof that they've been right all along.

Howard said...

I find it interesting that Franzen lives in Santa Cruz. He doesn't need to travel because he lives in a vacation wonderland. Not everyone can go hiking in nature forests and enjoy hauteur coffee, cocktails and cuisine five-minutes from the house.

Check your privilege, Althouse

buwaya said...

"Franzen lives in Santa Cruz."

True. He doesn't have to go far for beauty. Its easy to reach all of California for little cost, at vacation prices. This is the Golden State in fact.

Sebastian said...

"it is unsurprising that people frequently fail to behave in ways that economists deem "rational"." I know they deem that. But strictly speaking it is not "irrational" to maximize loss aversion if one has a strong preference for avoiding losses. Rationality is all about calculation in light of given preferences. Simply attributing preferences to actors is not, umm, very rational.

Big Mike said...

You've got me reminiscing, Althouse. Back in the early 1970's I was all set to do a summer touring Europe with a girlfriend, but we broke up after I had purchased my Britrail and Eurail passes and booked my nonrefundable student charter flight. That was a lot of money for a graduate student, so I decided to go without her, and here's what happened:

I saw the Royal Shakespearean Company perform "As You Like It" in Stratford on Avon.

I got drunk at the Munich Rathskeller and had to urinate in the Isar when I lost my way home (my landlady at the penzione told me I couldn't have been all that drunk if I eventually found my way back).

My Britrail pass let me go to the head of a long line to get into the Tower of London -- I could just imagine what the other American tourists waiting in the "queue" thought to see me flash my pass at the Yeoman Warder, who gave me a "Pardon me, sir, please go on in" accompanied by a slight bow. Was I rock star? Young Member of Parliament? Cadet branch of the royal family?

I traveled the Romantic Road.

I swam in the Adriatic.

I danced all night in a disco with the most beautiful woman I'd ever met until that point (I wouldn't meet my wife until the following fall!)

I saw Mozart's birthplace and ate some Salzburg nockerl.

I saw the Lipizzaner stallions perform in Vienna, attended an opera, and ate Weiner Schnitzel and tortes.

I took a boat trip up the Rhine, accompanied by two pretty tourists from Australia.

I linked up with two lovely art history majors to tour the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, who were better than any museum guide could have been.

I toured the Cologne Cathedral, the Munich Frauenkirche, Winchester Cathedral (the inspiration for a popular song in the previous decade), Shakespeare's grave in Westminster, and York Minster.

I toured both Neueschwanstein (Mad King Ludwig's fairytale castle) and nearby Hohenschwangau.

I had a ball, thanks to that long ago girlfriend.

Titus said...

I would never go on a cruise anywhere. Cruise's are so pedestrian.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

That's how I feel about subscribing to The New Yorker. Are you reading it because you want to or to just doing the bidding of the money you are paying for the subscription? Then, as if to confirm the waste of time and space, the article will open like this:

"Two years ago, a lawyer in Indiana sent me a check for seventy-eight thousand dollars."

That just cries out for $78,000, as does the next sentence to capitalize uncle:

"The money was from my uncle Walt, who had died six months earlier."

I imagine that another article could be written for The New Yorker on why uncle should not be capitalized in that sentence. I no longer subscribe.

buwaya said...

"I would never go on a cruise anywhere. Cruise's are so pedestrian."

I have a cruise for you.
https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Sabang_(Mindoro)#/media/File:Filipino_banca.jpg

Depending on the weather, these can be quite a trip. The worse the weather the better the trip.

And cheap.

Ann Althouse said...

"I would never go on a cruise anywhere. Cruise's are so pedestrian."

You might enjoy this passage from the Franzen piece:

"Because berths on our ship, the National Geographic Orion, started at twenty-two thousand dollars and went up to almost double that, I’d pre-stereotyped my fellow-passengers as plutocratic nature lovers—leather-skinned retirees with trophy spouses and tax-haven home addresses, maybe a face or two I recognized from television. But I’d done the math wrong. There turn out to be special yachts for that clientele. The crowd in the function room was less glamorous than I’d expected, and less octogenarian. A plurality of the hundred of us were merely physicians or attorneys, and I could see only one man in pants hiked up around his stomach."

buwaya said...

"Because berths on our ship, the National Geographic Orion, started at twenty-two thousand dollars"

Madness. You can wander the world for a year on that, plus the right passport.

Mrs Whatsit said...

I have a decidedly not-plutocratic friend who has always lived close to the edge of poverty and entirely free of any pretensions of class or status. Somehow, late in life, she found the funds for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Antarctica -- though not, I'm guessing, on as luxurious a ship as Franzen's. She loved every moment of it and came back just glowing with the wonder and awe of the experience, showing off her pictures, bubbling over with stories of the people she met and the sights she saw, unblemished by any shred of Franzen's detestable snootiness, preening "alienation" or hypocritical navel-gazing about climate change. She's an eccentric who can sometimes be hard to take, but if I had to choose between her and Franzen as a shipmate on any great adventure anywhere, it wouldn't be a difficult choice.

But I did like what he wrote about his uncle.

Howard said...

Because you are packed in like rats and everyone has a shitter and many pipes leak, Norovirus occasionally "runs" through cruise ships... so much so, they have their own CDC page.

CDC on Cruise Ships

cubanbob said...

Howard said...
Because you are packed in like rats and everyone has a shitter and many pipes leak, Norovirus occasionally "runs" through cruise ships... so much so, they have their own CDC page."

Try traveling on a cargo ship. No hordes of people to contend with. Just meals with the ship's officers is all you have to tolerate. No entertainment, no wifi, no booze (you maybe able to bring your own). Just a comfy cabin and you can walk the ship as long as you stay in the designated areas and have plenty of ocean going solitary time with minimal carbon footprint.

Ann Althouse said...

"I imagine that another article could be written for The New Yorker on why uncle should not be capitalized in that sentence. I no longer subscribe."

There's also the question whether, if you're not going to capitalize "uncle," you should have a comma after it"

"The money was from my Uncle Walt, who had died six months earlier."

"The money was from my uncle, Walt, who had died six months earlier."

"The money was from my uncle Walt, who had died six months earlier."

The third one, the one the NY used, may seem least right.

I'm reading a book by the copy editor, Mary Norris, "Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen."

The editing conventions in The New Yorker are very well established. The key thing is consistency after you've decided how you're going to do it.

I tried to find an answer to the "uncle Walt" question in the Comma Queen book (which I have in searchable form) but I came up empty.

By the way, I have an Uncle Walt. I have an uncle, Walt. I have one uncle, Walt.

Michael K said...

"And airfare can be rescheduled unless it was a bargain basement flight on sale."

Not if you book with Expedia. The last time I use them was last year. We were booked to go to Greece but the "migrants" were flowing through the area we had planned to visit. We decided not to go. I decided we would just stay in London which was a stop where we changed airlines. I didn't want my money back, just the change itinerary.

Nope. We were obliged to rebook everything and that cost another $2000.

I'm never using Expedia again. They keep spamming me with offers.

RichardJohnson said...

Anyone who blows that much money on a cruise deserves what he gets. But I rarely spent over $5/night for a hotel room in Latin America, so I have different expectations.

For my freshman bio course we had a guest speaker, a punning marine biologist who had just taken a cruise to Antarctica on a marine research ship. His description of the trip: "It was difficult at time but we kept in good spirits."

Iapetus said...

My wife and I have traveled on the Orion. It's a very comfortable ship. Our stateroom was quite nice. We made many friends whom we continue to see and correspond with. We'll be visiting one couple later this year when we take a cruise/dive trip to Indonesia, Papua, and the Great Barrier Reef. We'll likely travel with Lindblad again, but as usual we'll confine ourselves to the warm, tropic parts of the globe.

Alex said...

Antarctica is an extreme environment, it's not for casual travel. I personally would have a deep sense of foreboding going to such a place. Not to be taken lightly. Read up on Ernest Shakleton's epic Antarctic voyage. The most terrifying part is just how huge the waves are in the Southern ocean.

MathMom said...

...describing his feeling as he got ready for a cruise to Antarctica on a luxury ship that he'd chosen to make his girlfriend...

Sorry, did anyone else think this post was about a man who made a luxury ship his girlfriend?

I read this 10 times, kept getting stuck there, wondering if there was some missing punctuation, a missing word, or if it was an article about one of those people who falls in love (sexually) with an inanimate object. Been seeing articles about this sort of thing lately.

Char Char Binks said...

A supposedly fun thing he'll never do again.