Bathroom: Antigua, Guatemala

1 Feb

The Worst Bathroom in the World

Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the *worst* bathroom in the world, but it seemed like it at the time. For the record, I have seen worse since then…MUCH worse.

I think the disconnect – what social scientists call “cognitive dissonance” – between the beauty of the room itself and the horrors of the bathroom made it seem even worse than it was. Yeah, there was mold and slime and one of those scary electric showers that I’m always sure is going to kill me but somehow never does. But the real turnoff was that it was attached to the most beautiful, character-filled room I’ve ever been offered at 4:30am in the middle of Guatemala. It was just…wrong.

The room itself was in a former home and it still had original details from who-knows-when. The tile and woodwork were amazing, and the portraits on the wall of some of the rich people who used to live there made me feel like their guest. The courtyard was a sanctuary, at least until the kitchen set up a station outdoors and started serving breakfast by the fountain at the crack of dawn. Still, the smells enticed me to join them outside for coffee and the memory of that half hour will always stay with me.

We didn’t stay here though. Not even for one night. We’d arrived from the Peten jungle sweaty, dirty, and exhausted after a red-eye bus that constantly looped The Da Vinci Code in Spanish on a black and white monitor. My boyfriend at the time stumbled into the shower then collapsed into a deep sleep for a few hours, but the prospect of waking to the grungy bathroom the next day horrified him. He wanted a nice, safe, clean room with towels that weren’t stained in every color of the rainbow. The prospect of Stranger Germs freaked him out and sent him running to a very nice, very touristy, very CLEAN hotel with a very clean bathroom a few streets over. I went along for the ride, to prevent a total meltdown. It turns out he’s not the Guatemala type – we broke up two weeks after the trip. Apparently, you can tell a lot about someone by their attitude toward bathrooms.

Since then, I find myself mourning the loss of more memories from a unique hotel that just had ONE little issue…the worst bathroom in the world.

But the room was gorgeous!

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Am I creepy? Or cool? Let me explain…

1 Feb

Ethnography and Wine

I watch people for a living.

Sometimes I talk to them, other times I don’t. I’d like to think that what I learn makes the world a better place, but you never really know. The ethnographer Bronislaw Malinowski ended his classic work Argonauts of the Western Pacific by reminding us that:

“The Science of Man, in its most refined and deepest version should lead us to such knowledge and to tolerance and generosity, based on the understanding of other men’s point of view.”

I am a Scientist of Man. Wait. No, that’s not right. Let me try that again. I’m a sociologist. Hmm. That’s not quite it either. What do I do? What am I? For that matter, is what I do ultimately who I am?

When you learn from people for a living, the lines between your work life and personal life aren’t just blurred, they disappear. I’m not sure what/who I am anymore – I’ve been hired, first and foremost, as an ethnographer, but the fact that I don’t study exotic cultures (well, not usually anyway) just confuses people.

I’ve been paid to be a sociologist, an anthropologist, a brand strategist, an adjunct professor, a behavioral analyst, a videographer, a photographer, a social science strategist, a consumer insights researcher, an ideation facilitator, and a writer. Whatever the job title has been, the goal has been to innovate. To glean insights from everyday life and share them with other people who use my work to change the world, based on an understanding of other men’s (and women’s) point of view. I am a storyteller, with a vision.

Maybe I am a Scientist of (Hu)Man after all. Maybe it really is that simple.

Creepy? Or cool? Let’s explore and see what we find…