Fear and loathing in Shagaluf: the Brit scholar abroad

To study mass tourism, Hazel Andrews entered a world of binge-drinking, sexism and racism. She describes why she did it and what she learned

May 14, 2015

Source: Corbis

I was hit with all this explicit sexuality, lots of swearing, drunkenness, being ‘up for it’ in terms of Magaluf as ‘Shagaluf’ - it was a very alien culture

For someone whose idea of a nice holiday is “getting away from people in a country cottage”, nine months of participant observation in Magaluf may not seem ideal.

Hazel Andrews first visited Majorca on an assignment for the Malta Tourism Authority in the late 1990s, looking at the award-winning environmental and sustainability policies of the municipality of Calvià. But she had already embarked on a PhD at what is now London Metropolitan University and used the trip as a “recce” for an extended ethnographic project in Magaluf and the adjacent (and more upmarket) resort of Palmanova. This turned out to be, as she put it in a paper published in a collection called Mapping Cultures: Place, Practice, Performance, “one of the most troubling episodes in my life”.

These are strong words. Unlike other academics profiled in this Outer Limits series who conducted research in remote caves or Himalayan villages, among dog fighters, drugs gangs or warring Yemeni tribes, Andrews faced little real hardship or danger in Magaluf. So why did she find it so disturbing?

Already married and “quite a shy person”, Andrews explains, she discovered that she “hadn’t any idea of what it would be like. I was hit with all this explicit sexuality, lots of swearing, drunkenness, being ‘up for it’ in terms of Magaluf as ‘Shagaluf’ – it was a very alien culture and I found that quite difficult and intimidating”. She had not even heard of “Britain’s filthiest comedian”, Roy “Chubby” Brown, but “would sit in a café where his DVDs were on and women sitting next to me would be laughing at his jokes, although I personally found them quite offensive. I was surprised that women would be so happy to be exposed, humiliated and spoken about in the ways that they are”.

Although Andrews had gone on pub crawls as a student, they played no part in her adult life and she had “never frequented places where [a cabaret act featuring] a mock-up of a bloody tampon was considered to be entertainment. I didn’t know people do such things.” She was equally unimpressed by the Pirates Adventure show, a (comic) enactment of British imperial history including endless jokes about the French and displays of bare breasts. She now realises that she initially “missed opportunities in the field, because of not feeling comfortable about taking part in evenings based on the expectations of ‘We go out, we get pissed up, we fall over’. At the beginning, I couldn’t do that.”

As a rare lone woman in Magaluf, Andrews adds, she “found it an intimidating environment in which to research. I was often subjected to attention I didn’t want and regularly invited to hotel rooms with men I didn’t know. I heard about cases of potential rape and violence against women in the resorts and had to be party to conversations which aired racist as well as sexist views.

“In one entertainment game played with tourists, women were virtually commanded to go topless, and failure to do so would meet with ridicule. Such activities, along with female tourists performing lesbian sex acts, fully stripping off and simulating performances of sexual intercourse, all led to a heightened sexualisation of women which, along with the copious amount of drinking by tourists – many bars and the pavements smelled of vomit – and the occasional eruption of physical violence, contributed to my feelings of fear.”

Lonely and largely “repelled”, Andrews admits that her first instinct was to “hide”. She embarked on a plan to map Magaluf as a way of mastering the environment and giving her “a reason for being there, so I was doing something and didn’t just have to sit in a bar…There weren’t any women other than me wandering around alone.” (The maps would prove a valuable resource when she was later trying to analyse how the place – littered with bars, pubs, discos and “inns” named Benny Hill, Britannia, Del Boy, The Falklands, Lineker’s, Lord Nelson and variants on these themes – structured and determined the experiences of tourists.) She also began to embrace, at least in part, the role of participant observer: “I did go on bar crawls, I did go to some of the night-time entertainment, I did lie on the beach, I did sit in the cafés. I did most of the things the tourists did, although I didn’t play the [balloon-bursting] Sexual Positions game. I had my limits.”

Street in Magaluf

In the early stages of her research, Andrews admits that she sometimes found herself “looking down” on the tourists she was studying and living among. As time went on, however, she began to see why a holiday in Magaluf could be “liberating and enlivening”, and to warm to tourists and reps who were “very kind to me, concerned about me being there on my own…I would say they showed more generosity than I’ve ever found among people who are middle class”. She enjoyed going out dancing and now even wonders whether, if she’d been younger and unmarried, she might have “completed the participant observation entirely”. On the other hand, she never learned to accept the used condoms left on steps or other overt signs of the “extremity” of “Shagaluf”.

Although others may have been less surprised or shocked by what she found, Andrews clearly had a pretty grim time in Magaluf. But she was determined to stick it out and complete her research. So what did she learn and bring back with her?

Now reader in tourism, culture and society at Liverpool John Moores University, Andrews has drawn extensively – and will continue to draw – on her rich original fieldwork, alongside other projects such as a study on tourism in Chester. She has published a paper on “the ubiquitous presence [in Magaluf] of pigs in the form of postcards, souvenirs, sex toys and food”, looking at why the pig has particular significance for the British. Another explores “gendered spaces” and the shows where women were repeatedly urged to “get your tits out for the boys”. A third tries to illuminate the ways that charter tourism “offers[s] a concentration of Britishness that is…felt to be diluted in the home world, thus enabling tourists to feel more at home, more British in Spain than they do in the UK”. (One amusing vignette features a tourist saying “I’m British, I’m British” to a toy parrot that repeats whatever it hears.)

In addition to these papers, Andrews edited the book Tourism and Violence last year (which includes a chapter of “tales from the Balearics” drawing on her fieldwork) and co-edited a 2012 volume titled Liminal Landscapes: Travel, Experience and Spaces In-between.

“There are very good reasons for studying that group of tourists,” she argues. “I’m interested in how people understand the world about them, how they make meaning, questions of identity, who I am, who they are. In Magaluf, there were people making meaning, having a strong sense of self and identity. I wanted to find out about that.”

Furthermore, Andrews seeks to analyse people’s deeper motivations for travel, beyond the obvious level of “We’re going for the sun” or “We need a break”.

“You can go to a nightclub or have a fry-up in the UK,” she points out, “so why do you need to go to Spain and do that in a warmer climate? Why do you need to go there for a break – or indeed anywhere? And why do tourists maintain a sense of Britishness when they are somewhere else?”

Although tourism is no longer seen as “a frivolous area of enquiry”, Andrews regrets that “much of the anthropological work on tourism has been written from a middle-class point of view”. Some writers choose to concentrate on tourism in less developed countries, partly because of “contagion from the idea that tourists are bad and travellers are good”, or simply because “many people do research in places where they themselves want to go”. Others focus on themes such as “authenticity, broadening the mind, learning something different, engaging with the ‘cultural other’”, so where does that leave tourists more interested in sticking to familiar food and performing what one of Andrews’ papers calls “an effervescent expression of Britishness”? Those who do consider mass tourism often share her initial distaste but make little effort to go beyond it, adopting a mocking, judgemental or patronising tone.

Whatever the reasons, Andrews believes that “there’s still a paucity of literature” about such tourism, for all its obvious economic and cultural significance, and that “no one else has really written about being with that group of tourists”. She can therefore claim that her 2011 book, The British on Holiday: Charter Tourism, Identity and Consumption, is the only in-depth ethnographic study of “that kind of resort”.

On a return visit to Magaluf a few years ago, she found that little had changed, although male bodies had become increasingly sexualised, too, and one establishment had been imaginatively renamed the Bollocks Bar. She also followed closely an episode last summer when footage of a young woman giving blow jobs in a bar went viral on YouTube. One of her current projects is to examine how incidents such as this, like gossipy fellow travellers and sexually transmitted diseases, decisively disprove the old adage that “what happens in Magaluf stays in Magaluf”.

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