Friday, August 30, 2013

Museum etiquette

Odds are, your next trip will involve seeing a museum. And I'm a huge fan - actually, I used to be a volunteer archivist at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and have a deep and abiding love for museums. I even worked an entire chapter about museums into my master's dissertation, so I like to think I know a thing or two about how they operate. Also? Learning is awesome.

But since museum-going is a huge part of the travel experience, and museum-goers are often a mash-up of folks from different cultures and habits, all tossed together, it's worth really considering your behavior carefully when you're in one...

Museums are for contemplation

People visit museums - of all kinds, art or natural history or science - to teach themselves something new. When that might be difficult, museums offer a lot of other ways to learn, such as audio or human guides. And in the best scenarios, visitors might be sincerely moved by something they are seeing, and have an emotional reaction. So please keep your voice and phone quiet, to support your fellows as they dive into pieces that they might really connect with.

Put the camera down

This is a contentious one, but I really, really resent when visitors photograph nonstop in an exhibit.

If it's a major piece at an art museum, odds are they are selling images of it in the gift shop - images that don't have the glare of protective glass, or the awkward angle necessitated by staying behind a rope or laser barrier. Part of it is the fact that I have been an art scholar, and I know how much it means to artists to have viewers really invest themselves in experiencing a work. In the performing arts, people can become downright warlike, because the moment itself is so vital to the piece.

But mainly it's just rude. Camera users tend to become less aware of their surroundings, because they're distracted, and they often (even unknowingly) block other people from getting close because they feel awkward getting in a photo. If you really feel compelled to record a piece, wait until others are out of your way.**

Take responsibility for your stuff

I considered the old "watch your kids" rule here, but let's be serious - you should probably be looking out for all of the people and things you bring in with you! (However, if you are a teach: watch your kids! As a tourist I often find myself at museums during prime school-tour-time, and the chaos can be appalling).

Tourists carry lots of stuff with them (though I don't think you usually need half of it), from backpacks to coats to strollers to maps to camera bags, we all need to watch it. Just like on the subway,* you are in an enclosed space and should actively force yourself to be aware of how your presence impacts the people around you. You take up space. And so do they.

Use the coat check

Pretty much every museum has them. And while it's tempting to save a dollar or five, this is really the way to go. You'll get less tired, and the people around you won't be dodging your parka arm.

*Oh man, subway etiquette is one I should TOTALLY write about...
**Ditto when you're on a sidewalk. As a city gal, I beg you not to stop in the middle of the pavement - it scares the life out of me when I walk into you...

(images via and via, Creative Commons)

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