‘Postcard from a Travel Snob’ is a comical poem by Sophie Hannah which explores different ideas of what a ‘holiday’ actually is, adopting a satirical and humorous approach. Hannah is an English crime fiction author and poet who was born in 1971 in Manchester. She has written several books of poetry, and often uses surrealism, juxtaposition and humour to explore personal topics.
This poem is part of the Time and Place Poetry Anthology for Edexcel GCSE English Literature.
‘Postcard from a Travel Snob’ Context
There are a variety of important contextual factors that help influence a reader’s interpretation, and unlike others in the Time and Place Anthology, they are largely centred around the content of the poem rather than the poet. Specifically, these are the ideas of package vs adventure holidays, and how these different types of holidays relate to traditional ideas of class. Hannah effectively uses this context to help support the satirical tone of the poem, and offer a light-hearted criticism of those who could describe themselves as a ‘travel snob’.
The poem relies on an awareness of stereotypical ‘party holidays’ that take place in tourist hotspots such as Ibiza and Majorca. Holidays in these locations are heavily associated with the “karaoke nights”, “pints of beer” and “sangria” described in the poem, with many young British tourists visiting and often consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. This has been such a persistent problem that in early 2020 the regional government for these areas introduced new laws restricting the sale of alcohol in tourist hot-spots. These locations are easy to visits thanks to package holidays, cheap flights and hotels.
There are also different references to class in the poem, integrated through the use of semantic fields. This ranges from class in the traditional sense, with the phrase “perish the thought” often associated with middle-class dialect, to “connoisseurs” and “anthropologist” which can been related to intellectual class. This is the opposite of language used to describe those enjoying package holidays, such as “small-minded-pacakage-philistine” and “drunken tourist types”.
Glossary of Terms from the Poem
- Snob: A person who looks down on other people that they think are less important and socially inferior than themselves.
- ‘Perish the thought’: An expression used to describe something as ridiculous or unwelcome, often used ironically.
- Sangria: A type of Spanish drink made from a mix of red wine, lemonade and spices.
- Philistine: A term used to describe a person who is seen to dislike or not appreciate culture and art.
- Connoisseur: An expert, normally used in the context of art, culture or fashion.
- Anthropologist: Someone who studies ancient and present cultures, and human behaviour.
‘Postcard from a Travel Snob’ Analysis
“I do not wish that anyone were here.”
The cliche ‘Wish you were here!’ is a common ending to postcards, so for the narrator to say the inverse – and at the beginning of the poem – would be very surprising for a reader. This comical, arguably satirical, approach would be very memorable, and helps a reader immediately understand the tone of this poem. It’s also important to recognise that rather than ‘you’, the narrator is addressing “anyone”, helping to reduce the likelihood of their later criticisms being seen as directed specifically at the reader.
“not like your seaside-town-consumer-hell”
Many people enjoy many different types of holidays, and in the UK one popular type is a traditional ‘seaside’ holiday, with visitors enjoying arcades, ice cream and relaxing on the beach. The narrator makes clear their dislike (and their snobbish attitude) towards this type of holiday with the description “consumer-hell”, lacking empathy with those who might prefer this type of holiday. The use of hyphens to contract and speed up the line make it seem like a rant.
“There’s not a guest house or hotel // within a hundred miles.”
The enjambment of this line across two stanzas in the middle of the poem helps to add literal distance on the page to the idea of physical difference. There’s also the alliteration of the ‘h’ sound with “house” “hotel” and “hundred”, which places additional emphasis on this idea of travel and distance. It could even be likened to the sound of panting, arising from the exhaustion of travel and movement.
“When you’re as multi-cultural as me,”
Opening the final stanza, this line has a clear tone of superiority. Yet despite its seriousness on one hand, previous descriptions in the poem, plus the poem’s title, arguably result in this line transforming into bathos. The self-righteousness of the narrator can no longer be taken seriously, particularly by applying the description “multi-cultural” to themselves, as it’s used to describe a society or community rather than an individual. It’s important to note that this is an end-stopped line, which places additional emphasis on “me” and contributes to the overall tone of self-importance and superiority. This is much more effective than if there had been enjambment, as the line would have flowed on and this effective emphasis would have been lost.
“I am an anthropologist in trunks.”
An anthropologist is someone who studies cultures and human behaviour, so going from this intellectual idea to imagery of swimming “trunks” is another example of the effective use of bathos. Ending the poem on this memorable line also helps support the view that this poem is intended to be comical and satirical. Some readers may liken the word “anthropologist” to the similar sounding “apologist”, meaning someone who argues in favour or defends something controversial, which would arguably be a more fitting description of the narrator (as the narrator can be interpreted as arguing in favour of holidays having to be ‘educational’ or ‘authentic’).
Themes in ‘Postcard from a Travel Snob’
- Time and Place: ‘Postcard from a Travel Snob’ is part of the time and place anthology. The narrator describes their time on holiday to others in a comical way, comparing it with stereotypical views of British tourists.
- The Present: This poem is written in the present, with key words such as “here” and “is” helping a reader to picture the environment that currently surrounds the narrator. This might make it feel more ‘real’ as a result.
- Unusual and Irregular: Going on holiday is not a normal or frequent event for most people, meaning that they’re memorable – both for good and bad reasons! The narrator makes this holiday sound even more unusual than normal, by expressing their desire to break out of normal stereotypes and experience a more unusual trip.
Quick Focus Questions
- Normal: Imagine three different people who all love a different type of holiday (e.g. skiing, beach, etc). How might each of them react to this poem? Are there any differences or similarities in their reaction?
- Hard: There is frequent use of hyphens throughout the poem, along with a simple rhyme scheme of rhyming couplets. How might this influence the tone and a reader’s interpretation of the poem?
- Challenge: Explore why Sophie Hannah might have decided not to identify where the narrator has gone on their holiday, but did identify the narrator as British.