Picture?

There’s an odd trend I’ve noticed while traveling through Asia. Asian tourists and locals frequently come up to me (and I’m sure other foreigners) and ask to take a picture with me. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the concept of wanting to take a picture with a complete stranger when the only words you’ve exchanged with them were “Picture?”

What is the drive behind this? I understand wanting to take pictures of blonde people or curly-haired people  because they are exotic looking, but I have brown hair and my hair is pulled back in a bun most of the time when I travel, so the curls aren’t evident. Why they would want a picture with me is a mystery.

What do they do with the pictures they take? Perhaps they go home and make up a story about us being best buds and having lunch together. Or do they show it to their friends and family to give them an idea of what some of the many foreigners in the area look like? A more boring possibility is that they do absolutely nothing with the pictures and they sit there on a hard drive untouched forever.

I wonder if people print out the pictures they take with foreigners. Maybe some people have an entire mantel full of framed shots of them with uncomfortable looking foreigners.

Maybe they’re all in on a website for awkward shots with foreigners. Maybe it’s part of some kind of contest to see who can get the most pictures with random awkward foreigners. It could be the “planking” of Asia.

One of the many awkward pictures of me floating through Asia. This one was taken in Thailand during a homestay and despite their eagerness to take a picture with me, it looks like nobody wants to be in the picture except for me.

The most uncomfortable pictures are when people ask if they can take a picture and then drag over their resistant kid or wife who has no desire to pose for a picture with you.

Recently I’ve actually started declining these photo “requests”. People have become more brazen about asking for pictures or even sneakily taking them without you knowing. When I’m enjoying a beautiful view with my boyfriend I don’t want to be interrupted to take a picture with a stranger for no good reason. Nor do I appreciate three locals whipping out their cell phones to take photos of me while I’m enjoying a sunset. It wouldn’t annoy me so much if I was the only foreigner in the area, but I just don’t get it if it’s a tourist destination where many foreigners come traipsing through.

I was walking on a bridge by myself in Seoul one morning and at the top of the bridge were two middle-aged ladies with fancy DSLRs taking pictures of the view. Almost as soon as I saw them, they spotted me and their lenses immediately started focusing in my direction. I was the only other person on the bridge and I was far enough away at that point that I didn’t care. I figured they would stop snapping pictures of me once I got closer. That would be the polite thing to do at least. As I got closer and closer their cameras didn’t move and they stayed on me still even though I was no more than 6 feet away from them. They must have been inspecting every single pore on my face with their telephoto lenses. They were blocking my path and I had to look away and shade my face with my hands to avoid their clicks.

In a city like Seoul where foreigners aren’t an uncommon sight, I was pretty ticked off by their rude behavior. If I were in a remote village I would understand their desire to take pictures out of curiosity and my exoticism, but in Seoul I found it ridiculous.

I have started asking  people why they want a picture with me, but so far I’ve received no intelligible answers. If anyone out there can answer any of my questions as to why these pictures are taken and what they do with them, please post your answers below.

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