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As Tourism Resumes after Pandemic, Alaskans Again Face Stupid Questions from Visitors

After seventeen turbulent months of suspended travel, tourists are again flocking to Alaska this summer, bringing a much-needed boost to local economies and a seemingly endless barrage of silly questions about life in Alaska. 

At Big John’s Truck Stop in Soldotna, where a constant stream of summer visitors stop en route towards fishing charters, cashiers keep a running list of memorable tourist queries. The list offers a comprehensive look into the mindset of tourism in the post-COVID environment. Among them:

  • Can I fill the gas tank for my RV from the Alaska Pipeline? 
  • Where do they offer moose rides? 
  • Is there an income tax here?
  • Where is the nearest public transportation? 
  • How long do I have to stay to get my free 1000 dollars? 
  • Can you see the northern lights in the summer? 
  • Can you really see Russia from Sarah Palin’s house?
  • How do you sleep when it is dark all winter? 
  • Do you think we could save the polar bears by teaching them to pull dogsleds? 
  • Where can I buy souvenir glacier ice? 

On the Homer Spit, gift shop owner Marcus Wilburn chatted with a reporter while restocking moose nugget earrings. “Oh my God, I had a guy from Indiana who asked me if we accepted American dollars. I’m glad for the business, but I’d forgotten how annoying lower-48ers can be.”

The mystique of Alaska apparently looms so large that even urban dwellers face a scourge of thoughtless queries. Sarah Connor, who lives in a one-story ranch home in an Anchorage subdivision, was asked how she kept her igloo from melting during the summer by a couple from Iowa in the checkout line at Safeway. 

“I told them that the issue isn’t the melting, but the fact that penguins are constantly trying to get in and shit all over the floor,” she said.

Cruise ship visitors to Southeast Alaska seem to ask the stupidest questions, so Ketchikan and Skagway residents have been grateful they will be spared some of the more obnoxious interrogations this summer, at least until the boats return. 

“It’s been worth it,” Skagway jewelry shop owner Dave McCandless said of the drop in tourism. “Sure, we lost 80% of our jobs when the cruise boats stopped showing up, but at least no one is asking me if I had to mine the gold for the earrings myself.” 

Italian theorist Carlo Cipolla’s 1976 essay titled “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” makes a groundbreaking argument for understanding the phenomenon of dumbass tourist behavior. By Cipolla’s reasoning, one reason so many Alaskans are surprised by idiotic questions has to do with our ability to, “constantly underestimate and forget the prevalence of stupidity in daily society.” 

Outside Homer at the Fritz Creek Store, across the street from their homestead, Otto Kilcher blamed the numerous Alaska reality TV shows for the endless stream of foolish questions from tourists. “It blows my mind how many people ask about us,” he said. “They legitimately believe we will starve to death in the winter if we don’t harvest a griz off the back porch every spring with a slingshot.” 

The owner of the Fritz Creek store, Kim Barney, interrupted our interview to point out that Mr. Kilcher himself appears in a reality TV show (Alaska: The Last Frontier) that makes Alaskans look like morons. Kilcher is hardly alone in performing for cable television audiences, as 2020 census data indicates that 47% of all Alaskan residents have been featured in at least one reality TV episode.

“True,” said Otto, picking up his sandwich order from the counter and heading out the door to drive three miles into town . “But we sure aren’t go starve. You all make the best damn muffaletta sandwich this side of New Jersey!”


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