In the old days, the most dreaded sentence from a friend back from a vacation was, “You must come home and watch the videos.” You sat there, oohing and aahing at irregular intervals as your friend, his spouse and three children explained every single detail, sometimes talking all at once. Your smile steadily faded, your head began to droop and you made excuses to leave the room, but the video was thoughtfully rewound so you didn’t miss anything.

I recently came back from a holiday to find that the contemporary sport is “competitive vacationing’’. There’s always someone who has seen more, heard more, done more at the place you just visited. 

“Isn’t New York lovely this time of the year?” It’s a trick question. If you say something like, “Hmm, not particularly,” your friend will launch into a long list of things you have missed. Did you see this, did you go there, did you know that behind this is that – the barrage continues. It usually ends with, “Frankly, I don’t know what you did there. It was hardly a vacation, was it?”

Or you say you went to Paris. And he will respond with, “You know that lovely eatery on such-and-such arrondissement behind the church where Jean-Paul Sarte (or was it Jean-Paul Belmondo? These French footballers all have similar names) met his girlfriend? That is not on the tourist map, only a few of us know.”

You hang your head in shame, cursing the day you decided to go to Paris, your holiday now ruined by a French footballer no one has heard of who speaks through the medium of your friend.

I spent a week in Colombo, you say. Tentatively, since you have been burnt before. That’s nothing, says a friend, you should have gone to Cape Town, and then proceeds to give you a verbal version of the old vacation video. But I love Colombo, you say, and love to holiday there. You really should go to Chile, says someone you have just been introduced to at the same party, adding, “I have always wanted to go there.” Gently disentangling yourself from his dreams, you come up against someone disentangling himself from another conversation.

“I heard you were on vacation. Where did you go?” you ask, getting in the first punch. And whatever he says, you say: “Ah no. You should have gone to _ ”, naming any city he hadn’t gone to. That’s one of two ways to deal with competitive vacationing.

The other is to say you happily vacationed at home. No one can tell you then that there is a small place just behind your kitchen where you can get better home-made food.

More from Suresh Menon: