Invective Below

Man, I hate tourists. 

Let me say that again.  I hate tourists with an unabiding passion.  Tourists, to me, are ticks that suck the happiness out of life.  Nothing specific happened to bring about this declaration, but I am on staff duty and a bit bored, so I thought I’d share my bile.

Why do I hate tourists?  Let me count the ways.

1.  They go someplace foreign or exotic, then clog up the McDonalds, Gap Store, Gucci, etc.  Don’t they have those in or near Frackville, GA?  Why can’t I go to Denny’s once a year without being crowded out by sunburned yenta from NY?

2. They have no respect for local culture.  I know I’m not the only one who has been in a foreign country and seen Americans get angry that nobody speaks English. In addition, the pace of life is slower or faster some places.  Tourists don’t know how to deal with it.

3. They join tours, go where everyone else goes, take pictures of the things they saw in Frommers, and then go back to the hotel to interact with other people on the tour. Why not just watch the Travel Channel?

Those are just three quick ones.  I will let folks leave more examples in the comments.  Everyone in Boston should have a good 2-3 off the top of their head.

Courtney pointed out to me one time that we like to travel, and wondered if that meant we were tourists.  Hell no!  I have been a tourist only once and I was young and dumb, but at least I ordered from McDonald’s in Italian.  No, I am a traveller when I go someplace.  What does that mean?  I have boiled it down to this simple comparison:

A tourist goes someplace to see things; a traveller goes someplace to experience things.

An alternative to ‘experience things’ is ‘meet people’, but that flows too cutely for me.  What does that mean in practice? I won’t use Ireland as an example of how I travel rather than tour, since it is too easy.  Let’s take my most recent trips overseas, which of course were for work, but they provide a good image of what I mean. 

I frigging loved Afghanistan and Kuwait (especially the British doctors ).  Even some people I work with think I’m nuts.  Why did I like those places?  Because I got to experience the rude beauty of a country that looks like something out of an epic movie (Afghanistan) or a cyperpunk novel (Kuwait), interact with all kinds of different people, and get a bit of understanding how those people live.  I listened to their music on a Grundig radio, ate nan bread with old Pashtun men who didn’t speak English, and listened to the calls for prayer with a weird delight. Awesome.

How about domestic travel?  I went to Courtney’s AO in Northern Virginia recently and tried to get the vibe. I had the most fun in Old Town Alexandria, VA – a town that gives Plymouth and Nantucket a run for their money. I had the least fun at Tyson’s Corner, Arlington, and other places where we were required to go for reasons that will remain hidden. Richmond is stocked with independent bookstores, record stores, restaurants, coffee bars, et al.  It has historic architecture and a cultural identity.  The others are Route 1 in Saugus on steroids, with office parks thrown in at random. The tourists tended to gravitate towards DC or the malls in those faux-Saugi.

That last bit might just be me liking one town over the other, but I can honestly say I didn’t see any tourists in Alexandria, while they were all over the place in the malls I was required to go to.

I’m sure Jake will find a way to light me up, because tourists seem to hit the same nerve in me that ‘cool’ stuff does, but I’m going to put it out there anyway.  Thoughts?

~ by kinshay on 2005-12-30.

No Responses Yet to “Invective Below”

  1. Well… I suppose I’m with you, mostly.

    But then again, I used to feel the same way about Red Sox fans when I was at BU: I thought they were just a bunch of mouth-breathers filling up *my* T trolley like sheep — all going to the same place to do the same thing, and I couldn’t see how it was worthwhile.
    Things change, though. Nowadays I would be one of those cattle on the Green Line (at least occasionally).

    As for tourists, I’m with B — see the things you “have” to see and experience the place. I would certainly never avoid something like the Eiffel Tower because it’s “touristy”. That would be like giving up motorcycles because they were too hip. 😉

  2. Um, I’d like to go to Eastern Europe. You paying? Specifically I want to visit Romania, on account of I speak the language and could probably get all kinds of swag from being an American of Irish descent what speaks their bizarre tribal tongue.

  3. When I go traveling abroad, I’d like to stay with someone who lives there so they can help me get the fullest experience from my trip. Who better to point you in the right direction than a local:).

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