I’m not sure why, but tourists have been on my mind a lot in the past 10 minutes. (So instead of getting some sleep I write a post about it) I grew up in a tourist town, Virginia Beach, VA. It’s not as big as Washington, D.C., but it have over 440,000 people living there. The city’s economy relied on two things: the massive military presence in the area and tourism. I never went down to the beach much because it was covered in tourists. All along the boardwalk there were shops selling cheap touristy crap and parking was a nightmare. We kind of looked down on tourists. They were like babies that didn’t know anything and made a mess. Admittedly this is kind of a stupid attitude to have when the tourists are bringing in money to support your town, but we still did not respect them. Some people tolerated them, others wished they’d go home. I still feel most people think this about tourists all over the world, at least initially.
I was twelve when I first traveled out of the US. The trip took me to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. The year was 2000 so traveling as an American was a lot easier. The terrorist attacks of 9-11 were a year away and we had not yet started invading other countries at will. Nevertheless, I was fearful of appearing as a loud, ignorant, spoiled American. During the trip I trended to stay quiet and isolated myself from the tour group whenever possible. Unfortunately, a lot of the people in the tour group were loud and obnoxious. I remember taking a carriage ride up to Neuschwanstein Castle and over hearing another group of Americans complaining that they could walk faster than the horse pulled the carriage up the hill. (Then get your fat ass out of the carriage and walk!) I also remember that a lot of the people in the tour group would walk up to natives and automatically start asking questions in fast English. Yes, English is a lingua franca for most of Europe, but I felt this was still rude. How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and started frantically speaking in a foreign language without warning? There are people in the US that love to say “if someone is going to come here, they need to learn the language!” Mostly they are talking about Hispanics immigrating from South America, but I’ve always wondered if these people felt the same applied to them if they visited another country. (Most likely not because I find the people who get upset about these types of things seldom travel outside of their town and are very xenophobic)
That first trip was quite a learning experience. I have since traveled to Europe three times. All three times were when America was under Bush and after the invasion of Iraq, so I had to tread lightly (Despite supporting neither). In order to avoid that horrible American tourist stereotype I developed some personal guidelines for how I act when I’m in another country:
- First off, and most importantly, I try to be humble. I am in another person’s country and home, I don’t tell them how things should be.
- I tend to try and listen more and talk less. I find people really appreciate when someone stops to listen to what they have to say.
- If I need help, I at least make an attempt to speak their language. I know I will butcher it, but I’ve found most people are amazed you even bothered in the first place. When you are open about your ignorance, but give it an honest try, you’ll find most people speak English and are more than happy to help you.
- I try and take as little as possible. Traveling around Europe is not like being on an all-you-can-eat cruise ship, nor is it just a giant theme park. These are people’s homes. Don’t make a mess, take only what you need, and be polite.
- Don’t complain about how things are different. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s hearing my fellow American tourists complain about the lack of creature comforts everywhere. So your room doesn’t have air conditioning and they don’t put ice in your coke, deal with it.
- Try the local foods, even if they may sound weird. I’ve been on trips where all the other people in the tour group wanted was American food. You get that all the time in America! We’re in another country! Try something new!
- Lastly, I try not to look overly like a tourist. I know this is superficial and impossible to completely hide, but I try to minimize how much I stand out. Most tourists are easy to point out. Their clothes don’t match what the natives are wearing, they have a camera out all the time, they’re wearing sneakers or a baseball cap, and they often have some type of fanny/belt pack. I find a simple backpack looks a lot less suspicious and can hold a lot more of your stuff.