4 Ways to Avoid Being an Obnoxious Tourist
This Monday letter is going to be a little different because there's a topic burning on my mind that I want to write about. It's been trying to worm its way into at least two other recent blog posts so I'm going to ahead and talk about the white elephant.
A RANT ABOUT BAD TOURISTS
After every trip I come home and fume about it. I know, I know. I'm a tourist. I tour my country and other people's countries. I tour the countryside. I tour the city. Tourist. However, I try to be as well-versed as possible about good manners and lifestyle in a destination, and if I become invasive and thoughtless? That is unacceptable. Bad manners in this case explained as behaving in a way that is inappropriate to one's host, which is similar to visiting another place or culture and acting exactly as one would at home.
If you've traveled recently you know that the most difficult tourists to deal with are Asians and Americans. Asians because they are thoughtless travelers and Americans because they have a superiority complex.
Scenario 1 that happened to a friend in Paris
In the mad rush to get a photo of the enigmatic Mona Lisa, an Asian woman was seen propping her phone (or was it iPad) on a stranger's head to get the best shot. Cue much laughter from my friend and probable outrage from the living photo-prop.
Scenario 2 overheard by me in Guatemala
Americans walking in the middle of a street, talking loudly about how there weren't any decent burgers or pizza to be had here, and why on earth couldn't they use the dollar like everyone else?
Disclaimer: I do apologize if I'm generally saying Asian, and have made the mistake of not differentiating between specific countries. Perhaps some are careful, polite travelers. America I refer to as the United States of America, specifically.
These are examples which should not be used to classify these nationalities as a whole, but are a mostly accurate representation of travelers from these regions. Either way it's a problem, and since I can't address the Asian culture I would love to give Americans a few tips.
1. THE SUPERIORITY COMPLEX MUST GO
In one sense I admire the belief that ours is the best country in the world; it's a patriotic belief and people who are using it in this sense generally refer to matters of national importance or the freedoms we have. What it should not refer to is a specific way of living, certain things to eat, or a cultural fingerprint. I like hamburgers as much as the next American, but when I get to another country it is only polite to try their food. After all, why else would you go if not to experience the culture? Almost every culture has unique food
2. FOR THE LOVE OF STYLE, DRESS UP A LITTLE
If there is another country in the world who dresses as badly as the U.S.A I haven't encountered it. To be fair, I admire the easy-going, laid-back aspect here but it feels like we've taken comfort too far. Is it too much to ask to wear clothes that are properly fitted and somewhat beautiful? I can usually pick out an American (or European hippie) from a mile away because they are the worst-dressed. Many countries prize good, clean grooming and it's somewhat jarring when we come with that ugly tee shirt from a long-gone reunion, dirty sneakers, and unkept hair.
Where did the 40s go? We don't have to return to suits and heels for everyone, but a little cleaning up goes a long way.
3. GOOD MANNERS
Then there is the topic which encapsulates it all: good manners. For example. In Paris you generally speak softly in public and take personal calls to a private place. It is therefore, an intrusion to them to encounter groups of jostling, howling tourists. In Central American cleanliness is important. Therefore to go about dirty and scruffy is not going to win any respect from them. In several countries of Africa a woman does not expose her knees. To go wearing short, shorts will be shocking and embarrassing to them, not to mention offensive. In Iraq one does not throw food. Save the breaded football for a later date.
Most of these cultures hold a little grace for people from other places, and this is good manners on their part. They know we don't know all their rules just as they wouldn't know the minutia of our written/unwritten laws. But I think it's common sense to try to learn a little about where you are going. You won't possibly know everything, but even a small effort goes a long way.
4. LEARN GREETINGS IN THEIR LANGUAGE
This is taking your manners from good to excellent. I dropped the ball on this one in Scandinavia and they seemed to be ok with my 'good morning' or 'hi' but it's something I generally try to do. Greeting someone in their own language is a door-opener in many cases, and shows you are aware that you are in their space and happy to be part of their lives.
It is their life after all. I realize the other side of this is that tourism helps their economy and that is a good thing, but in my mind it never excuses rude pushing, selfie-sticks shoved in people's faces, yelling in public, superiority, or thoughtlessness. It's only common sense, or ought to be, that we are on their territory and should behave accordingly. When you are back at home you can eat that hamburger, wear sweats, sit in that easy chair and yell at the game on TV. Maybe they'll join us next time and we can all learn a bit more about each other's sweet spots and oddities.