The word evokes many images – almost all of them negative – in the mind of anyone who is not one. Yet, it cannot cease to amaze one, that we can despise the tourist in others, while adopting so many of those . . . er . . . interesting characteristics when on vacation ourselves.
My wife and I recently toured the islands of Greece. I am an anthropologist by training, so invariably we spend a lot of time people-watching, as well as enjoying the sights and scenery. While overall it was a truly memorable and delightful trip, we inevitably encountered a variety of tourists, exhibiting a variety of ‘touristy’ characteristics, all of which we tried desperately to avoid, even though we were, technically, in the ranks.
I swear that what follows is an accurate representation of our observations of fellow tourists.
This category of tourist has a number of sub-groups.
The first is The FogHorn Tourist.
This is the traveller who doesn’t seem to mind announcing, at 100+ decibels, intimate details of their life to the entire world.
“But Henry, I’m sure I packed your hemorrhoid salve! That’s just awful, to get hemorrhoids. And on your birthday too!”
I’ve heard a lot of sad tales, but I’ve never heard of hemorrhoids appearing on someone’s birthday. I always thought they appeared somewhere else.
And another FogHorn, who told the following tale of woe :
“I was so sick! First I was throwing up. My supper and everything! And then I had diarrhea all night! Oh, I tell you, Mildred, it was just awful! I didn’t know which end was which!”
No comment. I only hope that at half time, she switched ends.
Second in the Loud Tourist category is The Anglocentric Tourist. This is the one who believes that any foreigner can understand English if it is spoken slowly, and loudly enough.
“Toi-let pa-per. Toilet paper. You know [insert largely obscene but mostly incomprehensible hand gestures here], TOILET paper. In the BATHroom. TOI-LLL-LET! TOI-LET-PA-PER! IT’S ALL OUT! IN THE TOI-LET!! [more incomprehensible hand gestures]”
One can only smirk when, at the end of this performance, the hotel clerk says, with a straight face and in Oxford English: “We’ll look after it right away, madam.”
The third sub-group in the Loud Tourist category is The Airhead Student Tourist. This category consists of students fresh out of a college semester, who apparently are touring exotic lands for the first time. They can be both Loud and Ugly, and for all their education, are seemingly under the impression that because they are in a non-English-speaking country, they are the only ones on the bus who actually speak English.
The following particular pair stood eight feet apart during a 45-minute bus ride, sharing their intimacies with – they thought – no one, again at 100+ decibels.
“They didn’t check my ticket. How do they know I paid?”
“Well, like, when I first came, I thought the same thing, so once I didn’t buy a ticket, and the ticket inspector came and asked me, and I, like, totally freaked, and they hauled me down to the police station, and I was, like, totally hysterical, and then you know what? Like, then I got my period, and it was just awful, a big mess, and I started crying, and they still fined me 65 Euros, and then they let me go, but on the way home, I was attacked . . . ”
After 20 minutes or so of this, the conversation turned to :
“I am so jealous of you, you’ve had so many loves in your life! Like Jeff. Was he, like, a major love, or just a mini-love?”
“Well, he was kind of a mini-love, but turned into a major love, and I was, like, so totally in love with him, but he dumped me, and I was sad, but I got over it quickly . . .”
When this pair got off the bus, the British lady seated behind us breathed out an exasperated “Thank goodness that’s over!” We struck up a pleasant conversation with her, expressing our mutual pleasure that the Airheads hailed from neither of our respective countries.
This is the tourist who carries:
This particular breed of tourist becomes totally dysfunctional when something – anything – beeps. I took perverse delight in sidling up close behind High-Tech tourists and making the alarm on his watch beep. I have to admit that the unfortunate victim looked like a human windmill as he tried to figure out which toy was making the noise.
Truly amazing to us were the people who spent thousands to travel half-way around the world, only to spend thousands more getting plastered, day after day, in the hotel bar. There were a few on this most recent trip.
“Why, shore, when I [hiccup] was in Australia, they got good wine there, you know [urp], the bar at the Hilton had ‘em all, it was great . . . [hiccup] . . . an' I even got to see one of them weird kangaroo thingys . . . "
These hapless souls are the ones standing on a corner peering at the street signs, while wrestling with an indecipherable, gigantic map that is desperately trying to be a kite instead of a map.
The same ones you will see, two hours later, on another corner a block away, with the same map.
In the same wind.
And the same helpless, confused look on their faces.
“Harriet, I know we’ve been here before. I remember this bakery.”
“Are you sure, Harry? I don’t remember a bakery. I don’t recognise anything!”
Harry then squints at the street sign.
Harry then turns the map upside down.
And peers at the street sign again.
And at the bakery again.
“Just give me a minute. I’ll figure this out. What street is our hotel on again??”
“Look, honey, your favorite perfume. L’Air du Temps. Look at the price! It’s really cheap here.”
And suddenly a helpful, friendly third voice joins the conversation. It is the Know-it-All tourist standing next to you who jumps in to show off his or her supposed knowledge about the country you are visiting.
Or anything else.
“Oh, yes! It’s because Greece is part of the European Union now, and they can get things from other countries in Europe really cheap. That’s a marvellous French perfume. L’Air du Temps. That means Birds in Flight, you know. I’ve been to France three times now . . . . . ”
“Take this back! This is . . . this is disgusting.”
The Obnoxious Tourist is rejecting his meal in a four-star restaurant.
As loudly as he can. For the whole restaurant to hear.
“But sir,” objects the server in her faltering English, “eet is zackly what you order.”
“I didn’t order no #@&% rabbit-food crap like this!”
“Sir? Did you not order the horiatiki?”
“No, @#$%&*. I ordered the @#$&% Greek salad!”
“But sir, that is what horiatiki means. Greek salad.”
“Well, %$#*& it, why didn’t you tell me there were $%#$ black olives in it! I hate olives! They don’t make Greek salad like this back home. Why don’t you @#$%& foreigners learn how to make it right!”
There are several sub-species in this category as well.
First is the Intellectually Insensitive Tourist, (as in just plain stupid).
“Sir? Sir! Sir, please don’t touch . . . Sir, please don’t climb on the statue! Sir! Sir!? . . . . Security!!”
Next is the Socially Insensitive Tourist.
“Sir, this is a no-smoking area . . . .No, sir, that rule applies to everyone, not just to Greeks.”
And, there is always the Culturally Insensitive Tourist.
“Excuse me, sir, like the sign says, photography is not allowed in the Church . . . . well, sir, because it is a sacred place, sir . . . . well, maybe not to you, but it is to the local people, and out of respect . . . . How would you feel . . . . Oh, I see, well . . . er . . . Churches are places where millions of people go to worship . . . . “
The Invisible Tourist
Alas, I must confess, we fall into this category.
We try hard to blend in.
Not to be Loud.
We try desperately to learn a few phrases of the local language, and practise them rigorously.
We eat the local food.
And pretend hard that we omnivores really enjoy boiled octopus and eggplant mush.
We take the bus. And the subway. We refuse to be seen emerging from a taxi.
We are invisible.
At least, we would like to believe no one can tell that we are that most abominable of creatures, tourists.
But still, people know.
Somehow, they know.
They speak to us first in English.
How could they tell?
Maybe it’s the lobster-red, sunburned noses.
Maybe it’s the broad-brimmed sun hats we wear, out of mercy for our noses.
The ones in which no self-respecting Greek would be caught dead.
I think I get it now.
Maybe it’s the small Canadian flag.
Embroidered on our shirts.
And the flag pins on our hats.
And the ten pound camera hung unobtrusively around our necks.
And the brilliant whiteness of winter legs sticking out of really scary Bermuda shorts . . .
Maybe we're not so invisible after all . . . .