You find them the world over … drawn to the busiest street, squares and monuments and surrounded by others of their kind.
They’re snap-happy, swaddled in fleece and Gore-Tex and usually standing aimlessly in the middle of pedestrian thoroughfares. Ginormous maps protrude from their hands, bum-bags pad their midsections, guidebooks add bulk, and backpacks bring up the rear. Their eyes never focus at what lies in their path, but can be found darting towards the spires of distant churches, the elaborate window displays in shops adjacent, or just generally everywhere else apart from their immediate spatial vicinity.
They are immediately identifiable, their uniform is universal, their objective clear as day to everyone around them. And what would that be, you may ask? To tick off ‘must-sees’ in their guidebooks, to rather compulsively take copious amounts of photos of absolutely anything they come across … paper bag blowing in the breeze? – “Quick get a shot of that, love! Take a few in case it doesn’t come out.” Thank heavens for the digital camera – especially so for that handy ‘delete’ button.
Their true aim, however, is to arrive somewhere exotic or historic, stay there for a short amount of time, an hour or two, or perhaps a day or two, see those ‘must sees’. And most importantly, to be able to say –”I’VE BEEN THERE!”
Locals have a kind of love / hate thing going on with tourists. The bottom line is that they’re spectacularly good for the economy. In fact, so good that there are many global destinations in which tourism is by far the largest source of revenue. That’s not to say, however, that tourists are treated with anything like the reverence they deserve, for their life-preserving cash injections.
Indeed, quite the opposite is usually true. Travel to any major tourist destination, especially in Europe, and you will often encounter disinterested, jaded and half-hearted service. That’s if you are lucky. If you’re unlucky, you will get rudeness, unpleasantness, and even blatant dishonesty. Hence the old ‘tourist rip-off’ in the ‘tourist trap’.
And then there’s the food. If you’re in Europe, stay away from the joints close to the major attractions. Unless you have a penchant for badly prepared, carelessly served slop which most of the time, puts the culture it’s supposed to be representing to utter shame.
It’s extremely sad, actually. Why don’t the locals care?
I have a few theories … First, the more beautiful and popular a place, the worse the attitude of its inhabitants. For example, if you’ve got a stunning, untouched walled medieval city, then who needs any other charms? People will come to see it even if you’re a sour faced, money-grubbing so-and-so. Similar to the all brawn and no brains theory – if you look pretty, it doesn’t matter if there’s not much inside.
Second, locals get kind of tired of crowds of randoms gawking, and zoom-lensing – blocking up the middle of the footpath when they’re trying to go about their daily chores. They get tired of everyone assuming they speak English. And they mostly get tired of their hometown being hijacked by interlopers, day in and day out, all year around.
Even though they know that tourism is really great for the economy and such, it still is a pain having loads of clueless strangers who don’t speak their language or understand their culture in their space every day, when really – they’re just trying to go about their business. This is fair enough – but it calls for compromise.
A show of patience from locals towards visitors, as well as an awareness and respect from tourists for the fact that the place they are visiting is a functioning entity in which people try to go about their daily lives in peace, and that such a destination does not exist solely for the pleasure of those who visit it.
Sure, tourists in their most clichéd, overblown sense can be figures to poke fun at. But on the other hand, they’re just people trying to see the world. And let’s face it – it can be pretty tough negotiating a path through a place you’ve never been to before.
Booking flights and accommodation is a minefield in itself. Then there’s language barriers, map deciphering, exchange rates and jetlag. All that effort to get somewhere so warrants a bit of gawking and snap-happiness, don’t you think?
The full-time inhabitants of these incredible spots could really show a little more pride in their live-in postcard vistas. As I’ve always said, a little pizzazz in the service department goes a long way. Even a smile is a great start!
And to genuinely help someone out, to make their day better – well it just makes you feel better too, doesn’t it?
That is, of course, until you’re racing across the square to get to the bank before it closes and a Gore-Texed one apprehends you with, “Which way to the leaning tower?”