Okay, I promise this is one of my final rants about bad tourists! But really, it is a problem that needs to address and I believe the following essay (composed by yours truly) does address it quite nicely. And I even cite my sources! What could go wrong?
Let me begin where it all started. In the latter part of the 1700s, a popular rite of passage for young Englishmen of noble descent was to take a “Grand Tour” through mainland Europe in search of art, culture, and the roots of western civilization. Due to their great wealth and freedom gained post-University, they would spend months abroad, honing their language skills and mixing with the socialites and aristocrats of the Continent. For many decades, travel was thus reserved only for the elite. As technology advanced, so did methods of transportation, and as those methods modernized, their prices plummeted. With the arrival of the automobile and its widespread use the 1900s, long and treacherous treks in horse-drawn carriages were needless, and when commercial airlines took off in the late 1920s, dangerous crossings of the Atlantic became a thing of the past. In this modern age, to travel to the Old World no longer requires a sponsor from National Geographic and a snazzy pith helmet. Any American can be a trans-Atlantic traveller provided that they have the sufficient funds and the time. This new-found connection with other cultures definitely exciting, as it affords the ability for every tourist to be a small ambassador of their own country, reflecting their society through their behavior towards the residents. Unfortunately, not every ambassador is good, and with the high amounts of un-informed tourists flocking to see Europe every year, these bad ambassadors, also known as “Ugly Americans”, are many in number and voluminous in their incivility.
What exactly is this “Ugly American” I’ve been talking about? The principle isn’t that difficult to understand. The most obvious of all this undesirable creature’s characteristics is complaining. From the moment he touches down on foreign soil to the minute he boards the plane home, he complains about everything under that country’s sun. Food, politics, climate, topography, weird bathrooms, oddly shaped power outlets – the ugly American makes no differentiation. And why does he do this? It’s simply the fact that he does not like different things. He dislikes anything outside of his comfort zone, and he makes himself and his fellow travellers miserable because of it. His second most prominent characteristic is being ego- and ethno-centric. Making condescending remarks based on incorrect presuppositions gleaned from news sources is one of his favorite pastimes. He makes no effort to communicate in the local language, and he treats locals like they’re zoo exhibits, whose sole purpose is for gawking at and having their picture taken by one of the many large cameras slung about his neck. In addition to these pleasure-killing attributes, he is unadventurous. He constricts himself to a pre-made travel plan. He does not allow for going off the beaten path, although it’s probably for the best. He’d most likely get lost and blame it on the local maps. Although this description may seem extreme, these characteristics are common with many inexperienced tourists.
Although it seems that the only bad thing that “Ugly Americans” could cause would be a dampening bad mood, startling and troubling long-term effects exist. The first problem caused by large amounts of ill-tempered tourists is the fact that their bad attitudes convince the residents they interact with that tourists are undesirable, Americans especially. This causes contention between tourist and resident, and makes for very unpleasant interactions. For instance, consider Rome, Italy. The Eternal City, renowned for its museums and status as a religious pilgrimage site, experiences a huge amount of tourists per year, roughly estimated at 30 million in 2011. It should be no surprise, then, with roughly 50 years of bad tourists under its belt, that the residents of Rome should be ill mannered and rude. Many accounts from disillusioned tourists tell tales of snide and rudely incomprehensible tour guides, purposefully confusing curators, and greedy shopkeepers. While some of this unscrupulous behavior is the personal responsibility of the residents, much of it is brought upon them by the equally discourteous hordes of tourists that cavort through their city every year. On the other hand, contemplate the city of Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is the historical capital of Baroque music in Europe, boasting to be the birthplace of Mozart and the hometown of many art and music festivals. Contrasting Rome’s volumes of sightseers, Salzburg is visited by around 5.5 million guests per year, and many of these being European tourists who tend to be less ethnocentric and rude than American tourists. Thus, the city has been less exposed to “Ugly Americans” and still exists in its “pristine” state. As you should expect, the city is clean, hospitable, and the residents are very welcoming and friendly. Fodor’s, a reputable travel advisor website, counts Salzburg in its “Top Ten Friendliest places to Visit in Europe”, preceded only by other less-known places like St. Andrews and the Dolomitis. Therefore, you can see that bad tourists negatively affect the places they visit. Consequentially, this causes more conscientious tourists pay for those selfish actions.
We have a diagnosis of this epidemic; all that remains is a cure to be established. The foremost cause of the “Ugly American” characteristics is ignorance. The “Ugly American” complains about strange things, acts selfishly, and is condescending due to the fact that he simply does not know better. One of the best forms of dispelling this ignorance is by educating tourists with pertinent facts and opinions in order to prevent them from acting in rude and thoughtless ways. A method of keeping countries “untainted” by bad tourists is to make certain that tourists are educated in the methods of etiquette, thoughtfulness, true tolerance, and altruism. Propagation of these methods could include reading material distributed in airports, planes, and information centers, cooperative efforts from the news media, and general integration of morality into society. This education can even begin at a young age. Children can learn from their parents to be tolerant of other people, non-ethnocentric (but still proud of their country), unselfish, and adventurous. Intolerance is inherent in human nature along with every other sin and vice. The only way to combat it is to combat it with the same successful tactics used to squelch selfishness, anger, greed, and laziness; by training children in ways that provide for the realization and suppression of sins, so that when they’re older, they won’t change from the way they’ve been taught. In these ways, the “Ugly American” can be completely annihilated, cities can be kept in their pristine states, the international opinion of the United States can be improved, and most importantly, tourists will have more amazing travelling experiences.
In conclusion, we have noted the existence of that abhorrent being known as the “Ugly American”, identified their characteristics and the harm they cause, and suggested the implementation of an intellectual method of wiping out the behavior. Once this moral education has been completed, there will only be “Considerate Americans” who, in addition to being good “private ambassadors” to the world, will be good ambassadors to one another once they inevitably return to their home country. Works Cited
Gross, Matt. “Lessons From the Frugal Grand Tour”. http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/05/lesons-from-the-frugal-grand-tour/
. Frugal Traveler, A New York Times Blog
, New York Times, 5 September 2008. Web. 21 February 2014.
Messia, Hada. “Tourists in Rome face new tax”. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/01/04/italy.tourist.tax/
. 4 January 2011. Web. 21 February 2014.
Steves, Richard, et al. Europe Through the Back Door.
Emeryville: Avalon Travel, 2007. Print.
Wilson, Allan, “Unwelcoming Unfriendly Rome”. http://live-less-ordinary.com/europe-travel/is-rome-tourist-friendly-bad-experiences
. Live Less Ordinary
9 May 2013. Web. 21 February 2014.
--. “Land of Hospitality”. http://www.salzburg.gv.at/en/en-index/en-tourismussbg.htm
. Land Salzburg
. Web. 21 February 2014.
--. “The Friendliest Places to Visit in Europe”. http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/friendly-locals/
. Fodor’s Travel
. Web. 21 February 2014.
Yes. I spelled it travellers. Sorry, I'm having a relapse.
Anyhoo, advice for tourists to turn them into travellers.
Number 1) Don't follow other traveller's advice (except this and the following).
Why? Well, say you're visiting Ireland, and Suzy who visited last month went to Dublin and came back and she told you it was nasty, the people were unfriendly, and it rained constantly. But when you went to Cork, the people were friendly, it was sunny, and it was wonderful. This goes to show that Cork is better than Dublin. Just kidding!
What I mean is that when other travellers give you their subjective advice about the very localized time and place they visited, they plant premonitions in your mind about that place, and you prepare incorrectly, both physically and mentally.
When I visited Scotland, I was prepared for two weeks of rain. I got two weeks of sunshine, and therefore didn't need that £250 Goretex raincoat.
Same thing happened when I visited Haslital (Switzerland, and future blog post) in January of 2011. I was prepared for ski weather-- snow, wind, and cold. However, it rained half the time, and on the last day it was a sunny 50. When I went back next May, it was in the 40s and rainy, although we were thankfully staying in a chalet above the level of the clouds.
So, moral: that bit of advice Aunt Griselda gave you about Germany's red cows is probably wrong.*
Number 2) The people in the countries you visit are indeed natives, but there's no reason for you to be a visitor. That's a touristy mindset. Treat them like you treat your neighbours, and if you have nasty neighbours, treat them like friends.
Read up on several of the more common customs (from a truthful, verifiable source, not that encyclopaedia Britannia from 1856) that occur daily in the country you're visiting.
Learn a little Slovenian, or Russian, or French, (unless you're going to Vietnam. They'll look at you very strangely indeed if you say "Dober Dan") or a bit of the language from wherever you're going. Try learning from an actual grammar book. Phrases and computer programs like Rosetta Stone help with stock phrases, but I find them remarkably unsatisfying. I like forming my own sentences. But whatever you say, even if you say commencement "commencement" in France (oh yes. I just did.), they'll appreciate the effort and especially appreciate the fact that you're not expecting them to speak your language. You're the visitor after all. Arrogance will get you nowhere.
Number 3) Airport and Plane Etiquette
Here's some basic Airport/plane etiquette to make both your and other traveller's lives easier. It's pretty basic stuff, but in my travels, I've experienced many who simply seem to be lacking all sense of any sort of etiquette. Basic stuff here, people. Airports and Planes aren't "Human-Decency-Free Zones"
In the Airport: You have about a million other fellow-travellers. Be courteous and kind to them. If you're experiencing difficulties, no doubt they are too, so don't ever cut in line and don't interrupt them while they're talking to a airline representative. Don't get offended if they bump into you. Keep in mind that you can't retain your fourteen square feet of allotted personal space when you're in an airport or on a plane. Don't hog seats when you're waiting to board a flight. Does your carryon really need a seat for itself? Probably not.
On the airplane: Move along with the crowd when you're boarding. Airlines generally have young families and elderly people board first, so unless you're a young family or an elderly person, you shouldn't have to worry about possibly running over either party. Seat yourself quickly! You have 7 hours and fourteen thousand different possibilities to rearrange your luggage, so don't try to do all 14,000 of them while other people are boarding. CAREFULLY stow your crap in the overhead bin (and for goodness sake, leave the hatch open), and sit your bum down.
If you're uncomfortable on the flight, once again, wait to situate yourself until AFTER the flight takes off..
Number 4) Be patient. You're in a new country. Either very few or none at all of your normal American/British/Insertcountryhere's basic customs like handshaking, elbows on the table, or left-side-of-the-road are utilised and/or accepted. Read up on the customs from a recent source, like I said up there, so that you know what to expect.
Be patient with things that may not seem to be the same as in your country. Believe me, there is nothing worse than a crabby American tourist who simply can't stand that all the stores are closed at 12 PM on Mondays and bawls out the entirely un-responsible-for-this-travesty clerk in their hotel. Stop fussing and moaning and complaining about how things are back in the States. You're not in the States. You're very far from home, and it'd be best if you enjoyed your time by focussing on the good things and overlooking petty offences and bad things. You'll be so much more unstressed and your vacation will seem more like an exploration if you accept the bad and enjoy the good.
That's all for now, Folks! Come back soon and hear more of my ramblings, if you wish!
*if you have an aunt named Griselda, I suggest you run. Very fast. In the opposite direction.
I am a proud traveller.
I love the bustle and stress in an airport, the dull waiting for the plane to board, the tasteless airline meals and the muddled and confused in-flight movies. These things mean that exciting things don't always come easily.
Unless you have a first class ticket.
I love the excitement and the confusion of visiting a new country with new customs and new sights (wth is a little water fountain doing in my bathroom?). It means that you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.
Unless you're a fussy tourist who wants everything their way, just like "back in the states". (If you're going to complain, go home).
I love interacting with the new people, with their exciting accents (Ever heard a Slovenian-English accent? Oh my gosh. Beautiful), their interesting stories, their hopes for the future, the fact that they are indeed separate people with separate lives, not tourist attractions whose sole purpose is to be "natives".
I love the difficulties and the blissfulness, the frustrations and the felicity, the omg-why-is-this-wifi-slow and the omg-this-pizza-is-amazing moments. They signify that no, not everyone lives exactly the same as you do.
I love drinking out of water troughs in Berner Oberland, diving off cliffs in Liguria, and skiing down immeasurable peaks in Friuli. I love scurrying across dangerous rope-bridges in the Soca Valley, I love hurrying out of the rain in Ljubljana, I love chasing my wind-blown fedora in Trieste.
I am a traveller who becomes a momentary resident of each country he visits and explores, leaving behind another bit of his heart. The heart isn't divided by travel, it's magnified. All the little bits scattered around the globe create this great network of "I understand why they all go to sleep at 12 in Italy", "It's not nice to wish someone gets kicked by a horse in Slovenia", and "Don't step on the PH in St. Andrews."
I am a proud traveller. Take my hand, and become one as well.
Or don't. Your choice, really.
Yep, I'm serious.
Recently, my mum and I (love that british spelling there...) visited the sunny (yes. Sunny. I have proof) country of Scotland. (I think Scotland is a country....I know it's not independent from Britain, but I think it should be. Anyhoo.)
After spending some quality "travel time" in Edinburgh and St. Andrews, my mum and I departed from Scotland (more on Scotland later..I promise), we flew to London and stayed overnight at a nameless hotel (I forgot what it was called)*. We had an 18-hour layover in London, and in a flighty and nearly very dangerous leap from traveler to tourist, my mum booked a cab for us.
The next morning after breakfast, our driver picked us up and drove us about 30-45 mins through morning traffic to West London (Heathrow is well west of London, in case you didn't know). Even though we only had 2 hours in London, we actually got to see a whole lot.
After driving past rows of increasingly fantastically opulent marble homes, we stopped outside of the Prince Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall, where the only decent recording ever of Les Mis (the musical) was made.
A rather poor panorama of the Royal Albert Hall
Prince Albert Memorial
Then we saw Buckingham Palace, and I was incredibly surprised at how close it was to the road (the White House here in the US is like...fourteen miles away from the road and is safely guarded by a three hundred metre tall fence with dragons)...the gates were even open! And unicorns!
Hey there! I'm a teenage guy who loves travelling. Enclosed (?) in this blog post is a horrible selfie that I took in Scotland, just so that you can actually picture me leaning over your shoulder and breathing in your ear as you read these posts.
And in case you really want to know, I'm NOT on Facebook, but I am on that giant conga-line of happy people known as Google+. Yes. And Twitter. Click those pretty buttons up there to see.
This blog/site will be dedicated to telling YOU about the interesting places that either I have visited, or that remain to be seen. I spurn the ordinary, and despise tourists (sorry, I'm a bit of a snob). If you decide to go to any of the places I'm talking about, please don't attract a massive horde of all 1.5 million of your friends, please! My goal isn't to publicise touristy spots, but to enlighten a few people about some little gems that are carefully hidden from the public eye (and which I hope remain hidden....tonnes of tourists might be good economically, but anyhoo).
I hope you enjoy this blog/site (I'm just going to call it a slog..or a blite..never mind, both of those sound horrible), and that you take it any and all of my travel suggestions and/or advice with a grain of salt.
Whatever that means.
The "rather horrible selfie I took in St. Andrews, Scotland".