Why is it that tourists, irrespective of their origin, are all fat, badly dressed and generally abominable?
I’ve spent the last week between Rome and Florence on a sort of vacation – I say “sort of” because the idea of a vacation is an invalid concept to someone that enjoys and is fulfilled by their work. Lured by my father who is here for a medical conference and the chance to accumulate frequent flier miles while doing some freelance travel writing, I agreed to come along.
Having lived for five years in New York and for the past year in Los Angeles adjacent to Hollywood Boulevard – the Times Square of the West – I harbor a deep-seated loathing of the tourist, their slow sandaled gait and wide fanny-packed girth blocking the way of people who have places to go and things to do. In New York, their presence turns SoHo into an unbearable, crushing hell. Near my apartment, they flock to The Boulevard, their cameras pointed to the ground where they snap pictures of names etched in concrete.
Generally I can tolerate tourists in America as they tend to self-segregate in areas that can be easily avoided. Europe, on the other hand, has become a kind of adult Disney World overrun by the most obnoxious outcasts of First World countries. Try to enjoy historical sights such as the Duomo in Florence or the Piazza Navona in Rome and you will experience Dante’s Inferno…or at least what Sartre meant when he said “Hell is other people.” I’d correct him though to specify that Hell is filled with tourists on eternal vacation.
It is worth specifying that there is a marked difference between the tourist and the visitor. While the tourist sets out with their guidebook earmarked with things they must “see,” the visitor has a completely different intention. They may travel to a place to see friends or for work, but they almost always integrate into the place they visit. When approached from this perspective, the experience of travel is enriching both to the traveler and the local.
The problem with the tourist for me, besides being an aesthetic one, is a moral one. Ralph Waldo Emerson summed this up best when he wrote, “He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.” Fundamentally, those who travel for tourism seek only the most superficial interaction with the world around them. They visit Rome without meeting a single Roman, they believe they have experienced Paris because they climbed the Eiffel Tower. These are the type of people who scoff at the idea of eating escargot, but gladly swallow down fits fulls of McDonalds. They are better off visiting Epcot where they are given the same abridged version of a culture but won’t be bothered by the pesky need to converse in a foreign language, deal with foreign customs or even change their money as they traipse from Disney China to Disney Canada in a single block.
Avoiding museums and monuments, I’ve had a lot of time while sitting in cafés smoking cigarettes and drinking espresso to think about how tourism could be improved, both for the (overly) casual traveler and the local. I have a few ideas I’d like to propose to the European Union to better the lives of its citizens that are forced to interact with the roving cattle that come through customs.
- Visitors to Europe must pass a culture exam at their point of arrival. They will be given a vocabulary test with basic phrases such as “Hello,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “Excuse me,” “How are you?” “Good,” and “Goodbye.” They will be detained indefinitely until they have passed. Anglos are the worst transgressors of this basic decorum, which shows an utter lack of respect for the local people.
- Luggage is inspected with the following items confiscated and burned: tennis shoes, Ugg boots, glitter anything, tank tops, cargo shorts, hoodies, flip flops, Crocs.
- Mandatory makeovers at checkpoints for the most egregiously dressed. This is especially useful for travelers from the United States, the UK, Germany, and Russia. Jean shorts and stretch denim will be replaced with a rental uniform imagined by a designer of repute. Giorgio Armani could dress visitors to Italy and Karl Lagerfeld those to France.
- A USB card filled with professional photos of national landmarks will be given to each tourist upon arrival, compliments of the country, so they are free to actually observe monuments rather than pollute the space around them by taking pictures that will be neither unique nor nowhere near as good as ones that have been published for hundreds of years.