Saturday, May 26, 2007

What is a Tourist?

All of us think of ourselves as ‘tourists’ at some time or other in our vacation travels. And being unsure, as we are, what tourists do to segregate themselves from the natives of a particular locale, we re-color ourselves, in bright tourist clothes. And we do the obvious. Group around guides in the town square with cameras at the ready. Or ask a total stranger to take a picture for us. And of course we all wear sunglasses. But the rest of the time we just end up staring in a puzzled way at other tourists with the hope that we might pick up something more, some other subtle nuances on how tourists are supposed to act.

So, although vacation is a pleasant escape from our normal work-a-day world, don’t be kidding yourself. There is a job to be done while on vacation and we are all mindful of it though, for some strange reason, we never speak of it – the tourist thing. We know that being a tourist is far more than just being a traveler. In reality, the tough part of the job is to be a good enough ‘tourist’ to deserve the label while not in motion.

But because ‘being a tourist’ is a sporadic and temporary identity, we don’t know really what it is that segregates tourists (beside colorful loose-fitting clothes). We can find manuals on how to be a good camper, a good golfer, even on how to behave when visiting the queen, but there are no manuals with rules on how to be a ‘tourist’ (aside from marketing information about guides, routes, sights, restaurants, and hotels). But we don’t need so much to know what to see and where to go – we need to know how to do the job.

Cause when we are tourists we prefer to be seen as tourists. It’s an integral part of vacationing. I think in the back of our minds, it is even part of what we are paying for. It’s important that we understand it more fully. It is our identity in a foreign place where we have none.

And so I have to wonder, ‘Can being a tourist be so hard?’ Seems like it is, because despite my best efforts, I still feel a deficiency that is bothersome.

For me, this is an immediate concern because in a few weeks I am going on vacation. So if you know any specific tourist mannerisms, movements, looks, that will help me with this specific identity, tell me quick, before the plane leaves the tarmac. I will enjoy my vacation so much more if I know I’ve got this tourist thing down pat.

And when I do get it down pat, and I get home from vacation, what the heck—that’s one book-publication niche that isn’t over-saturated—so then I’ll write the manual. And you just watch that baby fly off the shelves.


Matty said...

I don't know much about being a tourist..because I've never been anywhere...and funerals don't count! But I have heard it said..that tourists get away with everything. Yep! It's okay to take things from hotel in bathrobe's..soap, ashtray's...hell, even the sheets....I heard they expect it...and you can be loud and demanding, after're 'on vacation'. Also, if in Rome, do as the Romans do...and pinch some 'butt'....but don't do it in might cause some poor old guy to have a heart attack! Not good!
And don't do some 'wild n crazy stuff' that your kids will never get to see... hopefully with the hubby...and if not....what is room service for? I'm just kidding......tell calm down!
Seriously, I'm very glad to hear you're going on vacation! I think you need a well-deserved vacation.
You go and enjoy yourself.....don't worry about us..we'll manage....somehow...someway, (sigh),,if it means 'soup kitchens..and wallowing in filth...don't worry..we'll go ahead and enjoy yourself! Don't forget to take some pics......hope to hell you're not going to a nudist colony!
But go ahead...enjoy...we'll manage!
By the way..when are you coming back??

Roberta S said...

matty, I love enlightenment and I found it in that comment. I need to be loud and demanding and I intend to be. Arrogant, that's what I'll be. And ruthlessly foolish as well. The two things together is what makes a 'tourist'.

Actually we are going on our vacation at the end of June. Only five days but I know now how to make the best of it.