Experiences

Tourists vs Travelers: The Age Old Dispute


I hate you for being nice: A Tale

When you tell someone you were glad they had a nice vacation, you expect a smile. Maybe even laughter. They just got back from vacation, after all. They should be light hearted.

But then you realize you’ve made a miscalculation. You said, “Glad to hear you had a nice vacation, even if it was in a resort!” with a laugh. You are a traveler, and you know she is too. She has traveled small towns on mountainsides and gone through the shady ends of far flung cities. It’s a common joke among travelers, the difference between glossy tourist zones and the excitement of walking off the beaten trail. You’d expect her to laugh along, or at least appreciate that what you meant primarily was that you were glad she had fun. Being glad is good, right? It’s better than being angry and jealous. But then, it begins to seem she prefers angry and jealous.

But she gets mad, very mad. She says your talk is in poor taste, because nice words are in poor taste. Because my misunderstanding was of something obvious so that obviously means I’m stupid, and participating in an unsavory trade. I never knew I had time with all my studies to get any job, let alone a difficult and illegal job like the one mentioned.

But apparently she went there as a child. Apparently the place means a lot to her, even if it is a fancy resort town and she’s never stepped foot into the real world and nooks and crannies in that country. So she jumps down your throat and attacks you and tells you you are the worst human on the face of the Earth. Because no one on Earth has ever misunderstood something before, and any misunderstandings are obviously a pretense for evil deeds and with the aim of hurting the innocent. There seemed to have been a whole bunch of obvious things going on there that I had no idea of.Who knew implied things were obvious? I sure didn’t. I don’t know when, but those responses made me feel like I had turned into Lux Luthor or something. Maybe even Sauron.  Seriously? Is it that big of a deal, or are you grumpy because you missed lunch today or something? I don’t know if it’s just me, but that seems a bit extreme.

So I backtrack and go all diplomatic. Ah, I’m sorry, please let me rephrase that: the trip wasn’t immersive, rather than authentic. I thought when you said the area was very different when you had first visited and was not a resort town, I’m sorry I misconstrued that and you only meant it was a smaller series of resorts. I had meant that it would be a little bittersweet to see a small town or city turn into a thriving tourist center since your last visit, I’ve experienced that myself and felt rather sad. If it was simply a smaller resort town when you had last visited, it would be very exciting to see how others had begun to appreciate the wonderful place you had spent time as a child. I was not saying resorts are a bad vacation at all, I actually loved visiting Ocean City Maryland with my family as a child and that is very much a tourist oriented area, and we even stayed in a condo looking over the water with straw hats and all the other fun touristing accoutrements. And if it is similar to how it was in your childhood, how great that it has only gotten better! Your photos looked really cool, and would certainly have been authentic to your childhood trip if it was a nasty nest of high rise hotels that way when you were a child. Sorry if I misunderstood you. 

But I know that she’s a grumpy person, and that I shouldn’t casually talk to her again. I never knew there were humans with worse tempers than mine, who also had such skill at misconstruing things. So now I know to never comment on people’s vacations, because they come back grumpy from when their humors got lost when their luggage was misdirected. Sorry for being nice and ignoring the fact that you bragging about your vacations, when we were stuck in midterms and working hard while you were sipping pina coladas, even though such bragging is terribly rude. Sorry I said nice things back anyways. Sorry I care enough to have listened to what you said and even bothered to reply to it. And, if this imaginary person happened to be a blogger and not a person I know in real life, sorry for commenting when no one else had even looked at this post yet. Yeah. Sorry for being nice.

subway
An installment of a series run by the Japanese transport authority warning foreigners, and some forgetful natives, about Subway manners. Music, food and crumbs, or sitting while an old lady stands? For shame.

Travelers vs. Tourists

Besides that though, the whole problem behind this tiff is something many travelers have. Many of us feel that true traveling is where you meet the natives in their own homes and on their own streets, and you see the forgotten neighborhood buildings and statues only the locals know about, and where you have food cooked over a fire pit in some new friend’s house. Where you rough it and maybe get sick and lions are not something you pet and it ends up being the greatest adventure ever.

Then there are others who like to stay in a hotel in some far off country where there are small ‘native’ decorations and hamburgers as well as traditionally inspired food offered at any time of day, and the grounds are glossy and covered with sunbathers as far as the eye can see.  And you are kept well away from the slums or the countryside and you never see the suburbs and homes and learn from the wisdom of people different from you. And they call that ‘traveling’. Many travelers call that touristing instead.

There is great debate between the two groups, and in general they tend to dislike the other camp. Though they may simply not understand each other, as a preference for one or the other usually indicates a difference in your personality in general. I guess. I’m not really an expert, I just thought I agreed with the closing line in this article. In general, I tend to think the tourist zones are a good idea. They bring revenue into the country, and they keep the rude or judgmental people who would inevitably make fun of a native costume or complain about eating fireside, and make it so the locals would hate the true travelers. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine is a small miscommunication leading to an absolute explosion and comments on the virtue of my person. My person is pretty darn virtuous, thank-you-very-much. Maybe that’s why the travelers tend to dislike the tourists, because they can be a touchy lot?

Are you pro-tourist or pro-traveler?

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