Summer Thoughts: Tourist!
Posted in Pop Culture by Ken Thomas
Some excellent thoughts on American tourists by a shrewd observer, Eric Felten
. One memorable instance of American tourist stupidity was a comment on the hunting scene featured on a Roman sarcophagus: "Look, they had dogs back then." Your memorable moments?
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Ken: Thanks for this. The Felten essay is good and of special interest because I am working on something called "Among the Americans". I am now amusing myself on my poor attempts to characterize my travels among them, and then among the tourists among them. And then, of course, contemplating my own ill-mannered ways as a tourist, when I really mean to be a traveller. We do have to remind ourselves, do we not, that the world is not really a museum.
how about the cliche story about the city boys coming to the country for deer season where they go back to the hunting shop or wherever they would tag the deer and say they shot one so big they can't get it out of the woods. The country person then follows them to the scene of the kill and explains they just killed a farmer's bull.
Do nations keep museums hoping to remind tourists of the distinction?
We were staying in a hotel near the Place d'Italie. On the first morning, my husband, his sister and I at a big hotel breakfast table, coffee and bread, with a crowd of other tourists/travelers of various nationalities: no other Americans. The siblings were arguing in their noisy Italian/Polish-American way (picture lots of gesture) about where to exchange currency, while I sat in a large, fifth-pregnancy haze of travel-exhaustion. I could read French, some, but had studied for college reading, not travel, though I could also read a menu, probably thanks to Julia Child and often maps, thanks to history. This I mention because I could not completely read the informational leaflet the hotel provided on services in the area, including currency exchange locations. My husband knew me to be stupid and assumed I was wrong in translating what I had read. My sister-in-law believed me. The argument wound on uselessly, mingled with others, for a good twenty minutes.
Finally, a gentleman sitting across the big table from us leaned across and said, "I couldn't help overhearing your conversation." Yes, we laughed. "I hope you don't mind my intruding but..." He, a British business traveler and regular at the hotel told us exactly what we needed to know. We thanked him and my husband added, "How did you restrain yourself from butting in right away? You let us go on like noisy American tourists through your whole breakfast." The nice Brit smiled and said, "It was really none of my business." My husband said, "As an American, that wouldn't have stopped me."
That was quite true. By the next day he was ruthlessly helping any befuddled-looking touristy person, identified by camera and map, in the Metro or museums. That was funny because we only got by on his Italian -- at that time every waiter in Paris seemed to be Sicilian -- my bad French and abject humility. The French seemed to like that latter; we were apologetic and people were kind.
PWS, I am looking forward to your book.