Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Bumptious tourists

When I'm on holiday, I'm very conscious that I'm a tourist in someone else's country and I do my best to respect those I meet and not behave like an arrogant prick expecting everyone to fawn all over me.

I was amazed at the selfishness of the two American women who scrawled graffiti on the Colosseum and then took a selfie of themselves and the graffiti. Signs in both English and Italian warn against defacing the walls. Yet they took no notice*.

There are tourists who get hopelessly drunk and pester the locals, who expect everyone to speak English, who poke fun at local customs, or who demand special discounts and concessions. They must annoy the hell out of those on the receiving end, but they're oblivious to how their behaviour comes across.

Of course a lot of things are not the same as home, and I do my best to be patient and flexible. Different security procedures, for example, or opening times, or hotel routines. Why get in a lather over something a bit unexpected? Why not simply adjust to it and relax?

I remember once catching the ferry to Sirmione on Lake Garda. Ahead of us were a group of around 50 schoolkids. Could they issue a single ticket for all of them? No no, each child had to be issued with a separate ticket, which seemed to take forever. But there was no point in complaining - that's the way it was done.

I think a lot of tourists see their holidays as merely a commercial transaction, demanding their money's worth and complaining loudly if they're not getting exactly what they signed up for.

But it's so much more than a business deal. I see a holiday as an invitation to visit someone else's country, a bit like being invited to someone's home, and I try to acknowledge their generosity and indulgence by behaving with courtesy and consideration.

In particular, I'm considerate of all those hard-pressed employees of hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and tourist attractions who are often treated with disdain - if their presence is even noticed.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

*Police reported them for damaging the ancient site. They now face a court hearing.


  1. I'm glad that they are being punished for this act of vandalism. But the truth is there are a lot of clods and idiots around and always have been!

  2. The arrogance of some people is unbelievable.

  3. Jenny: I guess the police jumped on them as a deterrent to all the others who would do the same if they thought they could get away with it.

    Liz: Can you believe they really thought it was okay to mutilate a historic monument famous all over the world?

  4. Didn't Napoleon's soldiers write their names on the sphinx? And Vikings on a Byzantine lion on the Greek coast?

    Why people seem to want to mark their presence is beyond me.

  5. If I understood correctly, a commentator on my post today said it's just a miniscule number of people who misbehave, and they give the human race a bad reputation. Seems to me the number isn't nearly that small! (I might be stretching their meaning to fit a different topic, but I'm still shaking my head in wonder.)

  6. Helen: Yes, this compulsive urge to scrawl something wherever you go is strange. Now accompanied by the irresistible urge to fasten love locks onto bridges.

    Jean: Of course the tourist nuisance may be exaggerated because you can't always tell who are tourists and who the over-exuberant locals. I think groups of tourists are always more brash than individuals. Like all those hen and stag parties in places like Ibiza.

  7. I put it all down to ignorance, sadly lacking in the historical education necessary to gain a respect for such artifacts.

    I remember reading one time that the majority o Americans tend to be the teenagers of the world when in the world: insular, patriotic to a fault to their own flag and with dismally poor knowledge of the world outside the US.

    These vandals seem to confirm this.


  8. When I was growing up, my parents forbid us to write our names on anything, even if other vandals preceded us and it was covered with graffiti. They always said, "Fools names and fools faces, always found in public places."

    I've traveled all over and I'm keenly aware of abiding by others customs. This is especially true in Muslim countries, where I cover my hair and my shoulders.

    I have to take exception to the notion that these two women confirm the premise that Americans are horrible. That's a ridiculous leap. There are thoughtless people from EVERY country.

  9. People love to leave their mark. In fact, ancient tribes did it all the time, but now we consider it art!

    What do you think about the bridge in Paris with all those locks?

  10. I have hardly been out of the country in years. But I remember trying to lay low when I was an 18-year-old in Australia. I knew we (Americans) were not popular there.

    I remember a guy hearing me on a bus and saying, "I hate your accent."

  11. www: As you say, kids are not taught respect for such historical remains.

    But I doubt if Americans are any more insular or unworldly than people from other countries. Insularity is to be found everywhere.

    Agent: Your parents had the right idea, instilling you with proper respect for your surroundings.

    And you're quite right, just because two Americans misbehave, that doesn't mean all Americans are selfish idiots. Likewise not all Brits are drunken, foul-mouthed yobs.

  12. Bijoux: I gather there are now bridges and railings festooned with love locks in just about every city. We found masses of them on a bridge in Berlin last year. Personally I think they're an eyesore but some people find them rather romantic.

    Susie: The funny thing is that Australia has such an American feel to it - the big houses, barbecues, homespun philosophies etc. Any hostility to Americans is pretty ironic.

  13. Ignorant people who need counseling more than condemnation Nick. A lot of such tourists have more money than culture and we need to be a little understanding about their behaviour.

  14. Ramana: That's a very charitable view! Perhaps you're right and they would respond to a quiet word of advice.

  15. Every journey is an adventure for me. I like to experience the life where the locals are. If I disrespect their ways or scrawl graffiti ont their monuments, they will not be friendly and I would be the loser. As Mammy would have said: It all reflects on the home training. Those words some to mind when I see the younger generation putting their dirty shoes on the seats of trains and buses!

  16. Grannymar: If you're invited into someone's house, you don't put graffiti on the walls. So why do it in someone else's country?

    Likewise the habit of putting dirty shoes on seats. Would you do that in someone's living room?

    There's a general lack of respect for public property.