Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tourist Invasion

Why is it that some travelers find it so difficult to make even the slightest attempt at blending in? It seems like it should be an easy enough proposition: You take a look around to see what others are doing and you try to do likewise. But after days of feeling inexplicably overwhelmed by spring breakers and cherry blossom viewers, a colleague offered an explanation for my sense of invasion. "They don't blend in at all, do they?" she said, "They don't even try. Tourists in DC are just so obvious." I thought she might be on to something there.

From dressing head-to-toe in American flag clothing, to letting their kids treat the subway handrails like monkey bars on a playground, I started to think that tourists in DC have far from mastered the art of respectful travel. They try to shove their paper metro tickets in turnstiles that are microchip card only. They move in non self-aware crowds, taking up all the space on our generous sidewalks and squeezing out the average resident. Sometimes I wonder if they realize that there are people in this city who are trying to conduct their daily lives. We're trying to go to work, to class, to the store, and home. Is it too much to ask that you take 30 seconds to notice that Washingtonians don't stand on the left side of the escalator and therefore you shouldn't either? How difficult is this? We've even put signs up in the trains calling such non-right side standers "Escalefters," in an apparently vain attempt to inform outsiders of our local social norms. It might sound unbelievable, but I notice the American tourists in this American city way more that I ever did in Paris. What gives?

For many, Washington, DC is a logical choice for a vacation. There are loads of free things to see and do, it's an incredibly family-friendly city, and it's the nation's capital giving it a natural draw. I fully support anyone who decides to pay us a visit (especially my dearly missed friends and family!). However, I can't help but be reminded of how doing like the Romans do has always increased my enjoyment of any given trip. Am I way out of line in thinking DC tourists should attempt the same? Maybe I'm expecting too much, or being too critical. After all, there are plenty of DC visitors who don't turn themselves into spectacles. Maybe I need to give the ones who do the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I need to get over it. Maybe, just maybe, I'm the one who needs a vacation.


Cancemini4 said...


Zhu said...

I had no idea it was such a popular vacation spot among Americans. I guess it makes sense though...

American tourists in Paris were also spotted easily last week-end: they were the one with the "eco tour" tee shirt riding these ridiculous two wheels "trotinettes" (sorry, I have no idea how to describe that!).

That said, I'm not making fun of American tourists. Italians can be quite... touristy in Europe too, and I'm not even mentioning French trying to speak with the local accent in Quebec!

Liz S said...

I'm so glad someone else feels this way! It's the same exact thing in Chicago, and I'm not discriminating - it's American tourists as well as tourists from all over the world.

I live downtown and as the weather is (finally!) warming up, tourists are yet again filling up the city like crazy. They take over the sidewalk, totally disregarding anyone who is trying to walk faster than a casual stroll. They take pictures while standing on bridges and take their sweet time, despite blocking people who live in the city from going about their day.

If anything, from this I've learned about how to be a better tourist when I go out of town!

Thanks for this post!

Tanya said...

@Zhu, It's a very popular vacation spot for Americans. Especially families and school groups. This time of year, the middle and high school students are out here in droves.

@Liz, I love your point about learning how to be a better tourist by observing others. So true! Thanks for bringing that up.

Nomadic Matt said...

tourists! gaahh! i hate them....but i do love dressing up in an american flag and listening to patriotic country music b/c 9/11 changed everything and george bush is my hero

speaking of dc, ill be there in June and we are getting together...its done

julie said...

Thanks so much for saying this- it's something I've wondered (and been annoyed by) for years!

Tanya said...

@Matt, Yea! Can't wait!

@Julie, I'm so glad to see people feeling the same way I do about this. I thought this post wouldn't attract agreement, but it definitely has.