By Mary Kay Seales
We just want “foood!”
My family and I were sitting at a table at a lovely restaurant located right on the sand in Juans-les-Pins, a charming but lively city on the Côte d’Azur. It was a beautiful summer evening, the sun was setting and our bare feet felt luxurious in the warm sand.
Next to us was a larger table with seven or eight Americans seated there. As the man at the head of the table regaled his guests in a booming southern drawl, a story about just wanting ‘foood,’ we cringed. We were wishing we had t-shirts saying “Je ne suis pas Americain.” I’m not American.
On another occasion in Paris, an American family lumbered into a small bakery where we were having a quiet morning café creme, and in overly loud voices decided what they would have – “maybe a couple of them croy-sants.”
Am I being a snob? Maybe. But there is something about travelers who are completely oblivious to the culture they are in that makes me want to scream! Some travelers can’t seem to remember that they aren’t at home, that perhaps they could pay attention to the behavior around them, and try to fit in just a bit.
Last summer I was in Nice at the incredible fountain area near Place Massena, where the Nicoise people come with their children and families in the evenings to sit together, play, stroll and chat. One woman tourist spent the entire time there walking with a selfie stick, talking to it as she guided her absent audience on a tour through the fountain area. I’m not sure she will know what Nice looked like until she gets home and watches her movie.
At the Louvre, everyone runs from famous statue to famous painting, first taking a photo of it, and then standing in front of it so they can take a selfie to capture the moment: “Here I am with the Mona Lisa! Here I am with the Winged Victory of Samothrace!” It seems to be more of an “I was here” moment than an “I am here” moment.
I guess I don’t fault these travelers and tourists exactly because they don’t seem to be aware of how truly obnoxious this behavior is. A troop of thirty people traipsing around Paris, following a leader with a small flag, all dressed in identical t-shirts so they don’t get lost? Aren’t they embarrassed?
None of them wandering off on their own. No discovering little shops in side streets. No sitting at small cafes alone contemplating life and listening to the sounds of a new language. No getting lost, as Chet Baker would recommend.
For me, this all means no real traveling.
Yes, maybe they were there, but they weren’t really THERE!
So wake up, travelers! Remember when you travel, you’re in someone else’s home. Be polite. Say thank you. Ask before touching. Put your camera down for a second and look around! The Mona Lisa is not as amazing as the giant painting behind you. Check that out next time. Find the painting or the room or the sculpture that moves you and spend some quality time with it. Let everyone else move on with their little tour headphones. You can meet up with them later.
With all that in mind, here’s my best suggestion for the next time you travel: Break off from your group, wander aimlessly, have a glass of wine in the middle of the day, buy something you LOVE from some cool little shop. And try your best to get lost.
P.S. Since writing this blog post, I have thought deeply about my own prejudices about travelers. I especially loved the following blog post which talks about the other side of the story:
Further Reading & Links: