Except Me

It's easy to hate tourists: even (maybe especially) when you're one of them.

When I lived in Kyiv, I was annoyed at the crowds along the downtown bridge. In Greece, I sighed at the other Americans yelling across the square to one another. Ireland: I scoffed at the kids taking selfies. Denmark: I rolled my eyes at the couple who asked hotel reception if there was "anything cool to see."

I saw a video last week where an American asked how they should dress in Europe in order to not stand out. The clip was stitched with an answer from another user: "Don't bother, we'll hear you before we see you."

I like to think I'm not that kind of tourist, but this weekend I visited Rome: white tennis shoes, camera and all. I ate overpriced gelato, stumbled English to a cashier, and probably got too loud a couple times. Once I said thank you in French instead of Italian. It took me a few minutes to realise the hotel lights wouldn't turn on unless I plugged in the key card.

There's definitely a difference between the tourist who wants to take a picture, buy a magnet, and leave, and the tourist who wants to experience the culture for a few days. I thought I was the latter, but maybe I'm both?

Tourism's been argued for and against for years, especially with the rise of globalisation. I get both sides: traveling can introduce you to knew experiences, challenge you as a person, and sometimes even contribute to the economy. Alternatively, the industry can drive up local prices, disrupt traffic, and sometimes even ruin the landscape. There's plenty of dialog on the topic, so I won't offer two cents other than to say that both sides have points, and tourism can be done thoughtfully.

But: back to my chilling realisation. Many components of my identity are things I look down on in other people: I'm annoyed with tourists, shake my head at Americans. How easy it is to say Well yes, I'm technically in those categories, but I'm not like the rest of them. It's that same attitude that breeds "I'm not like other girls" or "My taste in books/movies/etc. is the only refined option."

I have three more trips coming up in the next six weeks. I want to remember to see the crowds as individuals who are in the same place as me because they're burned out at work, or want to make memories with their partner, or need to see a new corner of the world so they can understand it just that little bit more.

I'm sure I'll still have moments of annoyance. But there's probably someone else in the crowd who will roll their eyes at me when I step onto the square with my white tennis shoes.

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