Sunday, June 02, 2013

Tourist Traps

We were in Paris a few years ago and decided to take a side trip to see the palace of Versailles, the spectacular 17th century royal chateau built by Louis XIV and his band of merry excellencies.

It was early spring — the crush of humanity that descends on the place in the summer had yet to arrive — so we were enjoying an unhurried stroll through 721,000 square feet of opulence set amid sprawling grounds and gardens.

As we entered the queen's bedchamber, the door at one end of the room flew open and in charged a tour guide followed by her minions.

They stopped just short of elbowing us out of the way and seemed perturbed when someone suggested they were rude.

When they flew off down the hallway to terrorize other visitors, one of the survivors of the encounter muttered "Italians!" Others nodded knowingly.

I made a mental note to myself: Italians. Enjoy their food, culture and music but avoid them if they travel in packs.

The irony is, of course, when it comes to lousy tourists, Americans often win top prize. And who says so? Why, the Americans themselves, according to findings published in USA Today.

Maybe it's because we wear socks with sandals and gave birth to the fanny pack.

Australians and Canadians also don't like us much but who cares? They're just Americans who talk funny.

The research further disclosed that the Irish hate the Brits and the Brits loathe the Germans although I suspect there's something much deeper than tourism at work here.

Throw in the French and the Russians and just about anyone who travels seems to make it on a "worst" list.

All of this may be a moot point since the Chinese have suddenly emerged from the back of the pack in just one week to contend for the Ugly Tourist Award.

For that, we can thank one Ding Jinhao, a young lad from Nanjing, who was visiting Egypt with his parents. While mom and dad were otherwise occupied, he decided it would be fun to deface a panel of hieroglyphics in a 3,500-year-old Egyptian temple by scrawling "Ding Jinhao Was Here."

On a vandalism scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst, he scored about 100.

When the whole thing hit the Internet, it caused a mass outbreak of self-flagellation on the part of the Chinese citizenry, an outcry so loud that it moved the ruling Communist Party to issue guidelines advising Chinese going abroad on etiquette, from waiting in line to refraining from spitting and littering.

"They speak loudly in public, carve characters on tourist attractions, cross the road when the traffic lights are still red, spit anywhere and (carry out) some other uncivilized behavior. It damages the image of the Chinese people and has a very bad impact," Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang complained.

In the meantime, Ding's parents publicly apologized. In an interview with a Nanjing newspaper, Ding's father said "the child has committed a mistake and the main responsibility falls on the adults. It was because we did not supervise him well, and have not taught him well."

The boy's father then begged Internet users to stop hounding the teenager. "This is too much pressure for him to take," he told the paper.

Too much pressure? If it was my kid, he would have been required to memorize the names of all the pharaohs of Egypt and would be required on demand to recite them backwards and forwards. While doing push-ups. He would required to get a job and donate his earnings to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum. He would be required to write and publish a 2,000-word paper on "Respect for Other People and Their Institutions" after completing a 10K run. Just for openers.

But I digress.

Look, tourists are tough to love. Sure, they throw a lot of money around. They also speak a foreign tongue, move around in swarms, act differently from the natives and clog the streets, restaurants and bars.

It's culture shock that works both ways. If you don't believe it, wander down to Hollywood Boulevard some evening and watch the people of the world encounter our local goofballs.

After doing a highly unscientific study on the Internet, I found that most people dislike tourists because they get in the way of their busy lives. Which I interpret as resentment based on the fact that these people are on vacation and you're not.

We could solve a lot of this discord if we took a lesson from the Hawaiians and made people feel truly welcomed. It would work wonders for both sides.

Just don't expect me to give Ding Jinhao a big hug.

No comments: