Hubby and I are off to Italy before too long. Our plans were mostly completed months ago. Right now we’re refreshing our memories, reviewing all the arrangements we made way last spring. Reconfirming accommodation reservations that probably don’t need re-confirming, but we’ll do it anyway just for peace of mind. I’m researching details of what we might do with our days in Venice and Florence and Rome. Hubby is re-acquainting himself with the driving routes we’ll take after we leave Florence, how we plan to get from one small place to another, what interesting roads we’ll attempt. I have a rough plan for how I’ll proceed with my jobs. Research. Shop. Pack. Go.
And bubbling underneath all our suppressed excitement. While we’re busying ourselves with everything that needs to be done, checking items off our list so all will be ready in a timely fashion, but not ready too early, which will only cause anxiety for both of us. Underneath all this and mostly unspoken is our desire to be on our way. To be tourists again.
|Our chocolate-dipped-vanilla-ice-cream-face selfie. Île d’Orleans, Quebec, 2014.
“Tourist” seems to be a pejorative term these days. Maybe it always was. Conjuring an image of hordes of noisy, clueless, middle-aged gawkers, with fanny-packs, selfie-sticks, three cameras slung round their necks, baggy khaki pants, and socks with sandals. Nobody likes tourists; nobody wants to be considered a “tourist,” or, most importantly, look like one. Apparently.
Seriously. I did an internet search with the search term “how not to look like a tourist in Italy” and got over a million hits.
I spent way too much time this morning on a chat forum on the Rick Steeves website reading what people had to say about the issue of NOT looking like a tourist. Such a lot of palaver. And the upshot is that no matter what we do, how much we try to “blend in,” we probably will be unsuccessful. And even if we do perchance blend in briefly, once we open our mouths we’ll have given the game away anyway.
|Didn’t realize that I was “blending in” with the café decor. Paris, 2015.
So if the game is up as far as looking like a tourist, what does the traveller do to avoid looking like a clueless tourist? Well, obviously, do some research. Find out what local customs or habits you might be offending if you wear certain items of apparel. Mostly this has to do with not looking like you’re going to the beach, or off clubbing, unless you are. Wear clothing that is appropriate for the location you’re visiting and for the activity. That’s just common sense, I know. But when we hiked the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand a few years ago, a full-day hike, with temperatures only a few degrees above freezing at the top, we saw a couple of young hikers wearing flip-flops and shorts, and we heard one of them complain to the other, “You told me this was mostly a flat walk.” Ha. Not flat… not a walk. And quite dangerous, actually, to attempt the Tongariro without proper clothing and footwear.
But other than being safe, being comfortable, and being respectful of local customs, I think we shouldn’t worry about what we wear. Okay, okay, I can hear the guffaws. I didn’t say I wasn’t going to worry about what I wear. I always worry about what I should wear, and what I should pack. That’s a given. I just meant that I don’t worry if I’m spotted as a tourist, or not. That, my friends, is an exercise in futility. With my round face and colouring, only in Ireland could I have any chance of being mistaken for a local… and then, as I said, only until I opened my mouth.
And even with research, and all good intentions to appreciate and respect local customs, we get it wrong sometimes. Hubby and I looked like clueless tourists in Buenos Aires last year, when we naively headed out to the restaurant recommended as a great place for dinner by the lovely young man who worked in reception at our hotel. We were surprised to find the door open but the restaurant empty at almost eight o’clock. We entered, sat, and glanced around us for a few minutes. At the back was a clutch of waiters, chatting among themselves, ignoring us. But at the stroke of eight, a horde of locals converged on the place, every seat was soon taken, the waiters flew from table to table, were especially nice to us, and we had a fabulous meal.
Turns out that the restaurant doesn’t even start serving until eight. None of the restaurants serve until eight, said the lovely young man at reception when he apologized for not alerting us to the fact. “Never mind,” we said, “we thought it was hilarious.” Kind of reminded me of years ago when a friend and her husband tried to go for dinner in a small city in Arizona, popular with retirees. In fact my friend’s parents wintered there for years after they retired. At seven-thirty they found many of the restaurants already closing. Turned out that everyone else ate at five. Ha. When you “come from away,” as we say down east, you gotta go with the flow of wherever you are.
But going with the flow, doesn’t mean, in my books, being afraid of making a mistake, or ashamed of being a tourist, a traveller, or a visitor… however we describe ourselves when we’re not at home. Last year I was chided by a travelling companion for asking too many questions, for not “figuring things out for myself.” In truth I think they were embarrassed by my queries. But I think that as long as we’re not strident, demanding, or rude… there’s nothing wrong with seeking help or assistance from locals. Of course you have to choose carefully whom to ask. In my experience most people are only too happy to help. In Dublin when Hubby and I exited the Guinness Storehouse from the wrong door (NOT attributable to the sampling we did inside, I might add) and had to stand with our city map for a moment to take our bearings, we were approached by a young mother pushing a stroller who spent fifteen minutes chatting with us after she directed us to where we wanted to go. In fact, if I hadn’t become so sanguine about asking questions we might still be driving around County Kerry, looking for the Ballaghbeama Gap. And we might never have met a leprechaun. But I’ve told you that story already.
|Captain Stan’s Smoke House in Georgia, 2014
So, yeah, we’re excited about becoming tourists again very soon. We’ve done our homework, researched as much as we can about where we’re going, what we’re going to wear, and what we want to do. Hubby and I are not much for group travel, we’d rather paddle our own canoe. Well actually, Hubby does most of the paddling, in or out of the canoe. Ha. I’m the navigator. We’ll no doubt do a couple of guided tours, half or full day. We’ve always found these to be wonderful, whether in Savannah, Georgia; Derry, Northern Ireland; or Machu Picchu, Peru. But we also love just wandering, exploring, and sometimes even getting a little lost. We know we won’t be mistaken for local Italians. But hopefully we won’t look too clueless.
And, you know, we’re okay with not looking like we’re from wherever we’ll be, but just once we’d love it if someone we met guessed that we were from Canada… instead of from that other big country to the south. Not that there’s anything wrong with being from there. Just that we’re not.
Where do you stand, my friends, on looking like a tourist?