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In Defense of The Tourist

Perhaps I am feeling too charitable, too unironic, too patriotic today but I am going to come out and opine that American citizens, if they are able to take a hard-earned vacation, should absolutely wear ugly shorts, get horribly sunburnt, and enjoy fruity cocktails by the pool. Maybe I am playing the devil’s advocate or finally coming to terms with my middle-class, middle American roots, but maybe it’s just awful and pretentious to be a dick about how these sorry sots spend their one week a year. Not everyone wants to commune with nature in Costa Rica, soak up the culture of Europe or backpack around Asia. So be it.

I have personally been offended by, embarrassed for, and annoyed with this group of happy campers. However, I am kind of sick of this population being denigrated by the high-minded minority. Let me be very clear, I don’t think it’s at all okay to act inappropriately or ignorantly, to mock people, culture, country or language, to be rude, racist, or revolting. Don’t shout, don’t puke, don’t point. Not when you travel abroad, and come on, not anywhere. But if you want to rock a fanny pack, fuck it, go for it. If you want to be fat and white and simple at the swim-up bar and learn some “ess-pan-yole” from the bartender while you sip your Rum Runner, I say more power to you.

I happen to enjoy learning, arts, exploring, undiscovered places, and experiencing otherness firsthand. Hell, if I could travel with Richard to his little piece of Beach paradise in Thailand I totally would for a while. But that life is not for everyone. And in these tough times, when people who were comfortable are now struggling can take some time off, go on a mental and physical vacation from their worries who am I to mock their provincialism and desire for easy comforts? Who amongst us has not enjoyed being pampered, disengaged, a little dumb, acting loose, feeling at ease, light, and carefree?

I know that what I am saying is shocking. It’s kind of freaking me out too. When Anthony Bourdain quips, “be a traveler, not a tourist.” I’m all, “yeah, get off the bus and breathe it in, you, you…nincompoops”. There is so much to see and do and know it seems wasteful to miss out on any journey that might crack open your small world. But maybe blithe doesn’t have to be lowbrow and unsophisticated isn’t necessarily crass. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to be vacationing with the Palins, shootin’ moose and gettin’ down with Todd and the Real Americans. I just realized that here is more than one way to be an ugly American.

There Are 11 Responses So Far. »

  1. It’s about time someone defended those ugly short and fanny pack wearin’ sorry sots. Even if they are fat, white, simple and a little dumb. Wait a minute….you were defending them weren’t you? 🙂

  2. I know, I know, I can’t win! I’m terrible! I’m wonderful! ack.

  3. Just so long as they don’t wear black socks with their birks, I’m ok.

  4. That did sound more like attack than defense…

    Two points:

    1) People are often shocked to discover that not everyone is like them

    2) Acknowledging the desire to remake the world in one’s own image is the path the inner peace

  5. Don’t worry about it Jillian, I was just joking. Besides I’m probably a little over sensative since I’m an ugly shorts wearer myself. I draw the line there though, no fanny packs on this guy!

  6. I constantly have to remind myself to lighten up on the turistas and their funny hats, mostly they do no harm and support a lot of local people with their dollars. But why do so many of the over-60 ladies cut their hair 1 inch long and dress like men? …oops

  7. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahaha…whoopsidaisy Paul!

  8. An absolutely perfect description. Do you ever go to the big mercado in Progreso?

  9. Oops. I made that comment on the wrong post! Silly brain. Pre-coffee. I meant to post it on the mercado entry. Though your description of tourists was also perfect.

  10. Tolerance goes a long way in this world, we all can’t be pretty as a matter of fact, some of us are pretty hard to look at. So tolerance is good practice. I have invited people along on my back country touring trips that declined with the statement,”too much work, I want to relax and sit by the pool”, I figure their loss. Different strokes-different folks.

  11. Travelling, I learned foreigners are wary but admiring of Americans. We’re the college students of the World, callow and idealistic. We open up to strangers and we ask questions, often personal ones. It’s our charm.

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