Thursday, December 31, 2009

These Are A Few Of My (least) Favorite Things

Here we are – the last item on my list of peeves. Happy New Year’s Eve everyone – I have about ten more hours to freely be a snippy little brat. I plan to take full advantage of each one.

Volume 5: Six Things That Bug Me About Tourists

Gripe One: I would be out of work without them, and unfortunately I am one from time to time.

I want to hate them – I want to hate most of them. I do hate some of them. But until I can jettison myself completely from this industry, they will be the reason I get paid. They are my actual bosses, like it or not. And though I don’t deal directly with tourists as much as I used to, I do have to deal with those who coordinate their travel – or rather, those who get paid to coordinate their travel and have me do it.

If it weren’t for the tourists, there would be no hotels. If it weren’t for hotels, many psychotic people would be out of work. So as much as I want to hate many of them, I also have to be grudgingly grateful for them.

I also have to be one from time to time, as I love to travel whenever I can. I love seeing new places, I even get excited when going to a state I’ve never seen or know little about. Though you will never catch me with a neon Velcro fanny pack or a 35mm camera draped around my neck, and you will never see me with a fold-out map standing in an intersection, I am still, nevertheless, a tourist from time to time.

Gripe Two: Breakfast Monsters

After years of getting up at 4 or 5am and serving breakfast to tour groups, I have come to call one of my “favorite” groups of people Breakfast Monsters.

Early mornings tend to bring out the absolute worst in people. Add to the mix the fact that I’m still trying to wake up, take in my coffee, and deal with anywhere from 10 to 500 grumpy tourists, and you have a recipe for a fabulous morning.

I have actually heard people grunt as they shove their way through a buffet, mumble their order and generally just stare off into space. (A word to the wise - they glare at you if you interrupt them, so it's generally best to let them stare and just give them more coffee).

Then you have the bussed-in groups who have never really been in a hotel, have no idea what the difference between banquet and ala carte is, (wondering why they can’t get, say rockfish on demand – people, the kitchens only order what’s needed) and are generally exhausted. Those groups do not give people much in the way of free time, and make them get up very early in the morning.

One thing I will never miss about F&B are the breakfast monsters.

Gripe Three: American Tour Groups

Yes, I am an American. I am also a tourist from time to time. But working in England, the tour groups consisted of exactly the wrong people you would want representing our country – they are the people who, as I said yesterday, do a tour of Windsor Castle, have a cream tea, and pronounce that they have done Windsor.

While hosting an American tour group once a week on the boat, serving their lunch was always a frustrating experience. These groups would take literally twenty to thirty napkins from the buffet, pile their plate with food well beyond what they could possibly eat, so consequently much was thrown away. I never realized how wasteful our culture can be until I worked in tourism in another country.

I was always finding myself defending Americans, explaining that individual travelers and tour groups are different breeds. These were the ones who asked the worst questions (see “Gold Nametags Are All The Rage”).

However – they also were the best tippers. Always.

It’s an unfortunate fact that since I am not very loud by nature, detest McDonald’s, don’t drink a lot of beer, and don’t even understand American Football (let alone watch it), that most of my friends and coworkers assumed I was Canadian.

It’s not that I hate American tourists. It’s the loud tour groups snaking through the otherwise tranquil towns that really upset me – because they do not represent who we are.

I realize there are wonderful, educational tour groups out there. It’s just that once their accents are heard, everybody assumes they must be  Canadian.

Grip Four: Whirlwind Excursions

Just as the castle-tour-cream tea group has done Windsor in a few hours, there are those who try to squeeze so much into their vacation, they essentially see and learn nothing.

When I was in St Thomas I discovered (to my dismay) the “shopping district” - not the real shopping district in downtown Charlotte Amalie – but the one fenced in, wrapped around the cruise ship port. This was what many, if not most visitors saw of St Thomas. They bought their inexpensive leather and jewelry, and never saw what a beautiful island and charming city was waiting for them beyond the tall cruise line gates. They were completely insulated from everything that's wonderful about that island, and let themselves be shown what some corporate travel company believed they wanted to see. As I consider travelling a spiritual experience on many levels, I consider what is done to these tourists a crime.

On so many of these cruises and tour groups, and in an over-itineraried (not sure that's a word, but I just coined it) vacation, you maybe see one attraction or a host of shops. Congratulations, you discovered local retail. You really don’t get to see the place or get to know its citizens. That takes time, and it takes wandering off the Main or High Streets and major thoroughfares. Sure, see a museum, I’m a big fan of museums. But make sure you get at least a little lost. Make sure you speak to someone. Make sure you ask for a recommendation or two. (Just think before you ask - see Gripe Six).  

Otherwise, save yourself some time and go to Epcot – most countries are represented there, and you will find what you must be looking for if you really don’t care to know the soul of a place.

Gripe Five: Not Learning A Single Thing About Where You’re Going Before You Go

Sure, much can be said about having a clean slate while visiting a new place. My good friend Maria came to visit in Rhode Island and took me to a few towns about which I knew nothing, and I was very grateful for that. I hate that I had lived there for so long and had not realized how beautiful it really was.

But to plan a vacation and not bother to learn a thing about where you’re going robs you of the chance to look deeper into your destination. You can read all about a place and then see it first hand to give you a richer understanding of the locale. Otherwise, you’re the guy with a fanny pack and map in an intersection, picking museums at random.

Gripe Six: Obvious Tourists

There’s something about being a constant outsider, looking at the real living town around you as if you’re looking at it under glass in a museum that does both the tourist and the destination a grave injustice.

You’re in a community – a real place. You are not in a living museum. People call where you’re going their home. Please respect that. Feel free to look with wonder and awe. But there is a fine line between that and gawking.

Asking for directions is fine, but think before you ask. Look around you. If everything looks antiquated, you may not want to ask for directions to the historic district. And don’t ask generalized questions such as “where are the restaurants” or “where is the museum.” You won’t get an answer to your complete satisfaction.

Taking pictures is a must, wherever you go. But please do not take pictures of the locals for your own amusement. And if you do stop someone to take a picture of you and your companion(s), please do not ask for thirteen different angles and combinations of family members. It is not a wedding.

So there you have it my friends. I will now step down off my soap box and enjoy New Year’s Eve with a few good friends. I hope that now I’ve vented a little, I will be better company, and better prepared to make this resolution. As my sister said in her blog, I’m going to try not to sweat the small stuff. Maybe she and I can help each other with this.

I’m going to work on something positive to say tomorrow, to start this year off right.

2009, you will not be missed. Goodbye, and do not let the door hit your ass on the way out.


wah said...

This is good one too.I want to add something which annoyed to me .
I was in an airport,about to fly to bangkok.Had some time,so went up to the waiting lounge to read. Too noisy. Cell phones rang.Peoples talked on their blackberries.I shut out the world courtesy of my ipod. Then I went to the gate.Guess what???Noise.Noise.Flat screen TV there-the volume now at 10.Pretty hard to believe.Sure, I appreciate hi tech.Helps us work better and live better,if used wisely.But whatever happened to silent spaces??

Will Shealy said...

I completely agree with you Wah! I appreciate the quiet as well. Airports would do well to create silent spaces, places to concentrate, or otherwise escape the constant din. It's the main reason I love hiking!